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[whitespace] Rio Grande
Christopher Gardner

Motion Picture: Server Dawn Burton juggles orders at Rio Grande, a new restaurant in an old movie palace on Mountain View's Castro Street.

Mountain View's spacious new Rio Grande saloon and dinner house cooks up some mighty tasty ideas

By Christina Waters

HAPPY TRAILS now lead to another renovation of a former movie palace, brought to you by the folks who pulled off The Palace makeover in Sunnyvale. This one's in Mountain View and it's called Rio Grande; the theme is the Wild West, with lots of rustic open-beamed woodwork and inviting barstools at which to wet your whistle. Mesas at sunset glow from a large mural overlooking the dance floor, and three attractive bar areas keep an eclectic clientele well lubricated.

Definitely a theme dining room/club/ bar, Rio Grande is a whole lot more as well. Colorful appointments like wagon-wheel chandeliers and saddles draped over the banisters aren't all that's being brought to market. There's a kitchen here that turns out some mighty fine New American flavors, as well as a few old-fashioned favorites, under the direction of executive chef Dennis Iczkowski. Dishes are designed to please the two-fisted diner--nouvelle it's not. And you'll find nary a trace of Pacific Rim or Mediterranean influence on a menu that would have pleased John F. Kennedy as much as John Wayne.

In a couple of visits to the huge Western dining hall, the initial bumpy service seems to have smoothed itself out and found the right rhythm with the kitchen. I've enjoyed some terrific food paired with better-than-decent red wines by the glass; we especially liked an Acacia Carneros Pinot Noir ($9.50--ouch!) and a voluptuous Zabaco Zinfandel ($5.75).

Yes, pardner, Rio Grande is a fine place for steak. In fact, it's a fine place for anything grilled, like my skewered quail ($17), stuffed with a sumptuous--I mean it--cornbread and sausage stuffing. A succulent fresh trout stuffed with wild rice and almonds ($14) was joined by a bowl of excellent black-eyed peas ($3) on one evening, while more recently my dining companion was properly smitten by a slab of grilled ribeye steak ($18.50), accompanied by sautéed mushrooms and topped with a very spicy dollop of sinus-clearing horseradish and sour cream sauce.

Already high on the locals' list of places to meet for cocktails and dancing, Rio Grande clearly intends to cater to discerning taste buds. Last week we shared a salmon cake appetizer ($7.50)--two moist, tarragon-laced patties, all crispy outside and meaty inside--that was joined by an expertly executed remoulade sauce from the New Orleans repertoire of hot, complex sauces. It was refreshing to discover a sauce that wasn't afraid to step right up and say "Howdy." An order of buttermilk biscuits arrived, all high and light, the way I wish my mother could have made them, yet they weren't shaped like biscuits. More like huge triangular scones. And they were laced with scallions, though the menu hadn't revealed that ingredient. We loved them, but other patrons might want fuller disclosure in the menu descriptions.

My two--that's right, two--grilled quail were beautifully cooked and stuffed (lots of stuffed items on the Rio Grande menu) with a dressing my dinner date Mary and I almost fought over. I loved nibbling on the crunchy quail legs, which delivered both crispy skin and interior nuggets of moist meat. With the quail came a tiny garnish of satiny braised greens and onions. Very down-home and delicious. Mary's sizable steak--the kind that justifies the occasional foray into the world of red meat--was richly flavorful and joined with a cluster of sautéed mushrooms that were every bit as good as the beef.

Desserts at Rio Grande hang their hats in the neighborhood of man-pleasin' sweets. Fruit crisps, apple pandowdy, bread pudding, black bottom pie--everything with scoops of ice cream. A warm, cakey butterscotch brownie ($5) absolutely hit the spot. It came on a plate squiggled with warm butterscotch sauce, topped with a scoop of sinfully perfect butter pecan ice cream and dusted with powdered sugar. Now that's how the West was won.

Rio Grande
Address: 228 Castro St., Mountain View
Phone: 650/988-6700
Entrees: $12-$20
Hours: Open Tue.-Sat. 11am-2pm for lunch and 5:30-10:30pm for dinner
Cuisine: New American/Old West
Chef: Dennis Iczkowski

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From the March 18-24, 1999 issue of Metro.

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