Posted in Dinner, Food, For Kids/Parent, Lunch, Peninsula, Review

Cuisinett: French Cuisine Gets Casual

Cuisinett interior
Cuisinett interior

French food tends to have the stereotype of being pretentious, formal, and expensive. But the owner of the newly opened Cuisinett in San Carlos, Geofforey Raby, and former Executive Chef of Menlo Park’s shuttered Marche, Guillaume Bienaime, want you to believe otherwise.

“The kind of food we serve here is the kind my Mom would make,” says Raby. “I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 15 in Lille, France. I’ve learned that there’s importance to making people happy. But there’s a fine line between being attentive and being annoying. I wanted to create a casual, family-friendly restaurant with beautiful, simple design and great quality French food at a good price.”

Coq au Vin
Coq au Vin with Buttery Peas, Carrots and Pearl Onions

They call it “French Comfort Food,” and their main focus is to change the common perception that French cuisine is stuffy and complex. Think Pasta Pomodoro or Crepevine. “We wanted things to be understandable and uncomplicated. We’re not doing extravagant plating here. We want you to have the food you order from cashier to table in 10 minutes without compromising quality and taste.”

Enter Chef Bienaime. The two met in May through a mutual contact in the restaurant industry. Chef Bienaime spent over seven years at the acclaimed Marche, two of those years heading up the kitchen before it closed earlier this year. So why would his next project involve a casual restaurant that doesn’t even have waiters?

“For me, it’s an opportunity to do something new. There are some very old school menu items like Coq Au Vin that are very difficult to cook quickly. So it was a challenge for me to do something more contemporary with these dishes while maintaining their classic quality. The more I got into it, the more I believed in the concept,” recalls the Chef.

“Marche went through a bunch of phases. It started as a casual concept and got more and more complicated through the years. So when it closed, I had the desire to approach more people with my food,” says Chef Bienaime. “What I love about cooking is how it makes people happy. I’d rather make more people happy than less.”

Despite being open for a relatively short amount of time, the Chef’s confidence in his dishes shows. They’re solidly delicious and are expertly, albeit simply, prepared.

Diners can chose from a variety of side dishes like french fries, sautéed spinach, or buttery peas and carrots. The specialty of the house is their Roasted Chicken, which you can have with a mushroom or mustard cream sauce, or in the style of Coq au Vin. It doesn’t disappoint with its moist meat and buttery flavor. The sauces are rich, distinct, and tasty without overpowering the chicken’s flavor.


Moules Frites
Moules Frites w/White Wine, Shallots and Herbs

The most popular dish on my multiple visits, however, seemed to be the Moules Frites (Mussels with Fries) with shallots, white wine and herbs. The Chef uses Mediterranean mussels which are bigger, plumper, juicier and sweeter, and were cooked to perfection. There wasn’t a rubbery mussel in the bunch. And the accompanying french fries were perfectly golden crisp and tender inside. This was a straightforward yet wonderfully executed dish.


For vegetarians, their Ratatouille is quite good and is served with a simple salad of mixed greens. The buttery Parmesan breadcrumbs on top contrast nicely with the nutty, toasty flavor and the mix of yellow and red bell peppers, various squash and eggplant make for a hearty dish.

“French food isn’t just centered in Paris bistros, so we’ve divided France up into 6 regions. Now people can see the different varieties of food there are in France,” says Raby.

With the restaurant now open and the menu developed, Chef Bienaime doesn’t plan on being in the kitchen on a daily basis. However he’s constantly adjusting the existing menu and plans to add more items for children. In the future, he will serve as culinary consultant and head of operations.

It’s their hope to create multiple locations over the next few years. And in the shorter term, Chef Bienaime is hoping to entertain the idea of having some special 6-course reservation only dinners for about $100 per person on Sundays, since they’re not usually open that day. They’ll also be offering a Family Meal for four people that’ll include a whole roasted chicken, choice of sauce, two sides and a baguette for under $30 that people can take to go.

“Guillaume is about serving fantastic food, I’m about helping to creating the experience,” says Raby. “It’s like Starbucks. There have always been coffeehouses, but Starbucks they worked on the experience. To a certain extent, that’s what I want to do with French food and make it and experience that’s accessible.”

And Chef Bienaime agrees. “I believe more and more in the concept every day.”

1105 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos
(650) 453-3390
Mon-Sun, 11am-9pm, Lunch & Dinner Service
Dine-in or Takeout available
Facebook: Cuisinett
Twitter: @cuisinett

Cuisinett: French Comfort Food on Urbanspoon

*Cross posted on KQED’s Bay Area Bites.

Posted in Dinner, Food, For Kids/Parent, Lunch, Review, San Francisco

No Frills Vietnamese Food That Stands Out

Rare Beef Pho Noodle Soup from PPQ

You can take your 4-star rated, celebrity-visited, Michelin-starred Vietnamese restaurants in the city. My most memorable Vietnamese meals have always come from those mom and pop hole-in-the-wall joints.

