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[whitespace] A Party With Oscar

Denizens of Wolfgang Puck's empire will help the celebrity chef cater to the stars

By Christina Waters

Michael French, chef and partner at Spago Palo Alto, had no idea he was supposed to be going down to Hollywood next week to cook for the Oscars. I love when that happens. "They haven't called me," he laughed, when I read him the press release. According to publicists for the 72nd annual Academy Awards, Spago creator Wolfgang Puck will--for the sixth time--be catering the Governor's Ball, the post-Oscar gala bash that feeds 1,650 well-heeled guests. That's a lot of duck sausage. Actually it's Puck's new company, Wolfgang Puck Special Events, that will provide all Pac Rim Euro-fusion food for the Tinseltown soirée, and chefs from many Spagos--including Palo Alto's--are scheduled to converge on Los Angeles to help with the catering. Well, this was the first French heard of it. "Wolfgang does two parties usually for the Oscars," he said. "One is at his Beverly Hills Spago; the other is the event at the Governor's Ball"--a job that other chefs have described as "a lot of work and you don't really get to see any stars."

Spago Palo Alto did its own Oscar special last year, French told me. "We re-created the entire Governor's Ball menu right here in Palo Alto for a local law office." But pretty much, French reveals, the Palo Alto store is a long way from the L.A. scene and any direct influence by the celebrity founder. "Wolfgang set the concept for Spago's. We don't cut corners, use only the freshest, seasonal ingredients, give people what they want--that was Wolfgang's ideal. After that, he lets me do what I want," French added. And what the chef wants right now is his new favorite dish of salmon with a red wine sauce. "It's a fun dish," he said, enthusing about the contrasts of tart endive relish, a celeriac accompaniment, rich salmon and red-wine sauce. "I'm also doing a new pasta right now with an emulsion of fresh spring peas that's really exciting." I was getting hungry. "We're really not part of that Hollywood star scene here," French said regarding the alleged Oscar gig. "We do stars like the Netscape people." In style. Spago Palo Alto is located at 265 Lytton Ave. in Palo Alto (duh): 650.833.1000.

New Stratta-fication

It's all true, Mark Tabak of 71 St. Peter (71 S. Pedro St., San Jose, 408.971.8523) told me last week. He and partner Armand Tiano are buying Stratta, the popular grill at 71 E. San Fernando St. "It's true," he admitted happily. "We've been working on it for about a year." But a few bumps occurred along the road to a second dining room for the talented restaurateurs. There was a deal. Then no deal. There was a Chapter 11 that turned, alas, into a Chapter 7. "So now we're dealing with new people to try to complete this transaction--it's not a completely done deal. But it's close."

Tabak told me that the successful 71 St. Peter--home of glorious roasted chicken and world-class crème brûlée--is going to stay much the way its many fans have grown to know and love. As far as the new Stratta: "We're hoping to bring one key person in to concentrate on some menu development. The name will remain the same, but we do plan a bit of remodeling." Tabak hopes to add a full liquor license and a small stage for live music designed to attract the late-night, après-theater crowd. "Meanwhile, we're doing our homework. Working with all the city departments and eventually, if we can make it work, eke out a little patio in the back." Good luck to all involved. Stay tuned for details about the official opening of the new Stratta.

Burger Beat

Have you had a Clarke's burger lately? Waaay before fast food--in 1945 to be exact--there was Clarke's Charcoal Broiler, turning out fat, juicy charcoal-broiled burgers (and ribs, and huge ranch-style breakfasts, too) custom-cooked to your exact specs. You can add all kinds of goodies like mushrooms, bacon, grilled peppers, guacamole and seven different cheeses and have it served on your choice of seven different breads/buns. Clarke's has several outposts around the valley; try the ones at 680 Rancho Shopping Center in Los Altos or 20950 Stevens Creek Blvd.


Email me! Readers, restaurateurs, chefs: Please send any news items, tips, menu changes, openings, special events and juicy gossip to cwaters@metcruz.com.

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From the March 16-22, 2000 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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