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[whitespace] Yoshi Sato
Photograph by Erika Pino

Lucky Numbers Oyster bar chef Yoshi Sato offers up a specialty of the house at Parcel 104.

Star Parcel

A signature dining room deliciously reveals the American heartland, envisioned by a Bay Area legend

By Christina Waters

BRADLEY OGDEN'S latest venture, Parcel 104 at the Santa Clara Marriott complex, opened with all the polish expected of a Bay Area culinary entrepreneur. At least it did from where I sat, amid the caramel leather and polished woodwork of the sleek lounge, sipping a rare Ponzi Pinot Noir 1998 ($25) until Tori arrived.

An expert staff, glamorously polished ambience and a menu dedicated to "seasonal farm-fresh American fare" all delivered a rousing introduction to the handsomest new dining setting in the South Bay. Once we were seated in the perfectly lit main dining room, Tori selected a glass of 1999 Storrs Merlot ($14) from an astonishing list that included top California producers (Kistler, Turley, Biale) as well as French Burgundies to enchant even the jaded connoisseur.

Joining our splendid red wines--the Storrs contained more spice than Arrakis--were three breads distinguished by a tiny, warm corn-and-herb muffin that Betty Crocker herself might have coveted. How is it that a room this pitch-perfect glamorous doesn't feel the least bit stuffy or pretentious? I wondered, enjoying an amuse bouche of smoked salmon and tiny pastel beets, all doused with a blood-orange vinaigrette. Tori's eyes said, "Oh my God." The sorcery had begun.

It continued with the presentation by our overly casual waiter (the only glitch in the otherwise flawless system) of a butter-lettuce salad with toasted almond vinaigrette ($7.50) and an oven-fired flatbread infused with Bellweather Farms handmade pepato cheese, black and golden chanterelles and a bouquet of watercress ($9.75). Both starters sparkled with clear, bold flavors, though something called "Sonoma cheese fondue" accompanying the salad erred on the side of an Alfredo cheese dip.

The stylish heartland theme hit its stride with the main courses. My wild striped bass ($26)--a crisp, tapenade-infused square astride a pillow of sweet Visalia onion and tiny fingerling potatoes--arrived on a huge square plate. The kitchen here avoids gratuitous plate decoration, and every nuance of braised baby artichoke, warm foam of preserved lemon, touch of intense black olive puree was both beautiful and delicious. A bed of aromatic, clove-scented Swiss chard underscored the winter-season motif. Even a succulent sheaf of roasted baby fennel added a singular licorice note to this perfect orchestration of flavors and textures.

Another entree of pork loin chop ($22.50) proved delicious, if too chewy, and was topped with an excellent--though visually unappealing--pear butter. A wildly improbable partner of white-cheddar grit fries--cut like French fries but made from Bravo Farms artisanal cheese--was both silly and exciting. The entire dish fell just short of stardom, though it offered a bed of the same astonishingly fragrant chard.

Pastry chef Carlos Sanchez's dessert list flaunted wicked temptation--custom-made tapioca pudding, fruit casserole with pear-brandy ice cream and a citrus sampler of cake, brûlée, tart and sorbet. Tori opted for a double-chocolate spoon bread with malt ice cream and hot chocolate sauce ($8). I had some of the splendid pinot noir remaining and joined it with a sumptuous trio of cheeses ($10.75)--a supple Bravo Farms double-cream blue plus Bellweather Farms pepato and a nutty Sally Jackson sheep's-milk creation wrapped in chestnut skin. The platter arrived with slabs of remarkable walnut-currant bread and a fluff of peppery radish sprouts. But it was the chocolate masterpiece that floored us.

Absolutely without garnish--no squiggles, no mint leaves, just three simple expressions of chocolate--it was exceptional in both concept and delivery. On a spoon sat a fat oval of malted ice cream--next to it, a tiny demitasse of hot bittersweet chocolate sauce and a round, warm, creamy chocolate-pudding cake. It was among my most satisfying chocolate experiences. Put Parcel 104 at the top of your short list.

Parcel 104
Address: 2700 Mission College Blvd., Santa Clara
Phone: 408.970.6104
Hours: Mon-Thu 5:30pm-9:30pm; Fri till 10pm; Sat 5pm-10pm; Sun 5pm-9:30pm
Cuisine: New American
Entrees: $19.75-$31.25
Executive Chef: Bradley Ogden
Chef de Cuisine: Bart Hosmer
Full bar; oyster bar; private dining rooms

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From the January 17-23, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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