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[whitespace] Piattis
Photograph by Kyle Chesser

Plates O' Plenty: Chef Kyle Wiens serves up earthy and elegant fare.

Piatti as a Picture

Gourmet Italian in one of the valley's favorite shopping centers--what more could a sybarite ask for?

By Christina Waters

GORGEOUS AS always, Piatti was packed last week--despite a bit of industrial equipment redoing the parking lot out front. New ideas from Executive Chef Kyle Wiens sparkled from the menu, including a veal and porcini cannelloni, a tri-tip panini, and even a disarmingly retro homemade meatballs and spaghetti entree. We liked the look of everything we saw and decided that the sheer thrill of lunching in the shadow of the Bay Area's most tasteful shopping district demanded glasses of wine. So we ordered a lovely Piemontese Merlot Colforte '99 ($7.50) and drank to the health of the national economy.

Grilled salmon with gorgonzola-infused creamy polenta ($18.95) called out to Phyllis, and she answered. I was transfixed by the idea of the housemade cannelloni filled with veal and porcini. We had just enough time to roam through a few fragrant bites of dazzling warm sourdough, when the culinary action began, in the form of appetizers of grilled pancetta-wrapped figs ($7.95) and a caprese of ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and a few perfect green olives ($8.95). Piatti's menu currently features luscious local produce from Webb Ranch Farm, and the bed of freshly harvested arugula beneath my succulent roasted figs added to the delicious creation. Figs and prosciutto--hall of fame gastronomic partners. My lunch partner enjoyed the added note of sweetness in the salad's maple vinaigrette, though I found it too insistently sweet for an appetizer.

The caprese was a classic. Thick slices of ripe tomatoes alternated with snowy bands of fresh mozzarella in a light bath of olive oil. The addition of irresistible and intense albeit untraditional green olives provided some welcome saltiness to this calm, beautiful starter dusted with shreds of basil.

Piatti's evolving kitchen seems intent upon layers of flavor excitement, and both of our expertly served and generously portioned entrees showed off this tendency. Arranged so that each forkful offered layers of depth, the grilled salmon dish showcased the fillet in the center of a soft, creamy pool of polenta very lightly infused with gorgonzola cheese. The polenta topped a foundation of baby spinach liberally laced with garlic. The effect was busy and delicious. Our only issue arose over an unattractive mound of almost blackened tapenade that lay across the entire salmon fillet. It ruined the visual joy and proved so intensely salty that Phyllis had to scrape it off to one side. In the case of this dish, less would have been far more. The pretty grilled lemon that accompanied the salmon might have been all the extra flavor punch needed.

My plate of satisfying cannelloni arrived cooked just al dente and filled with porcinis, veal and ricotta in a beautiful rose-colored sauce of tomatoes and cream. A tangle of porcini mushrooms spilled over each of the long pasta rolls--it was a remarkably skilled rendition of a difficult pasta classic. All the flavors merged beautifully, and while the dish was earthy, it never overwhelmed my palate. I would have finished every trace had I not wanted to "save myself" for some dessert.

Service throughout the meal was warm, intelligent and as brisk as the crowded dining rooms would allow. Soon we found our espressos joined by a mammoth slab of chocolate cake--think industrial strength brownie--drizzled with blackberry crème anglaise and a scoop of dreamy vanilla gelato ($6.50). A smaller wedge of cake would have felt less overwhelming, we agreed. With desserts of this sweetness and intense chocolate quotient, a lighter hand works best. My dessert of mascarpone and biscotti ($5.50) wandered down that same road of excess. A huge dollop of exquisitely rich mascarpone formed the center of a wheel, whose three spokes were gigantic biscotti. That was it. More finesse might have made this truly memorable. Perhaps tiny cantucci--the appealing biscotti of Tuscany--and some fresh berries? Such fine-tuning is easy to accomplish. Still, Piatti remains one of the more welcoming dining spots on the peninsula and always gives the taste buds an unmistakable "Ciao!"

Address: 2 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto
Phone: 650.324.9733
Hours: Lunch daily at 11:30am. Dinner daily at 4pm. Seating ends Sun at 9pm, Mon-Thu 9:30pm, Fri and Sat 10pm.
Cuisine: Italian

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From the October 11-17, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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