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Photograph by George Sakkestad

Fast Food: Lunch time at the Lion & Compass finds wait staff rushing to serve up Steve Chan's inventive fusion fare.

The Lion's Roar

With the amazing Steve Chan at the helm, the menu at Lion & Compass practically explodes with flavor pyrotechnics

By Christina Waters

TEN YEARS AGO in Campbell's late, great Martha's Vineyard, a young chef blazed his way into my personal pantheon of greatest culinary hits. He did things with lobster and fresh fruit, with rack of lamb and baby bok choy, that suggested a fantasy marriage of France, California and a Far East of the imagination. That chef was Steve Chan, and he's still setting the standards for world fusion cooking, currently blending Pacific Rim flavors with New American attitudes at Lion & Compass. The results are stunning.

The original Silicon Valley power spot, founded 14 years ago by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, Lion & Compass still exudes a calm and reassuring traditionalism. New Orleans-style wrought-iron street lamps form islands of light amid the potted palms and luxurious tiled floors. White linen, candlelight and white roses may not be trendy, but they look and feel great.

So did the attentive service and a basket of three breads that arrived, along with unsalted butter, the minute we sat down. A glass of Clos la Chance Zinfandel 1997 ($6.50) and a flute of Roederer Estate bubbly ($6.75) opened the evening of world-class grazing. The wine list offers a respectable range and includes many local vineyards. But the real excitement at Lion & Compass, with due respect to the entrepreneurs seated around us, is in a menu that is sexy, inventive and anything but Mediterranean.

Mongolian rack of lamb with silky chipotle sweet potatoes in a pomegranate-ginger glaze. Venison stir-fry in plum wine with portobellos. Spice-seared opaka paka with coconut sticky rice and basil green curry sauce. You get the idea. It is possible to order a pepper-grilled filet mignon with truffled mashed potatoes. But it would be a waste of this kind of cross-cultural excitement. We were here to engage in some of the best East-meets-West on the planet.

A luxurious chopped salad of Asian pears, chicory, radicchio and cambozola blue cheese crostini ($7.50) started us off. It was every bit as luscious as it sounds. But the absolute star--actually of the entire meal--was Chan's update on crab cakes, a creation of shrimp and salmon crusted with almonds ($11). Sided with a nouvelle kimchee of julienned jicama and carrots in a fiery sweet-and-sour garlic sauce, these crisp, buttery seafood cakes were the stuff of exotic dreams. The neo kimchee rested in a nest of radicchio. Chan leaves no detail untended.

Entrees continued the wave of seduction. Eyes and taste buds sighed over my evening special of fresh halibut, served on a bed of fresh spinach atop two huge round potstickers filled with mixed seafood ($21). A cloud of flash-fried onions garnished the top, and the wonderful sauce glistening over everything bore the licorice punch of five spice. Oyster mushrooms, Chinese long beans and corpulent shrimp studded the rim.

Across the table, an order of Mongolian rack of lamb ($28) involved crimson baby lamb chops bearing a rich glaze of coriander-intensive spice. The rare lamb ringed a mound of earthy sweet potatoes, garlicky chard and a to-die-for sauce of ginger and pomegranate. A few long curls of flash-fried carrot topped this wildly original and successful dish. Portion sizes were exactly on the mark, and it's a pleasure to see that, like many chefs across the country, Chan isn't afraid to re-embrace the best ideas of nouvelle.

Even desserts disarmed us. A portion of orange angel food cake was delicate and delicious, and while lavish with fresh strawberries, it would have flourished with a giant dollop of whipped cream ($6). Another pastry, an impeccable tart filled with warm apples and raspberries, arrived studded with a few gigantic ripe blackberries and thick tracings of caramel sauce ($6). The crust was astonishing. Topped with a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream and a branch of mint, the tart had us speaking in tongues. What a delight to rediscover the handiwork--both in concept and gorgeous presentation--of chef Steve Chan. The atmosphere of Silicon Valley has definitely gotten richer.


Lion & Compass
Address: 1023 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Sunnyvale
Phone: 408.745.1260
Chef: Steve Chan
Cuisine: Pacific Rim/New California
Extras: Full bar; private banquet rooms.
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11am-2pm and 5:30-9:30pm; Sat. 5:30-9pm. Closed Sun.

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From the April 6-12, 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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