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[whitespace] Jim Latter and Steve Ramona
Photograph by Erika Pino

See Food, Eat Food: Owner Jim Latter and manager Steve Ramona do that delicious shuck 'n' jive.

Taking a Bite Out of 'Fine'

Sharky's in Willow Glen surpasses its sports-bar identity with a menu full of oceanic delights

By Joseph Izzo Jr.

WILLOW GLEN is a crapshoot for restaurants. They come. They go. They vanish into thin air. Some open with the promise of greatness but fizzle quickly into mediocrity. With the transformation of Sharky's the sports bar into Sharky's the restaurant, this place might last.

Sharky's embraces the informal spirit of the neighborhood with its hole-in-the-wall entrance and compact menu of select fresh fish and shellfish simply prepared. In baseball parlance, Sharky's throws fastballs down the middle--no spitters, no knuckle balls.

Shaped like a shoe box, Sharky's interior is long and narrow; though a tight fit in places, it is surprisingly comfortable and cozy. It's a fun place to hide out on a Friday night with oyster shooters to the left, grilled salmon to the right and cheerful dialogue humming from floor to ceiling.

There are tables outside for warm-weather dining, but the action is inside, beginning at a short counter with swivel stools front and center to the kitchen, and a small number of tables set along a mural of sea life done in aquamarine, reds and deep ocean blues. This funky mural, painted by Janet Lane, establishes a cool, maritime setting that took my imagination to the colorful depths, where sponges grow like Joshua trees and giant squid skirt plumes of purple ink.

To the rear of the restaurant, through a glass door, you find the actual sports bar, still a cozy space, but no longer a rectangular shoe box. The night we went, the bar was pumping out Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

Our dinner opened with a flurry of oyster shooters made with Absolut ($4.25), followed by prawns ($11) glistening in aromatic garlic butter. Also for starters, we had crab cakes ($11) composed of fresh Dungeness and served with a classic rendering of remoulade. The New England clam chowder ($3 cup; $4 bowl) came next, and it was delicious. This seductive bisque achieved perfect balance with clams and potatoes, and was neither falsely amplified with potatoes nor overworked with flour and/or other superfluous adjuncts.

Fresh-fish specials are scrawled on the chalkboard, hosting swimmers from all waters, both fresh and salt. Only two or three are offered per night, which keeps the selection simple and to the point. Our thick piece of ahi ($14) was seared to a ruby hue. Flavor and texture whispered sweet upon the palate. As did all the fish that night, it came with rice and fresh, crunchy vegetables glazed lightly with butter.

Our salmon ($13) waxed the lightest color of pink and produced juice with each touch of the fork. The chef, Jim Latter, understands the delicate nature of fish and applies fire with a conscientious hand. We also sampled the catfish ($12). When it's good and fresh--as it was here--catfish wears the king's crown for mild flavor and exquisite moistness.

Sharky's menu is so small, dessert has been limited to one selection: Burnt marble almond cake with creamed custard ($4.50) from Dick's Bakery in San Jose. The manager told us he chose that particular cake because people line up for it at Dick's. I would have enjoyed chocolate much more, but the airy, creamy nature of this cake got all of our forks moving in the same direction until only a dab of whipped cream remained.

Sharky's itself is so small that everybody gets into the mix when it comes to service. Even the chef came to the table, bearing plates full of hot food. All the servers were as friendly as good neighbors, telling stories, laughing along with jokes and offering suggestions about food and wine, from oyster shooters to burnt almond cake.

In summing up Sharky's, my guest Bob Dobbs said, "This place is perfect. It's comfortable and full of energy. It brings Willow Glen down to earth." I agree. The shoe box may be small, but it shines.

Address: 1151 Lincoln Ave., San Jose
Phone: 408.279.0996
Hours: 5pm-10pm Tue-Sun
Cuisine: Seafood
Price Range: $5-$17

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From the June 13-19, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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