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Vermin in the Vermicelli:
Florentine Restaurant, 118 Castro St., Mountain View

By Will Harper

THIS TRENDY BLOCK of Castro Street is a favorite hangout of the high-tech rank and file. And at different times county environmental health officials say it has also been a favorite hangout of rodents with discriminating taste buds. And the critters seemed to have a particular liking for the Italian cuisine at Florentine last year.

Back on Feb. 18, 1999, county inspector Kevin Mulvany detected mouse droppings in the cabinet below the espresso machine and in a storeroom by the pastry area. In a followup inspection report the next month, Mulvany wrote in capital letters: "GET RID OF THE RODENTS!"

By September, the rodent problem had apparently been replaced by a fruit fly problem.

But the rats were back in time for Christmas. Responding to a complaint, inspector Nancy Mueller found Florentine teeming with vermin as well as vermicelli. Mueller noted in her Dec. 21 report: "Rat droppings and urine stains on boxes, shelves and floor throughout restaurant, especially heavy in the pasta storage area; chew marks on food packages. The manager voluntarily pulled all contaminated products (chewed bags, food with rodent droppings in it, etc.) from shelves for disposal in trash dumpster."

Rick Lowery says he hasn't seen any signs of rats since he took over as the restaurant's general manager in January. Inspection reports from this year support Leeway's contention of offering a rat-free dining environment, though health officials shut down Florentine for a few hours in April to fix a plumbing problem causing flooding in the women's restroom.

Lowery goes so far as to say he wouldn't object to posting inspection letter-grades, as is now being contemplated by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. "We have no problem with that," Lowery says. "Our kitchens are open to the health department."

Those are bold words considering the Mountain View Florentine scored 57 out of 100 on its most recent inspection on May 2. To be fair, the inspector didn't find anything too gruesome--at least no signs of rats. She deducted points for stuff like not having towels in the dispenser near the employee hand-washing sink. The most serious violation was for the walk-in refrigerator being 10 degrees above what health officials consider safe for food storage.

But I wasn't going to let the specter of salmonella ruin my dinner at Florentine--a chain with 10 locations in the Bay Area--the other night. While I waited for my entree--the tagliatelle bolognese pasta ($10.95), I fearlessly dipped my warm, floury flat bread into the tasty spiced butter with abandon. Florentine's menu prices are reasonable (the salmon ravioli plate is $11.95), which is what I would expect from a place with glass shakers of Parmesan cheese on every table. I noticed one or two fruit flies buzzing about, but they mercifully stayed away from me.

The bolognese took a while to arrive, but it was worth the wait. The dish boasted a hint of Chianti, which went along nicely with the sautéed meat, sliced mushrooms, and diced tomatoes, garlic and green onions.

I left Florentine contented and full, maybe even a little bloated--but definitely not sick.

RATING: 3 forks

Introduction: Bottom Feeders.

Making The List: The methodology and ratings.

Not on the Menu: Gruesome complaints and bizarre things allegedly found in food.

Wok on the Wild Side: Asian restaurants still get disproportionately high rate of poor inspection reports.

Chew Fly, Don't Bother Me: Tory's Restaurant in Cupertino.

A Fowl Feeling: Mai Garden Restaurant in San Jose.

Fast Food Frightmare: Mr. Chau's Chinese Fast Food in Palo Alto.

Overly Greasy Spoon: Bob's Surf 'N Turf in San Jose.

Not Cool Enough: Gordon Biersch in Palo Alto.

Pastor Its Prime: El Mexicano Taqueria in San Jose.

How Fresh? Fresh N Healthy Vegetarian in San Jose.

Chill Is Gone: Nola in Palo Alto.

How Now Stale Bao? Thanh Mai in San Jose.

Coffee To Go, Please: My My Coffee and Sandwiches in San Jose.

Off-Screen Horror Show: Century Capitol 16 Theaters in San Jose.

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From the June 8-14, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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