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[whitespace] Annie Nunan
Woman's Touch: Nouveau Trattoria's Annie Nunan offers a refreshingly Old World experience at her restaurant, serving French classics and pastas in a charmingly non-designer atmosphere.

Nouveau Hospitality

An oasis of personal service in a sea of silicon dazzle, Nouveau Trattoria radiates owner Annie Nunan's touch

By Christina Waters

THE PRETTY WOMAN in the chef's whites greets patrons, pours their wine and encourages them to linger long over their meals. She is Annie Nunan and the setting is the refreshingly old-world Nouveau Trattoria, where no dotcom accoutrements clutter up the white linens, floor-to-ceiling wine cellar and charmingly non-designer ambiance. I've always appreciated Nunan's personal touch, her steadfastly un-trendy menu filled with French classics and heartfelt pastas. And the finicky Candice found the vintage cafe just as charming as I did last week, when we met for dinner just as the late afternoon sun flooded the main dining room with soft, golden light.

Nunan has no peer when it comes to making it all look easy. Last week, when a merlot listed on the menu couldn't be found from a long wall of vintage bottles, she selected something she thought would fit the bill--a Lyeth Meritage 1997 ($6.50)--and she was absolutely right. Filled with a rounded ripeness, it went as beautifully with my meal as Candice's BV Rutherford Cabernet 1997 ($7.50) did with hers.

The quaintness of the front bar, with its ornate grandfather's clock and baby grand awaiting a swing through some weekend jazz, is matched by the fresh, graceful innocence of the menu. A basket of fragrant ciabatta arrived with both olive oil and butter as accompaniment. Appetizers of pâté maison ($5) and garlicky warm bruschetta ($4.25) both looked and tasted uncluttered and clear. Generously topped with roughly grated Parmesan, basil and moist chunks of fresh, ripe tomatoes, the pieces of bruschetta could have made an entire meal all by themselves. The pâté--a thick, rich country-style creation--came in two robust slices dusted with parsley and purple cabbage, and punctuated by a few gratifyingly tart cornichons. We did each dish as much justice as we dared--especially the irresistible bruschetta--while still leaving room for our entrees.

At exactly the right moment, our entrees arrived, still steaming from their close encounter with the sauté pan. An order of pappardelle arrabiatta ($14.75) formed a rich, crimson collage of tomatoes and spices. Wide ribbons of silky pasta tangled with garlic, basil, fresh tomatoes and bits of Provençal olives. The bite of red pepper flakes gave the dish a playful kick, and smoky pancetta seemed to bring the entire rustic creation into delicious focus. When you fantasize about a dish of freshly made, non-cloying, vibrant pasta, this could be the dish you want. As if to show off the kitchen's devotion to the Gallic side of its name, my entree of expertly poached fresh salmon spoke with a delightful French accent. There is also a Basque subtext here, and piperade-intensive specialties of that region are available in casual, family-style dinners.

Practically quivering with tenderness, the poached salmon ($17.50) arrived like a slab of rare coral, delicately sauced with lemon, wine and a touch of cream. With it were fresh green beans and a sinfully rich array of scalloped potatoes. Did I mention that the salmon was perfect?

Not only are we lucky enough to live in one of the few regions where fresh wild salmon still offer their succulence each season, but we have chefs aplenty who can prepare them with style and sensitivity. Nunan is one of these chefs, and the moist delicacy of my entree--poached salmon can be celestial when treated right--proved it.

Somehow we found the gastronomic courage to consider dessert. The words "crème brûlée" always seem to have an extraterrestrial effect on Candice. And this evening was no exception. Decorated with fresh strawberries, the deep bowl ($5) was thinly glazed by that signature burnt sugar crust. Still warm, it fractured nicely upon impact and yielded up a creamy, custardy interior that was, as is often the case, distinctly cooler than the crystalline top.

Nouveau Trattoria offers a rare, non-glitzy dining experience in one of those coveted locations between University and Hamilton. The effect is as earthily European as Palo Alto gets.

Nouveau Trattoria
Address: 541 Bryant St., Palo Alto
Phone: 650.327.0132
Cuisine: Mediterranean with French accents
Hours: 5:30-10:30pm (until 10pm Tuesdays)
Extras: Full bar

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From the June 22-28, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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