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Orlo's Revisited

Christopher Gardner

'Shroom to Grow: Chef de cuisine Michael Alsop, the former sous chef, has taken the kitchen helm at Orlo's.

A landmark lives up to its aspirations with a culinary coming of age

By Christina Waters

ABLAZE WITH polished woodwork, tasteful table settings and a wine list long on local vintages, Orlo's is by any standards one beautiful dining room. It's also an evolving culinary hearth, set within the lush grounds of the historic Hayes Mansion­turned­ corporate conference center.

When Pacific Rim fusion chef Steve Crisler first designed the menu, he packed it with myriad cross-cultural ideas--many of which, like the amazing barbecue duck and crab Napoleon, were outstanding.

With former sous chef Michael Alsop now at the kitchen helm, Orlo's has clearly evolved, with hits from the past blending creatively with seasonal innovations. A recent dinner at the stately property holds up brilliantly against any I've had in the past year.

Here's how it went. The intrepid Dianne--who'd dined at Orlo's with me when they first opened--began with a buttery Clos La Chance Chardonnay 1994 ($8), and I went for a huge balloon goblet of Ridge York Creek Zinfandel 1994 ($9). Since luxury is the tone, we opted to ease ourselves into Hayes Mansion consciousness. Luxury does not mean, however, stuffiness. From maitre d' to bus person, the wait staff made us feel at home--helpfully explaining menu items, checking on our progress and being friendly without hovering. With a dining room this turn-of-the-century elegant, the management has wisely encouraged its staff to act naturally. This unpretentious tone resulted in a dining room full of happy patrons--impressed, yet unintimidated by the historic surroundings.

Making choices is excruciating from a menu that reads as sensuously as this one. We decided to start with one of the South Bay's best Caesar salads ($6) and an order of seared sea scallops with sautéed arugula and mint tamarind glaze ($12.50). Reinventing its genre, the Caesar was composed of long leaves of romaine hearts strewn with shaved Parmesan reggiano, a garlic-driven dressing, anchovies and two toasted baguette slices frosted with intense tapenade. It was utterly wonderful and we consumed it like madwomen who hadn't seen a salad in six months. My scallops, cooked medium rare, were arranged on a dark sauce of tamarind and a central mound of wilted, pungent arugula. The soft, buttery scallops sported a bit of crunch from sesame seeds, and under everything a pliant layer of mashed root vegetables offered deep comfort.

Our entrees worked similar enchantment. The grilled venison medallions ($20) arrived medium rare as requested, fanned out into tender slices on a spicy glaze of huckleberry spiked with sage--flavors of the North American forest--and accented with a soft custard of savory pumpkin. A few baby beets and some perfect small carrots added their own comments.

My muscovy duck breast ($19), bearing intricate traces of a honey-achiote rub, arrived with a silken butternut squash flan and a necklace of sliced Asian pear on a reduction of ginger-enhanced Madeira. The meat was rich, almost sweet, and it played well with both the creamy flan and more of the wonderful wilted arugula. Incredibly, each entree lived up to its tempting menu description.

Desserts--smartly procured from Marjolaine--are yet another one of the many good ideas starring at Orlo's. From a lovely pastry tray, Dianne picked out a miniature pyramid glazed with chocolate and containing a light, barely sweet chocolate genoise and mousse interior ($6). I chose a round lemon mousse encrusted with lemon zest ($6), lying in a rich raspberry pool. Dianne's chocolate Luxor, like my column of purest lemon, was beautifully but simply decorated with a few edible flowers and ripe strawberries.

Such frankly wonderful flavors, such confident presentation. And how rare to leave a lengthy dinner feeling every dollar has been well spent.


Address: Hayes Conference Center, 200 Edenvale Ave., San Jose
Phone: 408/226-3200
Hours: Lunch Mon.­Thu. 11:30am­2pm, dinner nightly 5:30­9:30pm
Cuisine: New American
Price: Dinner entrees $17­$21
Ambiance: Formal and vivacious

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From the July 3-9, 1997 issue of Metro.

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