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Wild Kingdom

[whitespace] Joey Altman
Looking Sharp: Executive chef Joey Altman and his cutting-edge cuisine find an attractive setting in Menlo Park's Wild Hare.

Menlo Park's sophisticated Wild Hare is the latest brainchild of excitable super-chef Joey Altman

By Christina Waters

THE WORDS "I can't decide--I want it all" took on new meaning last week when we paid a visit to the glamorous Wild Hare, the latest culinary greenhouse for the eclectic Joey Altman (Miss Pearl's Jam House, the Palace). Had we been a foursome we would have fought for the right to occupy one of the celery-green velvet booths overlooking the main dining room. Being a deuce, we took a small table within view of the exhibition kitchen, massive floor-to-ceiling bar and a sea of beautiful people happy with Altman's latest wild idea.

It's no surprise that game, and lots of it, fills this appetizing menu, including wild boar, duck, squab, ostrich, venison, bison, lobster, rabbit (yes, wild hare) and quail, as well as untamed fungi like chanterelles, truffles and morels. Helping us choose from this array were goblets of voluptuous Pine Ridge cabernet sauvignon ($11), selected from an enlightened wine list that contains an exciting gamut of varietals. After playful consultation with our waiter, we finally agreed on two irresistible-sounding appetizers: a ginger steamed scallop and prawn dumpling ($8.95) and wild boar "Thai sticks" with chile mint dipping sauce ($8.95).

A fabulous crisp house-made cracker, from a basket of various breads, dipped brilliantly into a small pot of seasoned mustard. Finally, I rejoiced, an alternative to butter and olive oil that's got some gusto. The mustard dip came in handy when our gorgeous appetizers arrived, since we found the wild boar sausage in the spring rolls rather under-seasoned, and the accompanying mint sauce was too sweet to provoke our appetites. Rakishly sliced on the diagonal and sided with a gado gado slaw, they were visual knockouts. Just too sweet.

The succulent scallop-stuffed dumplings hit a home run, though, as did the lemony ponzu sauce and relish of cucumbers and radish sprouts. A destination dish unto itself, it held its own against even the monumental floral displays and Hollywood-proportioned Mission revival chandeliers.

My companion and I were both thrilled by her entree of medium-rare squab ($19.95), chopped into meaty nuggets and composed around an island of sublime truffle mashed potatoes. The best mashed potatoes in captivity were on that plate. But the Yukon Gold roasted potatoes adorning my Paul Bunyan-sized veal chop ($27.95), served on a bed of fresh English peas, earthy morels and tiny crayfish, weren't exactly chopped liver. Did I mention the balsamic sauce that bathed the sweet, moist squab in luxurious and piquant contrast? Had death approached us at that moment, we might not have minded. We traded bites of chanterelles and morels and realized that utopia had arrived in Menlo Park.

Desserts are events equal to the flair and freshness of the entrees at the Wild Hare. We watched plates pretty enough to decorate art galleries pass by, each punctuated in some exuberant way with free-form sculptures of spun sugar. Our shared lemon Napoleon ($6.50) offered the same visual appeal. Joined by our own café presse pot of rich coffee, the huge plate arrived sporting little islands of brilliant color. Atolls of deep black cherries left their own crimson stains against curlicues of fresh cherry puree. Oases of wildly tart lemon sorbet--each sitting on a tiny cookie raft--floated around the central shrine, a multilayered Napoleon of puff pastry squares and lemon pastry cream. Lemon and fresh cherries are sensational flavor allies; we only wished that the central creation of cream and pastry had been slightly more generous. My companion announced, to the surprise of absolutely no one, that she would happily return just for another one of these desserts.

Knowing her, she'll do just that. And she won't be alone.

Wild Hare is more than just a clever name--it's a chance to dine robustly in one of the smartest settings on the Peninsula.

The Wild Hare
Address: 1029 El Camino Real, Menlo Park
Phone: 650/327-HARE
Hours: Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2:30pm; dinner Sun.-Thu. 5:30-10pm, Fri.-Sat. 5-11pm
Cuisine: New American fusion
Entrees: $15-$28

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From the August 12-18, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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