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Photograph by Felipe Buitrago

Spit Happens: Los Altos Grill is grilling it up smoky and satisfying for meat lovers.

Yea, America!

Los Altos Grill serves a heaping slice of American fare

By Stett Holbrook

AMERICA, you're OK. Sure, this is the land of George Bush, American Idol, Hummers, and other sorry reminders of our national shortcomings but darn it, there's plenty to be proud of, too.

We helped rebuild Europe after World War II. We invented jazz music, the telephone, baseball and the iPod. We aren't afraid of hard work. And we know how to eat and have a good time.

These were some of my thoughts as a forked into a spit-roasted chicken at the Los Altos Grill the other day. The handsome restaurant and its long, horseshoe-shaped bar were packed tight with happy people eating and drinking with an exuberance that surprised me for a Tuesday night in the 'burbs.

We Americans eat plenty of bad, processed food, and we've got the collective fat ass to prove it. But the Los Altos Grill celebrates some of what we do well. And that's meat. Steak and fish grilled over an oak fire. Roasted chicken. Ribs. Big, fat burgers. This isn't haute cuisine. Nor is it particularly healthy. But it's satisfying in the way only smoky grilled meats and cheesy mashed potatoes washed down with a dry martini can be.

The Los Altos Grill changed its name from Bandera recently, and the menu has undergone a few revisions. It was open for just dinner, then added lunch but then closed again for lunch last month when business lagged. But the dinner crowd seems to more than make up for that. At night it's as if all of Los Altos is here. The restaurant is done up in dark wood and leather and has the feel of a comfortable hunting lodge. The open kitchen and smell of wood smoke give the place a manly allure.

A Phoenix-based chain that operates Houston's and other restaurants around the country owns the grill. But don't hold the restaurant's chain status against it. While the walls are covered with canned ephemera and kitschy photographs that could come from an Americana prop department, the restaurant deserves credit for its good food in a straight-ahead, let-the-ingredients-speak-for-themselves style.

Walking up to the restaurant, it's hard to miss the cage of rotisserie chickens slowing spinning over a wood fire. The sight and smell of the bronzing birds had a powerful effect on me, and I knew what I wanted to eat even before I sat down. Served with rice, brown gravy and thick but rather mealy slices of tomatoes, the roasted chicken ($15) delivered crisp skin and a juicy interior. Nothing fancy, just an honest bird. Equally good was the spit-roasted leg of lamb ($19), juicy sliced meat dabbed with a spicy barbecue sauce and a hillock of cheese-infused mashed potatoes. Portion control isn't one of the Los Altos Grill's strengths, so plan accordingly.

Any American grill worth its red, white and blue has to make a good burger, and the Los Altos Grill serves a juicy lunker made of fresh ground chuck with excellent, thin-cut fries ($9).

On the lighter side, I was impressed with the restaurant's simple preparations of fresh fish, such as wild Alaskan salmon ($27) and Hawaiian ono ($27). Rather than goop up the fish with fussy sauces, the kitchen simply grills its seafood with a little salt and pepper and butter. The crisp and light escabeche-style marinated vegetables served with the fish are a good match.

Side dishes play a starring role here and are particularly popular with the bar crowd. Cornbread in a skillet ($3) is a popular item, but I found the little sugar-glazed loaf too sweet. Better is the grilled artichoke ($9). Nine bucks is quite a markup from what you'd pay at the store, but the meaty, grill-mark-branded thistle and accompanying remoulade sauce quickly disappeared in a scrum of grabbing hands from our table. The small Caesar salad ($6) featured cubes of cornbread for croutons, but the salad was as overdressed as a fur coat in Bakersfield. In July.

Desserts are big and generally good. Tres leches ($8), a milk-soaked cake ringed with whipped cream, strawberries and bananas, didn't last long, nor did the almond-crusted Key lime pie ($8).

Service is uniformly cheery and brisk. While your waiter is not the person who delivers your food, the front of the house staff has a system that keep the place humming and diners happy.

Some say God, guts and guns are what make America great. I'm not sure about that, but I do know good food and drink help keep us happy. The Los Altos Grill serves both in large quantities.


Los Altos Grill
Address: 233 3rd St., Los Altos.
Phone: 650.948.3524.
Hours: Dinner nightly.
Price range: $9-$27.


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From the April 6-12, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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