The Best of Silicon Valley 2011
Hall of Fame
DJ - ROCK STAR - AUTHOR - RENAISSANCE MAN
He's been on air since 5am, and a few minutes after signing off his KFOX morning show five hours later, Greg Kihn stops to consider how his day has been so far. "I guess I'm about the luckiest guy in the world," says Kihn.
He hates getting up early as much as anyone else, he admits. But he's hooked on talking to a million people every weekday.
The feeling is mutual. Maybe it's his direct, personable style, or maybe it's the fact that unlike most other jocks who sling classic rock, he's actually lived the life. Something about Kihn has made him the top vote-getter in the Best of Silicon Valley Best DJ category year in and year out.
"I think the key is honesty, I really do," he says. "I don't have a shtick, so I really can't pull off anything else except being myself. What you hear is the real Greg."
Despite the fact that his winning streak is the stuff of Best of Silicon Valley legend, he says he never sees it coming.
"I never get used to it. It's always a surprise, and it's always a delight," says Kihn.
When he began his disc jockey career at KFOX 98.5-FM in 1994, his voice was already known to rock-radio fans; he'd cracked the Billboard Top 10 a decade earlier with the Greg Kihn Band's hit "Jeopardy" (and, incidentally, anticipated the zombie craze 20 years before its time with the early-MTV video). Back then, KFOX was what he describes as a "mom-and-pop station."
After years as a Clear Channel affiliate, KFOX is now operated by Entercom, who moved the station to San Francisco but stuck with its successful classic-rock format—and Kihn. A month or so into the new management, Kihn says "so far, so good." They're simulcasting KFOX on 102.1-FM in San Francisco, increasing the potential listener pool by about sevenfold, and promoting the station heavily. But the most bizarre moment for Kihn came when he was introduced to his new program director, Larry Sharp—the man who gave him his first job at KFOX.
"I thought: 'We've come full circle now,'" says Kihn, who is also working on the same slate as longtime San Jose DJ Laurie Roberts, KFOX's 7pm-midnight jock. "KFOX has its own karma. It's a really beautiful South Bay karma. That connection is as strong as it's ever been."
Meanwhile, he's been working on a three-CD re-release of Greg Kihn Band material and writing a screenplay called 45 RPM, about the music industry's mob ties in the early '60s. He intended it to be a film, but TV networks have shown an interest, causing him to rethink it as a potential Boardwalk Empire-type series. He wrote that screenplay while waiting on development for his last one, Horror Show, which was an adaptation of his first novel. He's also a proud new grandparent.
"Let me say it one more time," deadpans Kihn, with a pause for dramatic effect. "I'm the luckiest man alive."
Falafel's Drive In
For the Best Chef category in Metro's Best Of issue we look to you to pick chefs other than Manresa's David Kinch. I'm starting to think we might need to lay down a similar provision for the Best Mediterranean food category.
Year in and year out, San Jose's venerable Falafel's Drive-In snags first place. It's as dependable as the sunrise. Open since 1966, the restaurant has become something all too rare in the forever-young Silicon Valley: It is an institution.
Generations of food-loving value seekers have come to the outpost of good, fast food for the simple menu of falafels, foul (a fava bean dish), gyros, chicken pita sandwiches and, of course, banana milkshakes.
Technically the restaurant isn't just a Mediterranean place since it serves burgers and hot dogs and other American fare, but it's the namesake fried chickpea ball sandwiches from the land of the Bible and Koran that made the restaurant's reputation for affordable goodness and the mighty garbanzo ball will continue to be the restaurant's flagship offering.
We salute you, Falafel's Drive-In.
The chef that launched a thousand chefs
We've banned Metro readers from nominating David Kinch as best chef. He would win every year if we didn't. As chef at Los Gatos' Manresa, a Michelin two-star restaurant that is rated as one of the top dining spots in the world, he has created his own brand of cerebral, sometimes playful, intensely delicious cuisine. Kinch is on a plane of his own.
Although he is often referred to as a big fish in a small pond, his impact on gastronomy has rippled out of Silicon Valley. He was one of the first chefs to source his produce from his own farm. (Love Apple Farm in Santa Cruz isn't his farm per se, but he has an exclusive contract for the superb biodynamically grown fruit and vegetables grown on the property). Now, more chefs like the French Laundry's Thomas Keller are following his lead and growing their own.
Kinch was also out front with his series of guest chef events in which he shares the kitchen and the spotlight with outstanding chefs from around the world to produce some unforgettable meals. And what do you know? Other chefs are now following suit.
