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[whitespace] Stratta Getting There: The newest attempt of 71 St. Peter owners, reopening the charming Stratta Grill on San Fernando, hasn't yet matched the stellar service and flawless cuisine of its well-established predecessor.

Photograph by Jacqueline Ramseyer

Stratta Caster

Veteran owners make a tentative launch of a downtown grill whose menu offers mixed culinary metaphors

By Christina Waters

UNDER THE new ownership of experienced restaurateurs from 71 St. Peter, the buffed and polished Stratta Grill has retained much of its former charm, and then some. The wine bar has been improved, the place sparkles and the vintage wooden booths are still where we left them. In just under two months of operation, Stratta offers much to like--and much yet to fine-tune.

On a lunch visit three weeks into the new regime, we were served an order of ahi tacos unappetizingly cold and so unwieldy that they exploded into fragments upon impact. A fussy duck salad--entrees took over half an hour to arrive--was spilled across the tablecloth by a waiter who spent the rest of the meal ignoring us. Another order of lobster ravioli with pasty pasta was so overly acrid with excessive lemon zest that there was nary a trace of detectable lobster flavor. "When you order lobster in any dish," Lanni observed unhappily, "you want to taste the lobster." Amen, sister.

Our dessert of warm apricot and berry crisp resembled a huge bowl of soupy granola, covered with un-crisp oats, brown sugar and berries. We were not amused.

Coming back three weeks later, we slid into our favorite booth, with its smart, striped upholstery, and toasted Lanni's latest stock option coup with an outstanding DeLoach Zinfandel 1998 ($6 glass). As our eager-to-please waiter began reciting the evening's specials, it became painfully clear that he had a fragile grasp of the English language. I'll speak plainly: he was incomprehensible. So we smiled and nodded and then wondered what the hell he had said--surely some sort of command of English is needed when you're involved in hospitality service.

My vivacious dining companion reminded me that we had to share everything, so we proceeded to order a variety of dishes, which arrived thoughtfully split into attractive portions.

An order of unusual tempura prawns ($7.95) was incredibly delicious, moistly tucked inside a crisp, hot and spicy batter of coconut curry. We dipped the prawns into a zippy peanut sauce and politely ignored the enormous bank of tasteless slaw on the side. Another special of spinach salad with "heirloom" tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella looked pretty, but tasted flat ($8.50). "It might as well be tofu," observed Lanni, who, like me, missed the anticipated creaminess of genuine, fresh buffalo mozzarella. Tiny yellow pear tomatoes were equally tasteless, not worth putting in front of a customer. Then the long wait began.

Eventually, two highly decorative, lukewarm entrees arrived. My special of mahi-mahi filets was nicely grilled, and sat astride a bed of roasted red potatoes, topped with mango salsa and a bouquet of barely cooked yellow and green beans ($17.50). Here were some true flavors, though we wished that the richly flavored fish had arrived warm. A few morsels of fresh crab swimming in the surrounding sauce seemed imported from some other recipe.

A true carnivore czarina, Lanni liked the looks of her flank steak, a generous portion of medium-rare beef fanned out in moist slices, sided with excellent mashed potatoes and more of the lovely green beans, as well as delicious, sweet cauliflower ($19.95). The flank steak was fairly average, however, neither very flavorful nor sauced with any particular confidence.

Our waiter--he was really sweet, if unintelligible--indicated that the tiramisu was really good. Nonetheless, we ordered a dessert of Meyer lemon cheesecake ($6), along with espressos ($2.25). Having grown, picked and eaten Meyer lemons for half my life, I would not be willing to swear that the citrus permeating the creamy cheesecake was in fact Meyer lemon--Eureka lemon would have been my guess. Still, the cheesecake was nicely made and seriously creamy. Surrounding it was a pool of raspberry and blueberry purée, and a few slices of fresh, non-puréed strawberry--a confusing berry metaphor.

An attractively minimalist dining room in a landmark space, Stratta needs to decide what it really wants to be when it grows up. And then be it. The gastronomists who brought us 71 St. Peter are capable of much more.

Stratta Grill
Address: 71 E. San Fernando St, San Jose
Phone: 408.293.1121
Cuisine: California fusion
Prices: Moderate

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From the August 31-September 6, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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