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Photograph by George Sakkestad

Fresh Ideas: Chef/owner Metin Demirci and sous chef Huso Sarac are the men behind the meals at Vaso Azzurro.

Mediterranean Magic

Mountain View's glittering restaurant row has gotten a whole lot brighter thanks to the delicious ambiance of Vaso Azzurro

By Christina Waters

SURELY THE guardian angel of cozy dining must be Italian--or at least must speak fluent Italian. Hence all the excitement over the new crowd of South Bay Mediterranean dining spots. At the train-station end of Castro Street, Vaso Azzurro--"it means blue vase," I was assured by one of the restaurant's delightful staff members--is beginning to attract a throng of regulars.

Sherri and I were among those attracted to the terra cotta walls, the vibrant blue candles and the incredibly helpful and charming staff. If they added a chalkboard wine listing and upgraded the collection of wines available, they could easily fit a snug, smart little wine bar in the back corner. Something to consider. Armed with a glass of Guenoc Sauvignon Blanc 1997 ($6) and another of Hahn Merlot 1997 ($6.50), we surrendered to Andrea Bocelli wailing words of love in the background. We felt completely at home.

Excellent focaccia arrived the minute we sat down and was made even better by a healthy dip into a pool of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and crushed olives. Sherri's appetizer of polenta with portobello mushroom ($5.95) turned out to be one of those sinfully creamy creations laced with Gorgonzola cheese. Sautéed portobello strips topped the polenta, good and generous enough to act as an entree.

My insalata trevisana ($6.95) was simply one of the loveliest salads I've had in a long time. An emerald forest of baby spinach, arugula and radicchio formed the center, with spears of tender endive emerging here and there, and a lavish topping of crumbled gorgonzola, caramelized walnuts and a few tiny cherry tomatoes so good they must have been from Baja. Actually, I could have made a splendid dinner out of my fine merlot, the salad and the polenta.

But entrees arrived--with perfect timing--that took our breath away.

Sherri's order of fettuccine ($13.95) looked like an elaborate circular braid of pale yellow, strewn with scallions, shrimp and small bay scallops, ringed dramatically by black mussels. The pasta was impeccably al dente, though the extremely delicate saffron sauce was only barely detectable. A more forceful addition of garlic or herbs would have added interest. My entree of fresh local halibut ($16.95), grilled just to doneness, tasted like Venice. It was beautiful, cooked piccata-style, with wine, butter and capers and topped with a few extremely moist rock shrimp. A flavorful creation, it was accompanied by carrots, a floret of cauliflower, baby bok choy and the kind of roast potatoes that always remind me of Europe. What a dish! If this is an example of what chef Metin Demirci can do, then I'll consider getting a pied-à-terre in Mountain View.

Both entrees were attractively presented, with fresh parsley dusting the entire broad white serving plate. Each was obviously freshly made just moments before being brought to the table. The waiters checked back with us several times to make sure that we were happy with the dishes, and they were only too glad to wrap what we couldn't finish to come home with us. Our waiters made us feel that we were the most important guests in the restaurant, even though Vaso Azzurro was full with large groups as well as couples. That feeling is one of the priceless keys to memorable restaurant dining.

Dessert--as promised by one of our servers--lived up to the rest of the meal. "This is the best cheesecake I can recall," confessed Sherri, a woman who doesn't take cheesecake lightly. Vaso Azzurro's housemade torta di formaggio ($4.50) is a miracle, light as a New York-style cheesecake, but more interesting and textured. This one was topped with a strawberry sauce, dusted lightly with chocolate powder and adorned with a few, perfect, plump blueberries. Not too sweet, it was simply irresistible. Like Vaso Azzurro itself.

Vaso Azzurro Ristorante
Address: 108 Castro St., Mountain View
Phone: 650.940.1717
Hours: Lunch Mon.-Sat., 11am-2:30pm; dinner Sun.-Thu., 4:30-10pm; and Fri.-Sat., 4:30-11pm
Cuisine: Northern Italian
Price range: moderate

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From the March 2-8, 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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