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Book a table at Cafe Torre online

Cheese and Grater
It's Grate: If Cafe Torre's bites of Mediterranean heaven aren't rich enough, one can always add a little Parmesan.

Cafe Society

A seasoned pro in the aromatic arena of Mediterranean cuisine brings Cupertino its newest oasis of sophisticated dining

By Christina Waters

LUCKY VINCE TORRE. The restaurateur enjoys a fine track record (most recently, Los Gatos' Cafe Marcella) and almost clairvoyant culinary instincts. And now he has a new restaurant on a street with his name. Torre. Well, it's actually on Steven Creek Boulevard and Torre, but that's close enough. A clear case of dining kismet, with a Mediterranean accent.

The new place is, in a word, terrific. With so many fine Italian dining rooms in the South Bay, how did the new Cafe Torre manage to impress? It might have been the crisp, sophisticated interior with lots of gleaming hardwood matched by Tuscan gold walls. It might have been the coved ceiling appointments, fresh flowers and clever wall niches filled with wine bottles. But I'm convinced that what puts this place at the head of the pack--even before the food is tasted--is the sensitive proprietorship of the host. Like all good European restaurateurs, Torre personally greets guests at the door, helps them pick out wines and checks back to see how the meal is going. His approach--warm and congenial, never hovering--inspires the staff as well. Our waiter was an invaluable collaborator in our memorable dinner last week.

Wrapped into a huge white napkin was a loaf of country-style Italian bread--exceptional stuff from Acme--for which European-style unsalted butter, not olive oil, was provided. A rustic 1996 nebbiolo/cabernet sauvignon blend from Contadi Castaldi in Lombardy ($5.75) and a heroic 1996 zinfandel from Grgich Hills ($7.50) sipped well with the superb bread, to which we joined a pair of exceptional starters. An arugula salad shone in a lemony dressing studded with dried olives and topped with shaved curls of fior di sardo ($6.50). My pretty plate of grilled scallops sparkled with the flavor of lemon infusing a light mustard sauce ($8.50). An emerald necklace of braised scallions encircled the moist, perfectly grilled shellfish. The two appetizers played brilliantly against each other, the pungently tender arugula and the succulent scallops. We took our time enjoying each bite and admiring the way the spacing of banquettes and tables created a sense of coziness without crowding. Everything, from food to ambiance, was beautiful and restrained.

Proving how delicious a recipe without meat can be, the linguine with golden chanterelle mushrooms won us over ($12.95). "Toss the noodles a bit so that the goat cheese will melt into everything," urged our waiter. He was so right, as each forkful of pasta yielded up bites of tomato and mushroom, shreds of arugula and creamy goat cheese. A pasta lover's pasta, I'd say. My companion's substantial presentation of mahi-mahi ($18.95)--perfectly grilled and served over a bed of sautéed baby spinach--was equally luxurious. The rich white Hawaiian fish was napped lightly with a beurre blanc spiked with shallots and tarragon. Accompanying the fish were crunchy snow peas and a flawless risotto flecked with a micro-mince of fresh parsley. Great pasta and great seafood--both presented with elegance and simplicity. We were in Mediterranean heaven.

Managing to save room for dessert, we split a finishing dish that sounded wonderful: strawberry cobbler with vanilla bean gelato ($5). The gelato was voluptuous, with that dense texture and creaminess that gelato does so well. Unfortunately, the cobbler proved to be more of a crisp, with a sugary topping and overcooked strawberries underneath. The concept is great, though, so I expect the kitchen to fine-tune this one for future enjoyment. At dinner's end, our waiter walked us to the door and thanked us for coming. Now that's the way to build patron loyalty.

A gem tucked away in an unassuming little mall, Cafe Torre is well worth seeking out--it's affordable and very smart.

Cafe Torre
Address: 20343 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino
Phone: 408/257-2383
Cuisine: New Italian
Entrees: $9.95-$18.95
Hours: Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2pm; dinner nightly 5-9pm (until 9:30pm on weekends)

Book a table at Cafe Torre online

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From the August 26-September 1, 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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