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A Luscious La Pastaia

The Terrace
Christopher Gardner

Terra Cotta Cognita: The terrace at the Hotel De Anza is familiar territory to pasta lovers.

Proving that some alfresco settings are better than others, La Pastaia oozes expertise and atmosphere in generous helpings

By Christina Waters

SAY WHAT YOU like, but on a warm afternoon in downtown San Jose there are not many better places to be than the luxuriant terrace of the Hotel De Anza. White canvas awnings rippling in the breeze, paving stones echoing the waterplay from blue-tiled fountains, a few majestic palms--only the sensually dim would fault this glamorous re-
creation of alfresco Tuscany. I am, of course, describing the outdoor dining arena of La Pastaia, where chef Forrest Gingold continues his love affair with Italian cuisine to the delight of the restaurant's many admirers.

Our own Mediterranean climate seems the perfect metaphor for this sunny menu, where grilled meats and fresh seasonal vegetables are treated with an unstudied, almost rustic sense of sophistication. An appetizer will illustrate. A piatti misto ($7.50) involves a country array of beautiful vegetables-- here a head of perfect, roasted garlic, there a brace of tender new potatoes. Ribbons of golden zucchini and the first truly ripe tomatoes of the season. A few grilled crostini perch near a tiny fist of pungent, herb-dusted goat cheese. Marinated carrots and tiny tarragon mushrooms cluster around a huge sprig of aromatic basil. Every sense is awakened--it's all delicious, especially joined by a glass of Chianti Classico Riserva 1990 Castello di Brolio ($7).

I glance over at my handsome companion, who has paid homage to the sun by removing his suit jacket. He's now intimately involved in his grilled portobello mushroom appetizer ($7.50), which he shares so that I can admire the light dusting of red pepper flakes that gives each bite a bite of its own. Silky and moist, enhanced by a pool of mustard-tinged aioli, the mushroom is practically sinful. Uncomplicated sin. Maybe this too is a Tuscan idea.

Moving on to larger dishes, I survey my seafood ravioli shimmering in a light lemon cream sauce saturated with the heady perfume of lemon zest ($12.50). The filling is unassuming, a bit shy, and the pasta suffers from cucina interruptus--it is tough around the edges. I seek comfort in soft focaccia dipped into fruity olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

But my companion is triumphant in his choice of grilled chicken and white bean salad ($10.50). It is a fresh-picked glory of baby greens, topped with generous quantities of grilled chicken tossed with tomatoes, white beans and sage. I happily add my fork to the act--it is a vivacious dish, alive with balanced ingredients.

Soon the jacket is donned--we've dawdled too long and he's late for a meeting. But I don't mind one bit lingering over some espresso and dessert, listening to the fountain surrounded by terra cotta walls and greenery. La Pastaia has cast its spell, and I begin to drift into a lovely haze of impressions and herb-scented daydreams.

Eventually, my dessert arrives to join the expert jolt of espresso. The whole idea of dessert consumed outdoors in the middle of the day is indulgent. As such, it seems utterly correct. La Pastaia has collaborated with my unspoken desires, and I'm presented with a plate of two desserts, under the rubric budino ($5.50). Today's cake is an intense tryst of barely sweetened chocolate (the texture of a truffle's interior) topped with a thicket of walnuts delicately held together by sticky caramel. A Hail Mary is probably in order, since with a single bite I have consumed a miracle. It is too good to be true, and I investigate further. Next to this ravishing creation sits a small bowl of warm custard topped with a crisp glaze of broiled sugar. It is an appealing version of crème brûlée. I am in heaven, and heaven is lightly dusted with powdered sugar.

Too bad Steve left early--he missed his chance to glimpse salvation. Well, actually, he didn't. He dines at La Pastaia more than is prudent.

Wondering if this dessert is legal, I quickly finish up all traces of the chocolate and leave only a shallow pool of custard in the bottom of the bowl.

Aromas heightened by the afternoon sun surround me. Lemon zest, a mint leaf. It is so
sensuous. So La Pastaia.

La Pastaia

Address: 233 W. Santa Clara Street, in the Hotel De Anza, San Jose
Phone: 408/286-8686
Hours: Lunch Mon.­Fri. 11am­3pm; Sat.­Sun. noon­2pm; dinner Mon. 5­10pm; Tue.­Sat. 5­10:30pm; Sun. 5­9pm.
Cuisine: contemporary Italian
Extras: full bar, terrace dining

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From the July 18-24, 1996 issue of Metro

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