A few months into his tenure as chef at the Carlsbad restaurant, much-honored chef Eric Bost aims to surprise with a bold menu
A year ago, if you’d asked regular diners at Jeune et Jolie what they’d change about the charming modern French bistro in Carlsbad, most would have said: “Please don’t change a thing.”
But change has been a constant at Jeune et Jolie in 2020. When the pandemic hit in March, the now-2-year-old restaurant shut down for three months. Then it reopened in June as an entirely al fresco eatery nicknamed Jeune et Jolie: Starry Night. The menu also switched from an a la carte format to prix-fixe. A month later, Jeune et Jolie’s founding chef Andrew Bachelier stepped down for family reasons. And then in August, acclaimed L.A. chef Eric Bost was hired as the new executive chef.
Change can be difficult. But change can also be good. And judging by one of Bost’s dinner menus that I enjoyed last month with two friends, the changes at Jeune et Jolie are definitely in the positive column.
Bost — who has lived and cooked in France and has a French-born wife — has honored Jeune et Jolie’s French roots, both with his cooking techniques and in carrying on the restaurant’s tradition of having each dish on the menu named in French. But he’s also pushing the menu forward in exciting new ways, with more tongue-teasing flavors and lighter presentations.
Gone are the heavy cream sauces, sausages and veal sweetbreads. In their place are multilayered acid-forward dishes where the vegetables, herbs, seeds and edible flowers are just as crucial to the finished product as the proteins. Most of the dishes have four or five elements, one that grounds the dish and then layers of flavor that expand on it. And as the meal progressed, each dish was better than the last.
Bost brings a fresh perspective to San Diego, so he’s combining ingredients in ways I haven’t tasted locally. Who else is serving raw slices of sunchoke as a tender-crisp garnish? Where else will humble celery shavings dramatically elevate a main course? And it’s the first time I’ve had lamb paired with bitter chocolate and hazelnuts.
And yet, despite the novelty of some of the ingredients, the finished dishes are accessible, eye-catching and delicious.
The restlessly creative Bost isn’t just bringing something new to to the table, he’s turning the tables again and again, changing out the dishes on the $95 five-course menu every single week. And whenever there’s a forecast for rain, he creates on the fly a scaled-down, take-home version of the menu called Jeune et Jolie: Stormy Night.
Owned by John Resnick, Jeune et Jolie was well known from the beginning for its welcoming service and warm intimacy. Unfortunately COVID-19 restrictions don’t allow servers to linger at tables anymore and the 18-seat bar that was a chic locals’ hangout is now closed.
But the staff remains gracious, they’re well-trained on the ever-changing menu and they still recognize their regulars. The former parking lot has been turned into an attractive, tree-lined patio space with tables spaced at least 6 feet apart with indoor restrooms nearby. When the sun sets and the fairy lights illuminate overhead, it’s a magical place.
In his own words, Bost said his cooking philosophy involves taking ideas down to their bones for an elemental approach. Ingredients aren’t overly manipulated but combined in unique ways to allow their best elements to shine through in complementary ways.
Our dinner began with a little warm-up — an amuse-bouche that was a tiny cup of herbaceous soup with flavors of curry and lemongrass. For an outdoor restaurant in the winter months, it was a cozy start to the meal, and it signaled the chef’s interest in clear and distinctive flavors.
The first course was a beef tartare that ticked all the boxes for balancing fat, acid, flavor, heat and texture. The fatty meat was seasoned with the sharpness of mustard seeds and leaves and horseradish, the bright acidity of wine vinegar and capers, and the cool and sweet jicama-like crunch of sunchokes.
The next course, Encornet (squid), was inspired by Bost’s time in the Basque Country region of France, where his wife’s family has a home. Served in a bowl with a light pork broth poured tableside, this delicate dish combined charred Pacific squid, with air-cured ham, creamy pearl-like miniature potatoes, powdered French Espelette peppers, bitter marigold flower petals and fennel. Balancing the dish are tangy citric acids like lemon oil and Buddha’s hand. The only flaw was that much of the needed salt was concentrated in the broth, which only saturated the bites at the bottom of the bowl.
The meal’s star course was Lotte (monkfish), a sweet, fleshy fish not often found in local restaurants. Bost roasted the fish on the bone in browned butter. Porcini mushrooms were integrated into the dish two ways, both raw and roasted, then served with a light eggy sauce made with vin jaune, a dry white wine. It was a flawless dish that seemed impossible to top, at least until the next course ... and the next after that.
Agneau, the lamb course, was Bost’s play on duck l’orange, with filets of sous-vide lamb paired with seemingly incompatible complements of puréed eggplant topped with powdered hazelnuts, ribbons and leaves of raw celery, dabs of bittersweet chocolate and cooked wild huckleberries. At first, it may sound like a strange mélange of flavors, but it was a delicious mix of bitter, sweet, tart, fatty, salty and nutty notes.
The meal finished with Potiron (pumpkin), easily the best dessert I’ve had this year, and let’s just say that because of the pandemic, I’ve gone a bit overboard lifting my spirits with sugary sweets in 2020. Another layered dish that lingered on my taste buds all the way home, this started with a spiced pumpkin cake drenched in tangy orange flower syrup, topped with a scoop of mildly sweet crème fraiche sorbet, an almond tuile cookie and a dollop of fluffy pumpkin diplomat cream. The balance of tart, sweet and spice was sheer perfection.
Bost’s cooking has little surprises tucked into every dish, and there were a few unexpected extras during the meal. Midway through dinner we were served a course of sweet, fresh-from-the-oven Japanese milk bread rolls with a side of hand-blended butters. And since I never turn down sweets, I was excited when an unexpected second dessert arrived at the conclusion of the night — small coconut financier almond cookies with a dipping sauce of creamy dark chocolate dusted with ground hazelnuts.
Under Bost’s assured hand, Jeune et Jolie is off to a strong and promising reboot. And his fascination with new ingredients and seasonally changing local produce means there will always be something new coming out of Jeune et Jolie’s kitchen. These are not easy times to be in the restaurant business. But Bost’s arrival on San Diego’s culinary scene has been one of the bright spots of 2020.
Jeune et Jolie: Starry Night
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays
Address: 2659 State St., Carlsbad
Phone: (760) 637-5266
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