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Photograph by George Sakkestad

Raising the Bar: Assistant chef Alfonso Ayala, general manager Carlo Castillo and executive chef Tadayuki Tani set high standards at Le Zest.

Beau Zest

Word is out on Le Zest, Campbell's delicious little secret

By Joe Mangelli

SITTING AT THE CORNER of one of those blurry shopping centers where Campbell Avenue meets San Tomas Aquino Road, Le Zest is a welcome surprise. This well-thought-out continental restaurant, carefully tailored in amber with high ceilings and a state-of-the-art kitchen, might be more at home on 16th and Valencia in San Francisco than where it is. But local residents are the benefactors of such displacement. Patrons here seem a bit less adorned than most of the food served. Neighborhood folks wearing jeans and Nikes can be seen swirling red wines and dining on pork sauteed in honey mustard sauce ($14.95).

Chef Tadayuki Tani has created a very personal place and a very personal menu. A veteran of Japanese and French apprenticeships, Tani takes a bi-traditional approach to continental standbys. Waiters at Le Zest are knowledgeable, and a sincere desire to please the patron is obvious. The manageable menu features less than a dozen entrees balanced by a like number of appetizers and salads. We began with escargot sauteed maitre d' style in garlic, lots of butter, lemon and cognac ($6.50). The generous portion served in a small cup was perhaps a tad overpowering in the butter department. Soup du jour was a delicious, light cream of onion ($3.50) that we thoroughly enjoyed. The garden salad with miso vinaigrette ($4.50) was a healthy serving of mixed greens, but the vinaigrette was too heavily applied.

From the sea side of the ledger we opted for poached filet of salmon with tarragon sauce ($14.50). The presentation was original. Two medallions of tender salmon were placed with a square of mashed potatoes, sweet baby carrots and string beans. Very Japanese. A table favorite was the filet mignon ($17.50), a fork-tender cut of fine beef arrayed with a lip-smacking fresh cream and soy sauce reduction framed with what we suspect were drop-fried potato fingers.

Though the prices seemed reasonable for continental cuisine, the nightly fixed-price offering might be the way to go. A New York steak with appetizer, salad and dessert was $24.95. Though we were tempted by the house special poached pear in raspberry Cointreau sauce ($5.95), we instead chocolated out with a mundane chocolate mousse ($4.75).

Le Zest has been working hard to earn a reputation in the South Bay for about five months now. The place has energy; you can see it in the eyes of chef Tani as he watches over his impeccable kitchen. He even offers cooking classes on Monday evenings to further his cause. The restaurant is at 75 S. San Tomas Aquino Road #1 in Campbell; for reservations or information on cooking classes, call 408.378.5945.

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From the January 27-February 2, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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