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Hop to It: Gordon Biersch brewer John Tucci samples the beer that made Palo Alto famous.

Beer Hall Bonanza

The original Gordon Biersch still works itself into a heady froth over a beautiful clientele and an equally beautiful menu

By Christina Waters

ARMED ONLY WITH attitude, cell phones and attire by Banana Republic, Alex and I stepped into the well-filled beer hall of Gordon Biersch in Palo Alto a few weeks ago to cool off with a tall Märzen and check out the menu. A sea of GB regulars looked good against the big archway of glass revealing gleaming vats of newborn beer. It was a distinctly masculine crowd and I didn't mind.

After some quality time at the red granite bar, checking out some NBA action on one of three huge screens anchoring the corners of the vast, industrial-beamed room, we made our way through acres of dark polished wood. Minimalist but tasteful decor has always been the hallmark of this successful brewery restaurant group. Our front-row table offered a great view of the lively Emerson Street scene.

As mother ship of this trend-setting adult food and beverage collective, the Palo Alto Gordon Biersch could just sit back and look good. It need only keep producing those delicious microbrews--especially the full-bodied Märzen, one of my favorite beers anywhere. But it hasn't rested on its laurels. It's kept fine-tuning a food menu so good it could thrive brilliantly even without a brewery attached.

Alex, monster appetite at full throttle, liked what he saw and quickly ordered some shrimp and chicken potstickers ($7.95) and pleaded (successfully) for an order of cornmeal-dusted crabcakes with Creole mustard remoulade ($8.95). OK, I warned him, but I'm getting sick of crabcakes.

I wouldn't easily tire of these crabcakes, however. They arrived generously anointed with spicy mustard and an unusual and delicious fennel slaw with mustard-seed dressing. Crisp with cornmeal coating, the crabcakes were wonderful. Alex especially loved the way the tart fennel cut the richness of the fried, crab-intensive appetizer.

Served festively on a yellow triangular plate with squiggles of sticky sesame and hot mustard, the gorgeous potstickers were simply killer. Thank God, Alex observed, flipping his tie over his shoulder to avoid a collision with hot mustard, they aren't like all those soggy pork potstickers. Indeed, the succulent interior showed off the kitchen's restrained world-fusion approach to Asian tradition reinvented in a western setting. Chicken and shrimp are simply irresistible together. We both loved the appetizers but thought the wildly bright geometric plates a bit overly playful for such a streamlined interior.

Moving to main courses, we found finesse and sophistication in an order of grilled hanger steak ($14.95) and an impeccable pizza with shrimp, goat cheese and roasted peppers ($9.95)--loaded with bravura as well as pesto. How positively Roman (yet very Californian at the same time) to have pizza without tomato sauce. The crust--crisp yet tender--was sensational. I was impressed that food takes equal billing with ambiance and fine handmade beers at the original Gordon Biersch.

Alex's meat and potatoes were definitive. Slices of marinated skirt steak offered serious beef flavor, absolutely right-on with a central mound of garlic mashed potatoes--the all-American sidekick. Two perfect spears of fresh asparagus punctuated the elegant dish. Elegant enough for a woman, hearty enough for a man. Surprisingly tender, the steak was exactly what Alex needed to fuel his next jujitsu workout.

But not before he sampled a little (ha!) something from the dessert menu.

A quick glance revealed the prevailing philosophy. Dessert shall be very gooey, very sweet and come with ice cream. We opted for a double chocolate fudge cake and a warm apple brioche bread pudding (both $5.95).

The warm chocolate obscenity--our title, not theirs--was a meal-finishing conquest. Like a warm cupcake of fudge cake topped with cashews and mint with lots of chocolate sauce, it was frankly illegal. "I can taste the butter," Alex crooned.

As icky sweet as it sounded, I have to confess that the brioche bread pudding--served warm for maximum comfort--was incredible. A mound of cinnamon ice cream came on the side, and the pudding itself was studded with lots of pecans and apples.

Bread pudding is always a major dessert, especially in the male pantheon. GB's is the best.

Gordon Biersch
Address: 640 Emerson St. (between Forest and Hamilton), Palo Alto
Phone: 650/323-7723
Hours: Sun.-Wed. 11am-11pm, Thu. 11am-midnight, Fri.-Sat. 11am-1am
Cuisine: New American
Entrees: $11.95-$19.95

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From the September 9-15, 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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