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Big Spenders: Venture capitalists and other Valley celebs often meet up over drinks at Spago in Palo Alto.

The Big Schmooze

Where the power lunchers dine

By Dara Colwell

For many Silicon Valley big hitters with expanding funds and shrinking lunch hours, the traditional power business lunch may have taken a backseat to a quick bite of thin crust pizza or fresh-mex soft tacos. But here at ground zero, when there's serious capital to be wooed or when the big shareholders are in town, the power lunch still rules. And the fact is, no matter how much corporate culture changes, an entrepreneur's still got to eat. Here are some local brick-and-mortar power spots where exploring strategic options goes hand-in-hand with a crusty bruschetta.

Il Fornaio
520 Cowper St., Palo Alto

An inviting Italian restaurant with soft-yellow-toned walls, a gleaming red brick floor and mirrors that reflect a chic, early-to-rise clientele, Il Fornaio has the recipe for swift breakfast business. Raking in a solid $1,000-$2,000 each morning, the restaurant attracts as much attention for its high-tech customers as it does for a distinctive selection of rosemary-infused baked breads. Chelsea Clinton and her Secret Service entourage, valley celebs such as Steve Jobs and Steve Young, and television crews probing for a financial spin have all lunched here with lesser midday hopefuls. Part of a chain spanning Beverly Hills to Scottsdale, this Palo Alto spot is the place to enjoy the fast track at a simple pace.

265 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto

Landing its name on the map next to Wolfgang Puck's innovative take on upscale pizza, Spago caters to an elite business clientele. Netscape and Ariba lackeys, venture capitalists, top CEOs and our beloved 49ers usually troll for space toward dinner time, when cracking open a $1,000 bottle of wine to seal the deal is de rigueur. The vibrantly painted surroundings complement a menu as exceptional as the high rates of growth in the technology sector: grilled white Copper River salmon with caramelized asparagus and lobster nage and pan-seared bass with fennel/cherry tomato salad are powerful attractions for repeat business.

Silicon Valley Capital Club
50 W. San Fernando St.,
#1700, S.J.

A private dining club that combines business with pleasure, the Capital Club, perched atop San Jose's Knight Ridder Building, offers a spectacular 360-degree view--adding a literal spin to the cliché, "having friends in high places." Facing a black, baby grand piano, dozens of tables decked in white tablecloths seat an older, well-established crowd ranging from Steve Tully and Frank Fiscalini, both on the club's board of governors, to local lawyers, real estate brokers and even common middle-management folk. With 1,500 members, the club touts an elegant backdrop for networking, charity dinners and corporate presentations. For those who like to put money where their mouths are, caviar, foie gras, sea urchin and wild game are flown in regularly. And with a view of San Jose International Airport, the chef can probably track the exact flight.

Eight Forty North First Street
840 N. First St., San Jose

Located across from City Hall, Eight Forty North First Street is the meeting place for those seasoned experts who know what power is all about: the politically savvy crowd and, of course, accompanying bureaucrats. Mayors, chiefs of staff, assessors, budget directors and city council members--former and present--have grabbed grub under its elegant amber lights. According to a reliable lunch source, Jude Barry, Gonzales' chief of staff, picked up the tab here trying to persuade Joe Guerra, Frank Fiscalini's resident propagandist, to urge the old boy not to run for mayor. Seems the ruse worked, but we're not sure if the lobbying was conducted over chicken or fish. By and large, in politics at least, the power lunch is still hopping. Here, political aspirations take a seat in comfortable chairs, and the ambience beats council chambers--the vote's unanimous.

A.P. Stump's
163 W. Santa Clara St., S.J.

A favorite with the downtown professional class, mixing old-school power brokers with the high-tech up-and-coming, A.P. Stump's sumptuous hardwood lounge, graceful French doors and somehow aquatic atmosphere would give any luxury yacht a run for the money. The restored wine cellar, once home to the private collection of Paul Masson and a gathering spot for the city's political establishment, is making a decided comeback, ushering valley executives into a new era. New American cuisine (the South Bay's signature menu) such as pear, arugula and julienned endive salad, or fettucine with prawns, zucchini and sun-dried tomatoes in a tarragon cream sauce, are as likely to accelerate midriff growth as they are broad-based client services.

333 W. San Carlos St., S.J.

An old family-owned restaurant, cited by the Zagat Guide as the best Italian food in Northern California, Paolo's has local and national stature, an extensive wine list and a view of the Guadalupe River walk, a mere hop, skip and jump from the Center for Performing Arts. In 1985, Paolo's prepared the dessert for Ronald Reagan's inaugural ball, little knowing the future president would declare ketchup a vegetable. Distinguished guests can enjoy private banquets and dine on such delights as crespelle di mais con chantrelle e fontanella. Doesn't that sound dulce? This is an award-winning restaurant where business and cuisine achieve a synergistic partnership.

Of course, there are dozens more power spots for time-crunched execs, where grabbing a snack is less refined. Nirav Tolia, CEO of, and Lou Montulli, his director of server engineering and a founding engineer at Netscape, suggest Mountain View's Burrito Real, and Jew & The Gentile Deli, and Mediterranean Wraps in Palo Alto. Here, lunch is express, business deals go down quickly and there's no time wasted looking for seating.

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From the September 28-October 4, 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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