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[whitespace] Faye Collier
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Room With a View: Grandview Restaurant's Faye Collier serves champagne during a spectacular sunset.

A Grand Tradition

High in the hills above the valley, this hamlet on Mt. Hamilton is where hungry cowboys still eat

By Joseph Izzo Jr.

IF--AND THAT'S A BIG IF--you ever visit Mount Hamilton Grandview, be careful and pay attention to the road. At certain times and under the right conditions, it can feel like a perfectly safe drive. The view, as we ascended, revealed the lights of Santa Clara Valley, or as one guest aptly observed, "... the organizational principle for the entire city ..." shimmering like jewels below us.

Rain or snow is not your friend up here. The road is full of curves and can get very slippery. But if you're one of the ranchers who frequent this place--and you'll see their hats swimming in the dining room--bad weather just creates more atmosphere in this 50-year-old roadhouse. Rain, thunderheads and lightning work overtime entertaining these folks.

The night my guests and I decided to make the drive, the sky was clear--thank God. We were in one of those moods when the sun and moon come together, urging us to do something adventurous--something out of the ordinary. And out of the ordinary is exactly what we got.

As soon as we pulled into the lot, one of the employees backed into a friend's pickup truck so hard that the front end lifted off its wheels. After listening to bits and pieces of the curious discussion that ensued, we escaped into the lounge and sat down for a breather in front of a crackling wood fire. The dining room was full at that point and our window table (reserve one if you can) was not ready. So we waited there, warming our mitts, sipping martinis and remembering when Mount Hamilton Grandview was the Rancho Grandview. Back in the day when legendary and inappropriate deportment was served up with steaks as big as bear paws.

The wait gave me time to peruse the menu in the orange light of that sumptuous fire. There are dishes on this menu that I haven't seen in a long time--dishes like surf and turf, and rack of lamb chasseur and chicken Cordon Bleu. The food and its style of preparation are pretty much old school--cowboy Continental--with plenty of red meats and big portions, plus soup and salad thrown in with every meal. Sometimes, food like this is just what I need to remind me of the time when the South Bay's idea of fine cuisine was prime rib and a baked potato.

The dining room may appear worn and tacky with its aging carpets, cottage cheese ceiling and '60s wood paneling, but it's warm and alive with a tangible spirit and character. On that weekend visit, we felt snug and at home and could think of nowhere else we'd rather be. We knew it was the perfect place, too, when a woman sitting at a table of 12 began singing Mexican love songs. Her voice filled the room, entertaining everybody, prompting others at the tables surrounding hers to sing along and inspiring the rest of us to applaud when she was done.

The gratuitous soup and salad were nothing more than basic. Pedestrian greens lathered with rich dressings comprised the salad, while the beef and vegetable soup reminded me of the type served with a basket of saltines in a diner on a cold day. There was no need for other appetizers. In any case, none exist on this menu.

By not expecting too much from the kitchen, I avoided disappointment. We tasted something from the sea, from the land and from the coop. Save for a few slips here and there, what we sampled was fundamentally good food--no more, no less--and quite adequate for what we paid and for how much we received. We enjoyed the Rack of Lamb ($22.99) precut into four chops with just enough fat left on the bones. A garnish of mushrooms sautéed in wine was applied under and over the meat.

Had the cook been more vigilant, the Filet Mignon ($23.99) would have fared better. But too much fire dried it out and stole its natural juices. The wrapping of bacon was a nice touch, but neither it nor the sauce Bordelaise could replace what the fire took away.

At this point, we toasted the good and the bad with glasses of 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a regal red with warm, delicate properties. It complemented not only the red meat, but also the Fillet of Salmon ($18.99), which was poached with enough care to preserve the best ocean qualities of this popular fish. It came with a rich, rough-hewn Hollandaise, wisely served on the side.

The surprise that evening was a translation of cacciatora called Chicken Mt. Hamilton ($15.99). Only the breast of the bird was used and sautéed in olive oil, garlic and wine with onions, peppers, tomatoes and olives. This colorful, robust dish won unanimous approval at our table. We ordered it with rice instead of baked potato, which proved a good move. With sauce in its kernels, the rice became a substantial side dish.

The servers at Grandview are just what you'd expect. They're characters--all of them. They understand the limitations of this restaurant and make no excuses. They tell the truth, are abrupt at times, but--in the final tally--always treat you right. By meal's end, our waitress was calling us "honey" and waxing sweetly about Lucie's homemade cheesecake ($3.50).

This gracious hamlet refuses to go away. Better restaurants with great chefs have come and gone--vanished from the face of the earth, in fact--but not the Grandview. Perched high above the Santa Clara Valley, it has survived the wind and the rain, the snow and the earthquakes. For that reason, I'd return again--and perhaps again--to sit and gaze at living history, warm my hands at the fire and ponder the organizational principle of those shimmering lights.

Mount Hamilton Grandview
Address: 94 Mt. Hamilton Road, San Jose
Phone: 408.251.8909
Hours: 5-10:30pm Wed-Sun
Cuisine: Cowboy Continental
Price Range: $13.99-$38.99

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From the January 4-10, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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