But my favorite place to get some great pho (noodle soup) or a plate of bun (cold vermicelli plate) is Pho Phu Quoc (or “PPQ” for short).

Located in the heart of the Sunset District in San Francisco on Irving and 19th Avenue, I’ve been coming here since my college days…so it’s been a while. The food has never disappointed me in all that time. Never.

Their soup broth is exceptional. A good bowl of pho noodle soup has to start with a great broth that tastes like those beef bones have been simmering in that liquid all day. Theirs does. They also use Certified Angus Beef, which makes a huge difference. That alone makes the flavor and quality of the food here, stand out.

But aside from that, there are a few dishes here that are exceptional.  I’ve ordered other items, but I always come back to these three.

Shrimp Rolls from PPQ

I love starting with their cold Shrimp Rolls with large poached shrimp, mint and lettuce leaves, vermicelli noodles all wrapped in soft rice paper. I’m usually not a fan of Shrimp Rolls. Most have a dry or rubbery wrapper, wilted greens or soggy shrimp. Their Shrimp Rolls, however, have no evidence of any of these issues. Their cool and soft on the outside the way they should be, and the shrimp and greens give it texture, crunch, and flavor. Love, love, love these.

For entrees, I have a hard time deviating from two dishes, the first being the Crispy Five-Spice Chicken. The boneless chicken thigh is always juicy and tender with a crisp and flavorful deep brown skin. It’s sweet, smokey and just out of this world. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a better version of this dish anywhere, and I mean it.

Curry Chicken Pho from PPQ

But my all time favorite is their Curry Chicken Pho. The broth starts with a homemade chicken broth and then it just gets better. It’s got a creamy coconut milk base and is studded with Southeast Asian curry flavors, lemongrass being the most prominent. There’s tender, flavorful pieces of white meat chicken so juicy and moist, which is literally impossible to do with white meat chicken. Then there are beautifully soft, stewed pieces of potatoes and those chewy vermicelli noodles. This is a dish that is rich and full of depth with all of its spices and flavors. There’s simply no other bowl of noodle soup like it.

Now since it’s a neighborhood joint, there’s no atmosphere or attentive service to speak of. If you’re looking for that, go elsewhere. But if you want a thoroughly solid meal for cheap, you’ve found your place. It’s one of the best cheap eats in the city for the quality of food they put out.

So the next time Bill Clinton comes to town for his favorite Vietnamese meal at that swanky place in San Francisco, I’ll be secure in knowing that I got the better meal…and the better deal.

Pho Phu Quoc on Urbanspoon

Posted in For Kids/Parent, Lunch

Mrs. Q: The Lunch Crusader Comes Out

Mrs. Q, the teacher and blogger behind “Fed Up With Lunch” who kept her identity hidden while she spent a year documenting her experiences eating the cafeteria lunches being served at the school where she worked, has finally let the cat out of the bag.

She’s just released a new book, also called “Fed Up With Lunch”, that goes into further detail about her year-long experiment where she ate what the kids ate, every single day. On her blog, she detailed the food’s flavor, taste, texture, appearance, and how it made her feel. Needless to say, she was pretty appalled by what was being served. She gained weight, her energy waned, and some of the food literally made her sick. But she was determined to continue with the experiment for the entire year to get the word out about how the children were really being fed.

She did the project on a whim and knew that if she were documenting it all on a blog, her job would be in jeopardy, so she kept her identity anonymous…until now.

Sarah Burns-Wu and I met at the BlogHer Food Conference back in 2010 when I moderated the panel she was on entitled “Our Food Future: Kids, Cooking and Health”. She was always a crowd favorite and we went on to be a part of another panel at BlogHer Food 2011 and the BlogHer Annual Conference in San Diego this past August.

We had always taken great steps to keep her identity a secret. There’s never been any photography or video allowed during our panel sessions, and every photo she’s ever been in since she started the blog has her either blurred out, blacked out, or with a piece of paper over her face. I could never call her by her real first name publically, so my biggest concern on every panel we’ve been on is that I would forget to call her “Mrs. Q” instead. At the Annual Conference back in August, at the urging of her book publishers, she had to go out and get a dark black wig to wear during our panel to cover her dirty blond hair. Extreme measures, indeed.

But the book is out and so is her identity. No more hiding. This morning, she’s already popped up on The View, Good Morning America, USA Today, and the Chicago Tribune to reveal her true self.

Mrs. Q has gained a legion of fans through her lunch documenting crusades. But to me, she’s always been Sarah: a devoted Mom, wife, educator and good friend. I’m delighted that now, the rest of the world can call her Sarah, too.

*Cross-posted on