With a restaurant every few yards, downtown Mountain View is a mélange of global flavors. From Japanese to Spanish, Moroccan to Mexican, there's a cuisine to satisfy almost every craving.
One of the newest restaurants here is a microcosm of Castro Street and its immediate surrounds. Cijjo (pronounced sy-joe and named after a shop in Madrid) ambitiously attempts to offer many of those cuisines on one menu, billing itself as a "cosmopolitan tapas lounge." I will admit it sounded like a recipe for disaster, but it comes together surprisingly well.
The restaurant is the work of a group of financial and tech-industry friends who have all traveled extensively and especially enjoyed the Spanish tapas culture. But owner Trisha Pham and her partners wanted to include favorite dishes from other countries, too. That's not to say this is a fusion restaurant. There's no cross-pollination of cuisines; you won't find any kaffir lime-scented vichyssoise, thankfully.
The extensive menu features at least 20 small plates, including charcuterie and cheese, plus a large-plate section for those diners who still, inexplicably, don't understand the concept of small-plate dining. If you do go the small route, plan on two to three plates per person for an average appetite.
With its wisteria-colored walls, blue lighting, purple throw pillows on the banquettes and a vase of fresh flowers at each table, Cijjo has a decidedly feminine feel. But clean, modern lines keep it from looking like a place for ladies who lunch. Unfortunately, bolster pillows on the banquettes make sitting there a smidge uncomfortable. The benches are a little too narrow for the pillows, and it took some trying to perch so that I didn't feel like I would slide off onto the floor.
Our first visit got off to a rocky start. Our server knew nothing about the half-price sparkling flights on Sundays that are advertised on the homepage of the restaurant's website. There was seemingly no manager on duty, so to get an answer, he tried calling two different people who weren't answering their phones.
Fortunately, our server had the good sense to offer a complimentary pour of the house sparkling wine while waiting for a call back.
We started with an order of the Piedmont Truffle Fries ($6), a generous portion of crisp shoestring potatoes served with real truffle butter. The flavor was subtle and so unlike the overpowering synthetic truffle oil that other restaurants use too liberally.
Another nice place to start is the Alsatian Tarte Flambée ($14). Salty bacon, sweet caramelized onions and a lightly pungent fromage blanc play nicely together on a crisp flatbread.
Lyonnaise salad ($9) is a bistro classic made with wispy frisee, lardon and a poached egg with a beautifully oozing center. Requested salt for the egg was promptly forgotten until we reminded the server several minutes later.
Three big prawns poached perfectly in Prosecco and butter top the Shrimp Bruschetta Romano ($12). We used the toasted bread to sop up the delectable tomato sauce served underneath. The Sao Paulo Hanger Steak ($16), ordered medium-rare, came at exactly that, with a bright pink center. It was well-seasoned with smoked paprika and served with chimichurri sauce.
The Middle Eastern Za'atar Chicken ($16), which is on the "large plates" menu, wasn't really that large at all, although, like the hanger steak, could be paired with one other dish for a filling meal. The chicken was tender and moist, but the za'atar seasoning could have been amped up some.
For lunch, the Saigon burger ($8) is a good bet. It's a double-decker affair with a flavorful beef, pork and shrimp patty cooked medium and topped with a fat slice of Vietnamese sausage.
Overall, the food is solid, if not particularly memorable. In some dishes the flavors that make certain cuisines distinctive were reined in too far. Of course, this could be by design to avoid the dissonance of strong competing flavors in favor of a more harmonious menu.
The wine list is as diverse as the menu, with wines from Europe, South Africa and California, and wine- and beer-based cocktails. (Cijjo doesn't have a hard liquor license.) The Cijjo tonic, made with orange wine and garnished with a sprig of rosemary and an edible flower, was as light and refreshing as it was pretty.
For dessert, one server highly recommended the Chocolate-Cointreau Mousse Torte ($8), which had a light creamy texture and hints of black currants and pistachio in the crust. On another visit, we opted to do a cheese course ($14). The truffled pecorino, triple creme Brie and Oregon blue (which paired beautifully with the honeycomb on the plate) were all very good. But the plain sliced French bread served with it seemed an afterthought and was too meager a portion besides.
Overall, the kitchen handles the ambitious, worldly menu with aplomb. As the staff gains experience, Cijjo could eventually become an out-of-this-world place to dine.
Email Jennifer Graue at email@example.com.
* * ½
246 Castro St., Mountain View; 650-282-5401;
The Dish: Cijjo offers a global gastronomic experience in a cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Prices: Lunch, $4-$12; dinner, $6-$22; desserts, $8; wines by the glass, $7-$17, by the bottle, $30-$170
The Details: The focus is on shareable small plates so that diners can explore a number of cuisines and find their own favorites.
Pluses: Good for small groups of friends with diverse tastes; there's something here for everyone, with dishes marked as vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free as well. Interesting wine list.
Minuses: Although servers are pleasant, there's a lack of experience that needs backup from a manager and there wasn't always one present. Service can lag at times.
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; brunch 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Dinner 5-10 p.m. daily.
Restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously. The Mercury News pays for all meals.