Baume opened in 2010. Its owner and head chef Bruno Chemel trained at Grand Vefour and Guy Savoy in Paris before becoming executive chef at Chez TJ in nearby Mountainview. Mr Chemel graduated from the famed Lenotre pastry academy in Paris, then worked in Japan for a time, including as executive chef at Tokyo’s Ambrosia, before moving to California in 2004. Baume entered the Michelin guide with 2 stars in 2012, which it has retained since.
Baume is located on the corner of a parade of shops in Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley. It looks quite unassuming from the outside, the space inside quite small, the seating being on either side of a central reception desk. The dining area is split into sections by orange curtains, with just three tables in the area that I ate in. Walls are painted alternately orange and black, and the lighting is what an estate agent might call moody, but could also be described as just dark, even at lunch. To be fair, the tables themselves were lit reasonably well by directed lamps. The room is carpeted and there was some quiet background music. Tables were well spaced and had white linen tablecloths. Remarkably given its hi-tech location, there was no Wi-Fi. Mind you, this is consistent with the surprisingly primitive web site, which at the time of writing came complete with a “coming soon” section and an “404 page not found” error, not great for a company located with yards of Silicon Valley’s smartest techies.
There was a no-choice menu, six courses at lunch and eight in the evening. The lunch menu was priced at $158 (£94), the dinner menu at $198 (£118). It did have a unique feature in my experience, in that there was no wine list at all, only a set of wine pairing options. At lunch a menu with the more modest pairing is priced at $248 (£148), or $298 (£177) for the slightly more ambitious pairing. At dinner the menu with pairings was either $308 (£183) or $368 (£214). This unusual approach means that at dinner you will be spending £59 per person on wine as a minimum. I calculated the wine mark-up to retail price on the lunch wine pairing at a little over three times the shop price of the wines.
The meal began with a couple of nibbles. Yuzu and beetroot sorbet was topped with yuzu gel and freeze-dried yoghurt. This was served so ice cold that to be honest it could have been any flavour at all (12/20). Carrot with a radish centre topped with ras el hanout and mint could at least be tasted, but the mint dominated, and the spices were subtle to the point of absence (13/20).
Baguette was bought in from a San Francisco baker called Le Petit Pain, and had nice texture, served warm (15/20). Oscietra caviar came with fennel in three forms: diced, shaved and puréed, along with a little lemon foam. The fennel had quite a strong flavour but the lemon barely registered, though the caviar was fine (14/20).
The next dish involved egg from a jidori chicken, which in Japan is a term used to describe a (mostly) indigenous chicken, though the breed used is now raised in California, and this is presumably what appeared here (the waiter did not know). This egg was slow cooked and served with a chicken mousse, red chard and a sheet of daikon. The egg had good flavour and the dish was nicely seasoned, the overall effect comforting and enjoyable (16/20).
Next was turbot, all the way from Brittany, served with fava beans, white corn, morels and a blob of parsley purée. The turbot was cooked properly but inevitably lacked the flavour that a top quality non-frozen fish would have. However the beans and corn were excellent, and morel slices were also good (16/20). The rather minuscule quantity of the morel seemed something of a recurring theme in this meal, where portions were definitely on the petite side, though bread was topped up as needed. It does seem a little strange to me to import frozen turbot rather than use local fish, given the proximity to the coast here.
The main course was beef tenderloin, the beef from Omaha and halal, apparently chosen due to its being raised organically. This was served with braised salsify, grilled ask choi and a red wine sauce, with black pepper and vanilla cocoa nibs. The beef was fine, as was the bak choi, but the red wine sauce was thin and a little too acidic (15/20).
In place of a regular cheese course was a little Beaufort and purple potato fondue with pink peppercorns, served with cubes of compressed apple, which was useful to balance the richness of the fondue. This was perfectly pleasant, but there are limits to how exciting a fondue can be (14/20).
Dessert had two elements. Millefeuille of vanilla creme patisserie had quite delicate puff pastry, served with diced strawberries, and a little glass of carbonated strawberry soda (16/20). There was also a flourless chocolate cake with roasted pineapple crisp and coconut sorbet. The cake was pleasant enough, but the sorbet had a very odd texture, almost crumbly. I presume this was some deliberate culinary trickery, but the overall effect lacked flavour and just seemed weird to me (13/20). Coffee was good, served with a few petit fours, including a pleasant chocolate, a passion fruit marshmallow and a rather oddly textured jelly.
With just water to drink, the bill was $190 (£113) for one person, though this did include service. If you came for dinner and had the basic wine pairing, some water and coffee, then your bill would come to around £190 a head. Service was friendly, though all questions about the dishes had to be referred to the kitchen. It was also mildly irritating that at one point the bottle of water I had ordered was finished but I still had a full glass; without my asking, a further bottle was opened. This felt to me like rather sharp practice. Overall Baume seemed to me to offer generally capable, though far from thrilling, cooking at a price point that was very ambitious for the level of food that arrived on the plate.