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[whitespace] Sorrento's Photograph by Erika Pino

Get Yer Barbie Dolled Up: Good food and an open-air patio.

Sorrento's, So Good

Bascom Avenue gets a new bar and grill that's fancier than you might think

By Joseph Izzo Jr.

I HAD my suspicions about that limo parked in front of Sorrento's, the new bar and grill on Bascom Avenue. Every time I passed--morning, noon, night--it was there. It had all the earmarks of a prop. I began wondering if it even had an engine.

Well, it's not a prop. It's operational, and to prove the point Sorrento's menu announces that a Dr. Anthony Alvardo was the winner of a raffle for a free dinner plus a ride from home to restaurant in that very limo. So there you go.

I'd been watching the construction at Sorrento's, along with its limo, for some time. The new owners literally gutted the old digs of Mike's Xlint foods, turning the celebrated populist diner into a semielegant dinner house with a Mediterranean theme. The exterior, with its bright green awnings, fresh white paint, faux exposed bricks and planters overflowing with perennials, gives this moribund stretch of Bascom a much-needed boost.

The interior, too, has been made over, with spacious seating arrangements rife with appointments that glint nicely under the new lighting fixtures. I couldn't believe what's been done to the restrooms. They're elegant, too. Just off the lounge with piano is an open-air patio with tables draped in Italian red checks. We sat there with a bottle of '99 Chateau Julien Merlot, basking and eating in a warm evening breeze.

The resident chef brings many years of experience to the kitchen. Victor Paez worked in San Francisco, at the stellar Masa's and at the now-defunct Ernie's with the famous chef Jacky Roberts; he also did a 10-year stint at Nicolino's in Sunnyvale. He calls himself an "old-school chef," which means he works the total kitchen, doing everything from flip-frying to baking, from concocting classic sauces to icing cakes with raspberry designs. His sauces reminded me of what we used to get when continental cuisine was the order of the day--rich gravies with open flavors and stout consistencies, always applied with a liberal hand.

I am bewildered, though, that the owners of Sorrento's call it a bar and grill. It's much more than that. From what I saw, it's attempting to be a serious dining establishment. The menu features pizza, pasta, veal and chicken, seafood, Persian kebabs and Jenny Craig diet specials, no less. We sampled something from nearly every category (er, except the off-putting Jenny Craig), starting with a golden-crust individual-size pizza with roasted garlic and basil ($9.95), and nearly overcooked penne with sausage in a pan-fresh sauce dominated by sweet pulp tomato.

One of our favorites that night was a kebab ($21.95) of slow-marinated lamb and Cornish game hen, charbroiled and served with basmati, that delicate, long-grained rice, tinted gold with saffron. The filet of New Zealand lamb was marinated long and served in large, boneless chunks.

In the veal Marsala ($14.95), Paez demonstrated his old-school leanings by making a textbook brown sauce, fully developed with the sweet fortified wine. It had an ideal consistency that didn't congeal as it cooled upon the veal opaque as stained glass.

We also had a New York steak ($19.95) with a peppercorn sauce also based on a brown stock--pungent but not overpowered by the peppercorns. The steak stood about an inch high and was broiled perfectly rare.

We struggled with the special of the night, mixed grill of seafood ($17.95). Our problems centered not on the fish--the ahi, salmon and prawns were all in good condition. It was the caper butter sauce. There was just too much sauce, and it flooded the plate and everything in it, including the side dishes. With dexterous manipulations, the Rev. Scullion moved the boneless chunks of fish to higher ground along the edges of the plate.

Our evening ended on a sweet note, with fresh berries soaked in crème anglaise with accents of coconut, plus a cannoli baked by the chef that morning. Very elegant. So far, I like Sorrento's.

Sorrento's Bar & Grill
Address: 905 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose
Phone: 408.297.4444
Hours: Lunch 11:30am-2:30pm Tue-Fri; dinner 5-9pm Tue-Sun
Cuisine: Continental/Persian

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From the June 27-July 3, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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