Cijjo ("sy-joe") is a new a-la-carte small-plates and wine-bar restaurant at 246 Castro St. that opened the day after Christmas. I've had four various meals and snacks so far, and I don't recall ever being so impressed with a brand-new restaurant in the 20-odd years since this downtown was remodeled and restaurants began arriving in numbers. If Cijjo keeps delivering and improving on what it has shown to early customers, we'll have a new destination-quality, Michelin-level restaurant in downtown MV.
The only odd note is the unique unphonetic name, which the owners say is derived from Spain. (I'm lobbying them to add a pronunciation tip to window signage and web site, which would save a lot of staff time currently spent in explanations.)
I've tried about 10 of Cijjo's small plates, some of them several times. An attractive introduction is the happy-hour bar dining deal, offering a selection of the full menu in individual-size portions for around $4-6 each. Hours of this "happy hour" have already fluctuated, but currently run 4-6 PM weekdays. Regular dinner menu is much longer, most items $10-15 and portioned for sharing. Currently there is only evening service, but owner Jon Tran says they plan to start lunch soon. (Earlier, when the web site cijjomv.com was a blank template, Jon told me he would populate it with information, and he did so overnight, so I tend to credit his promises.)
Cijjo's menu range is international, including a (popular) ahi tuna cone in custom miso-sesame wafer, topped with wasabi and fine fish roe ($4 each). A bowl of green, finger-food shishito peppers, sweet with just a little spicy bite, flash-fried, comes with red sweet-pepper puree as dipping sauce.
Charcuterie or preserved meats are a strength. Cijjo acquired a couple of the flavorful, fashionable Iberico Bellota hams, from acorn-fed Spanish pigs, offering thin shavings with bread and olives for $6, happy-hour. This and some others are classic authentic "tapas," traditionally offered with drinks in Spain, unlike what's casually labeled "tapas" at some other local restaurants.
For $15, the full-sized international charcuterie platter adds Italian beef bresaola and house-made "duck prosciutto," both also thinly shaved, served with accompaniments on a carving board, to the Jamon Iberico. Four people easily shared this course.
Other standouts have included very rich, but delectable, "truffle fries," in dainty thin French "matchstick" shape, served in a paper cone with not the standard fake "truffle oil" but actual white-truffle butter and Reggiano Parmesan cheese. The fries themselves were fresh-cooked in classic French style (more on that, and the chef, in a moment). $14 Alsatian onion-cheese tart w/bacon (more charcuterie!) resembles a small pizza and was well-balanced, savory, good to share. The "lightest" of several salads, with Port-poached pears and greens, $10, was a palate-cleaning fishish after what follows:
$15 roasted split marrow bones (type of rustic treat my father made, 50 years ago) arrived with not just brioche toast points (replenished on request), on which to spread this fancy cousin of butter, but wild mushrooms in an herbed demi-glace (accenting the flavor in one direction) and a mild soubise (onion porridge) to back it up in another; both cut the marrow's richness. This combo genuinely sang: it's the caliber of cooking I've seen from Chez TJ at its best, but in a casual, small-plates format. I noticed fresh-herb flavor in the mushrooms. Chef uses the delicate herb family for one type of cooking, the strong ones for another, such as this dish. I've tried one of several, lascivious-looking desserts that diners can be seen enjoying: the apple tarte-Tatin slice, $8. Its flawlessly expert crust and careful construction again bespoke an assured, masterful kitchen, not overreaching itself.
Which brings us to Cijjo's Chef Ira Siegel, a disciplined veteran of New York and European kitchens, who told me he came here from New York in early 2013. Chef Siegel is a major reason why this kitchen is producing polished, expert international delicacies even in its first few days open. (Another reason: the kitchen test-cooked them for two months.) We chatted about good European kitchen reference points; Siegel is at home with the "Guide Culinaire" and Point's "Ma Gastronomie" (auspicious to any fellow obsessives of food literature). Chef Siegel clearly has the desire to see diners enjoy themselves. I spotted the telltale habit (of many good high-end chefs) of popping discreetly out of the kitchen occasionally to watch diners' moods and reactions. Behind Chef Siegel is a group of owners with high-tech careers, at least one of whom (Trisha Pham) comes from a restaurateur family.
Cijjo has assembled an impressive server team, alert and experienced. I've seen none of downtown Mountain View's recently common new-restaurant amateurish service gaffes that should never happen, such as servers standing around chatting, ignoring newly arrived customers. The owners say they've worked deliberately on such details -- customers are to be greeted immediately, and delivery of placed orders is timed and tracked.
Maybe that's why, extraordinarily, this new downtown restaurant's nine reviews on Yelp to date have an overall _average_ of five stars, the highest rating possible.