Kinch's impact will be felt for years to come as talented cooks who once worked in his kitchen are now making names for themselves. Jeremy Fox, late of Ubuntu, Plum and the Tyler Florence Restaurant Group, and James Syhabout of Commis are two standout alums. More are being minted as we speak.
Kinch could probably make a bigger name for himself by opening spin-off restaurants in other cities (Manresa in Vegas?), but that's not in keeping with his efforts to root his life and his work between Santa Cruz and Los Gatos. And what a delicious slice of the world it is.
And the rest of this year's hall of fame:
Best Comic Book Store
1020F N. Rengstorff Ave., Mountain View; 650.965.1800. You would have to be Stupendous Stan Lee himself to come up with the proper superlatives to describe Lee Hester's comic shop, with its two branches in Mountain View and San Mateo. Over the years, Lee's has hosted real luminaries in the business at in-store signings, years before the rest of the world (and particularly the film industry) figured out that there was something special in these polychrome myths. Here are valuable vintage comics for the wealthy industry geek as well as $1 comics for the ambitious scavenger. In between, everything from the incisively personal memoir like Alison Bechdel's Fun Home to the seemingly oxymoronic Giant Sized Atom #1.
Best Bike Store
The Off Ramp
2320 El Camino Real, Mountain View, 650.968.2974; 2369 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, 408.249.2848. Now that gas is headed north of $4 a gallon, pedal power is looking more and more attractive. With a couple thousand bikes in stock and accessories to match, the Off Ramp has steadily upheld its reputation among Metro voters as a two-wheeled paradise. The store offers upfront advice about how to find exactly the right ride and fit, and can also provide expert service and repair.
1361 S. De Anza Blvd., Cupertino; 408.252.3347. For gardeners who want to connect with the valley's agricultural heritage with bare-root fruit trees, curate ornamental California native plants or enjoy an organic vegetagle garden, Yamagami's provides pretty much everything that's needed. The garden center has been a South Bay favorite since it opened in 1948, and in recent years Yamagami's staff have dedicated themselves to working on technological advancements in the field of horticulture. This is Silicon Valley, after all.
Best Sports BarDouble D's
354 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; 408.395.6882. Great food, flat-screens beaming games from around the globe and excellent service make Double D's the best place to grab a beer and a burger. Located in Los Gatos, the sports-themed bar and grill is almost guaranteed to be packed any time a local team takes the field, court or ice. And best of all, people here root for the home team. Since 1996, this combination has added up to an impressive set of Best Of accolades.
Best Coffee Place
Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Company
101 W. Main St., Los Gatos; 408.354.3263. This is the place that pretty much kick-started the wave of high-end coffeehouses in the valley, and Metro's Best Of voters have always taken note in our balloting. Usually crowded, but ever accommodating, LGCRC occupies three contiguous rooms that offer plenty of nooks to call one's own. The benches out front are coveted for taking in a sunny day and watching the cyclists, dog walkers and Los Gatos denizens on parade.
Best Music Store
980 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose; 888.330.7776. As other California record shops that did things right spun off multiple locations (Amoeba, Rasputin), Streetlight has been the South Bay's claim to indie-record-shop fame. It remains a note-perfect model for record stores the way they were meant to be created: by the fans, for the fans. From the densely packed aisles to the live music shows to the "staff pick" write-ups with so much to say they read like liner notes, Streetlight is at the forefront of the post-Tower music store experience.
31 University Ave., Los Gatos; 408.395.2722. The only way for a restaurant to endure three decades is to do a few things really well. First, it must provide the personal service to keep regulars coming back and new customers coming in. Second, they have to offer a welcoming setting. And third, the food has got to be really good. Steamer's Grillhouse in Los Gatos has been nailing all three since 1979. Fresh seafood, friendly people and a warm, inviting dining room have made Steamer's more than a dependable neighborhood restaurant. It's a Silicon Valley institution.
Schurra's Fine Confections
840 The Alameda, San Jose; 408.289.1562. Founded nearly a century ago (seriously, it was established in 1912 in Modesto and moved to San Jose in the 1930s), Schurra's has long been the place to go for special-occasion gift baskets filled with sweets, candied apples and chocolate-dipped strawberries. Its dependably delectable desserts have kept Metro readers hankering for more, continually voting Schurra's as a valley favorite. The family-owned treatery also opened an outpost at the San Jose Mineta Airport in 2010.