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Primo Primavera

[whitespace] Cafe Primavera
Tasty Decor: Located inside the Adobe building, Cafe Primavera's sleek downtown eatery lines its walls with bold artwork.

In two delicious installments, Cafe Primavera caters to Mediterranean appetites across the landscape

By Christina Waters

MUCH MORE than just a cozy Willow Glen neighborhood trattoria, Cafe Primavera has reinvented itself in an urban guise. Tucked into the ground floor of the giant Adobe headquarters on Almaden Boulevard, the downtown version of Cafe P is impossibly sleek. Resplendent with blond marble counter and gleaming woodwork, the newer sibling is open weekdays for breakfast and lunch. Pastries and espresso drinks fuel the mornings for a clientele that is admittedly long on Adobe personnel--lucky to have such a stylish in-house lunchroom--and at midday the culinary attitudes extend smartly toward modish salads, focaccia sandwiches and sensuous pastas.

On a recent visit, I admired the house collection of bold Italian posters from the deco period striding up one wall. I was kept company by an impeccable Caesar salad and flavorful muffaletta panini (the fashionable Italian expression for "sandwich"). This combo ran me a mere $6.95 and packed huge flavor hits, especially the Caesar, all crisp and garlicky. The sandwich involved a tasty pesto mayo, plus some of my favorite food groups: ham, smoked turkey and provolone cheese. I also sampled a fresh berry cobbler, which was huge for $2.50. Absolutely loaded with blackberries, it lingered on the overkill side of sweet for my palate. A flawless cappuccino ($2.50) helped douse the sugary aftertaste. What a location, I thought--just across the street from both the Convention Center and the Children's Discovery Museum.

And it's only a few miles from its sister restaurant, the Willow Glen Cafe Primavera, where on a rainy evening I met friends for a long, friendly meal filled with some seriously fine cooking. Brice and Sheri love eating out, and they were happy to help me sample some of Primavera's ways with seafood, chops and pastas. We toasted the evening with large balloon goblets of David Bruce Pinot Noir 1994 ($6) and began with a shared dish of mussels ($8.25) in a light white wine, shallot and orange cream sauce. The mussels were fat, sweet and succulent. The sauce, we all admitted, was extremely mild.

Salads were excellent, both a classic Caesar topped with wide ribbons of shaved Parmesan ($4.50) and a huge portion of baby spinach dotted with dried cranberries, grapes, almonds and sliced pears ($5.25). Everything went nicely with some focaccia, which we inhaled in a back corner of the dining room, glowing with a crowd of regulars and sunny Tuscan gold walls.

Yes, I agreed with Brice, the Caesar would have been even nicer with a few anchovies on the side, but my comment was cut short by the arrival of our entrees.

A huge deep platter of evening special farfalle came freshly adorned with cream, eggs, red bell pepper puree and pancetta ($11.95). Brice's rack of lamb was an abundant portion, encrusted with the flavor-intensive Dijon mustard and crushed toasted pecans. It was a masterful version of this classic, served with garlic mashed potatoes we all almost fought over. The potatoes were inspired ("I like vegetables that talk back," Brice noted), but not the tough green beans.

Meanwhile, Sheri was very, very happy with her entree of seared, peppered salmon ($16.95), which was beautifully shaped into a turban filled with sun-dried tomatoes and served with a lemon and ginger beurre blanc. Accompanying rosettes of potato were garnished with tobiko, echoing the orange color of the salmon. Expertly prepared and presented, it was all good enough to make up for the slow dessert service. An unusual apple bread pudding--split three ways, of course--resembled a slab of French toast with plenty of whipped cream ($5.95). Espressos ($1.75) finished us off, full and contented. The way we usually leave Primavera.

Cafe Primavera
Address: 1359 Lincoln Ave., Willow Glen; lunch weekdays and dinner nightly. Also 303 Almaden Blvd., San Jose; lunch weekdays 7:30am-4pm.
Phone: Willow Glen: 408/297-7929; downtown: 408/795-1200
Cuisine: Californian-Mediterranean

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From the June 18-24, 1998 issue of Metro.

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