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[whitespace] Cafe Adriatic
Photograph by George Sakkestad

So Tempting: The newly opened Cafe Adriatic presents simple and beautiful dishes that include luscious pastas and continental favorites.

Appetizing Adriatic

An appealing new cafe blends culinary ideas of northern Italy and eastern Europe at a Willow Glen landmark

By Christina Waters

THE VERY NAME "Adriatic" bears traces of exotic journeying and intrigue. Bordered by Italy and the magnificent Dalmatian coast, the Adriatic Sea has long been the meeting place for East and West. And the unpretentious menu of the new Cafe Adriatic echoes that ancestry in dishes ranging from pastas to sensuous seafoods and hearty meat entrees, all given distinction by unexpected seasonings and presentation. Karen and I had dined in this vintage roadhouse-turned-restaurant several times before, in its many past lives. The sprawling dining room--with a refreshingly nongeneric ambience of cozy booths, white linens, gleaming hardwood floors and beamed ceiling--adjoins the venerable Goosetown Lounge. It has been several other Mediterranean restaurants in the recent past and now it is Cafe Adriatic, led by an owner who brings a distinctive Old World charm and polish to every move he makes.

Settled in our favorite booth overlooking the patio--which could easily be a top summer dining spot with taller landscaping to block the view of busy Lincoln Avenue and the parking lot--we considered possibilities. I was thrilled to spot Plavac Mali ($6.50) on the modest wine list. Expanding the wine list would enable vintage possibilities to match those of the dinner menu itself. The Old World, original ancestor of zinfandel, plavac mali is almost never seen on California wine lists. Our waiter--a consummate professional--brought the bottle to the table so I could admire its Croatian ancestry and its 1995 vintage. An inky purple elixir, it held a huge and clearly foreign-born bouquet of black pepper, tannins and elusive spice. Karen's Grgich Hills Fumé Blanc '98 ($7.25) was crisply refreshing.

Our first dish charmed us completely. Yes, we've had dishes involving grilled scallops and prawns before, but the European presentation gave the creation a new spin. An oval island of carrot and parsley-flecked rice was ringed by the excellent, moist seafoods ($10.95). A smoky hint of cognac perfumed the buerre blanc sauce lightly coating each bite. Lovely. Next we split a salad of tender baby arugula crowned with slices of fresh, licoricey fennel in a mustard vinaigrette spiked with shallot ($6.95). It was a delicious, unusual pairing, the fennel and arugula playing off each other's pungent intensity--and made even better with the sensational crusty French bread and unsalted butter that I could not stop eating. The dining room here has never looked better, we both agreed, and we felt pampered by our fine waiter, yet never invaded by too much attention.

Entrees lived up to the opening act. Arriving on huge white plates were my impeccably simple order of spaghetti--absolutely al dente--with meat sauce ($11.95) and Karen's roast pork tenderloin with dreamy potatoes and spring vegetables ($15.95). Pasta clearly joins meat and potatoes in the Adriatic consciousness--and that's fine with us. The thick slices of tender, flavorful pork fanned out across the plate, enhanced by a rich reduction sauce lightly flavored by paprika--the Old World in each bite. My pasta sauce was one of those rich, intense Bolognese-style ragus made with authenticity and cooked with expertise. One taste and I wondered why it's so difficult to find a plate of great, simple pasta in this overly designed part of the world. Cafe Adriatic's spaghetti was definitive.

And so was our shared dessert of something chocolatey enough to take center stage at a Viennese pastry shop ($6.50). The glistening wedge of satiny, flourless chocolate tort might have been served at a coffee shop in Trieste. I imagined sitting with the Italian alps at my back, the blue Adriatic sparkling in front of me.

Cafe Adriatic makes beautiful, real food--served with style and priced with generosity. You owe yourself a visit.

Cafe Adriatic
Address: 1072 Lincoln Ave., Willow Glen
Phone: 408.292.4866
Hours: Lunch 11:30-2pm Tue-Fri; dinner 5-9:30pm Tue-Fri, 5-10pm Sat-Sun
Cuisine: Mediterranean; European
Full bar, patio dining

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From the June 21-27, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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