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Sparkling Debut

[whitespace] A.P. Stump's
Christopher Gardner

Stumping Grounds: Chef Jim Stump collaborated with Los Gatos Brewing Co. owner Andy Pavicich III to create the elegant A.P. Stump's.

Downtown finds new dazzle with the opening of A.P. Stump's

By Christina Waters

IF JULES VERNE had designed a restaurant--a fabulous futuristic Victorian dining room--it would be A.P. Stump's, where New American cuisine both deserves and receives an exciting showcase. Chef Jim Stump leads a talented crew through its paces, and the result is gorgeous food, tasting as good as it looks, presented on a bold array of dinnerware.

But before we get carried away with the food, let's pause a minute to pay tribute to one of the best-looking dining rooms on the West Coast. At the new restaurant in one of the city's oldest blocks, etched glass curves around floating islands of polished bird's eye and heartwood cabinetry. The beautiful tweed effect of multiple upholstery prints is echoed in tortoise-shell blown-glass chandeliers, and sconces quoting the country's finest metal artists. Captain Nemo would be right at home with the pressed tin ceiling and stamped gold wallpaper. Echoing the 100-year-old refurbished space, the update is as fin de millennium as the restored wine cellar downstairs that once housed the private collection of Paul Masson. From the glowing hardwood lounge to the far tables by graceful French doors, nothing obscures the sweeping sight lines. Drop-dead gorgeous, A.P. Stump's is definitely the place to make an entrance.

From a wine listing that's especially deep in the best of California's recent red wines, we choose a sumptuous Truchard Pinot Noir Carneros 1996 ($23/split)--nice to have the choice of half bottles as well as so many wines by the glass. This wonderful wine was the exact partner for every course, from seafood to lamb. Sampling the house-made sourdough, admiring the heavy water glasses and balloon goblets ample enough for the wine to expand to its full bouquet, we struggled to decide on what to order. Grilled Tolinas Farm quail with quinoa and white truffle oil, marinated rack of pork with potato pinenut fritters and braised fennel--you see the difficulty?

We made the right choices--but judging by the comments of neighboring diners along our banquette, there are no other kind at Stump's. In one appetizer American Osetra caviar topped a mini-pyramid of quivering warm corn pudding, strewn here and there with kernels of fresh corn, strands of chervil and slices of silken Maine lobster ($9). It tasted like an enlightened summer harvest. Another starter offered a tobiko-topped tower of tartare--ahi, salmon and hamachi--on a platform of minced avocado ($7). Three triangular wasabi-laced wonton chips allowed us to literally dig into this beautiful creation like a sashimi salsa.

Serving staff in deconstructed 19th-century grill uniforms kept the pace exact, as our gorgeous entrees arrived on lavishly proportioned china. Jack's roasted halibut ($19) arrived in a deep dish on a pavé of enormous Israeli couscous and English peas, surrounded by a spectacularly intense reduction of rock shrimp. Nuggets of shrimp bobbed among the white and green pearls, and the ivory halibut itself was decked with two gossamer slices of flash-fried, pickled lemon. Crunchy lemon against the luscious fish--what an exquisite sensation. My rare medallions of lamb rib eye ($26) had been elegantly lined up--on yet another china pattern, this time an oblong--astride a bed of simple steamed spinach, with a line of slender potato and eggplant-stuffed cannelloni arranged along the top. Enhanced simply with a thyme-scented zinfandel reduction, this dish was a spectacular take on classic American flavors.

From the kitchen a dessert passed by so beautiful that it brought a murmur of delight from the room. I ordered it on the spot. Let me quickly add that it is soon to be a state law that you somehow save room for one of pastry chef Patrick Levesque's creations. Mine was a destination dessert of Dutch chocolate cake ($7). Dense as homemade, the cake itself was a multi-layered wedge of bands of hazelnut mousse and deep chocolate, topped with a filagree of spun sugar embedded with whole hazelnuts, and two huge double curls of dark chocolate. All sat in a shallow pool of crème Anglaise. With Jack's help I finished every bit of it. He in turn adored his refreshing wrap-up of pungent lemon granita ($6), piled high in a martini goblet, dotted with blackberry sauce and a slice of sun-dried pineapple. On the side were two warm-from-the-oven gingersnaps embedded with slices of crystallized ginger. Unbelievable. "We loved everything," Jack summarized. Let me repeat: Not only was there not a single false step in the entire meal, but the portions were manageably sized. Not nouvelle tiny, not Paul Bunyan-huge. Perfect. Just like the meal.

A.P. Stump's
Address: 163 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose
Phone: 408/292-9928
Hours: Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-3pm, dinner daily 5-10pm
Entrees: $17-$23
Cuisine: New American
Chef: Jim Stump

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From the September 3-9, 1998 issue of Metro.

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