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[whitespace] Life After Summer

Though the season of ripe tomatoes is past, one chef finds consolation in fall

By Joe Mangelli

WITH THE SUBTLE BUT UNMISTAKABLE change of seasons, serious restaurants adjust to the lead of Mother Nature. L'Amie Donia, the extremely popular and difficult-to-book bistro in Palo Alto, is a barometer for such change. Donia Bijan, the exceptional chef/owner, has creatively fine-tuned her "Autumn Evenings Menu" to coincide with fall abundance. "The nice ripe peaches and summer tomatoes are gone now. I look to things like figs and pomegranates and sweet persimmons for my inspiration," she says. So fresh goat cheese baked in grape leaves with a fall salad of figs, pomegranates, toasted hazelnuts and pears ($11) or a butternut squash risotto laced with curry and almonds and baked in a sugar pumpkin ($18) become reality. In addition to a succinct list of regular autumn menu items, chef Donia takes pride in her Repas d'amis, a nightly changing special that she describes as "hearty bistro fare, like beef stew, served family style" (three courses, prix fixe, $32). "Though it can be difficult to get reservations for weekends here," she says, "it is still possible to dine early during the week without much fuss." With night descending earlier these days, dinner at 6 makes seasonal sense. L'Ami Donia is at 530 Bryant St., Palo Alto (650.323.7641).

Downtown Dining

Those of us who enjoy extending the colors of our food palate are lucky to live in an area that tries to expand that spectrum. Inca Gardens, San Jose's Peruvian and South American restaurant, adds colorfully to the culinary rainbow. This small Spanish-colonial storefront located along East San Fernando Street has recently supplemented the downtown lunchtime options by offering a quick but unique lunch buffet. Where else can you savor a selection of lomo saltado (tender beef with onions and tomatoes), arroz con pollo (chicken with cilantro rice), seco (mild, spiced beef stew with cilantro and imported golden Peruvian beans) and chaufa (Peruvian-Chinese fried rice) and salad for $8.99? It's worth trying just for the great names. Inca Gardens is not new to the area. It has been here for more than three years but it is continually striving to get noticed. The colorful and feisty owner, Olga Enciso Smith, has always been an innovator and cultural pioneer in San Jose. Her stamina to persevere in an atmosphere which seems to eat up small retailers should be rewarded. Inca Gardens is located at 87 E. San Fernando St., San Jose (408.977.0816).

Just around the corner from Inca Gardens sits another eatery doing its best to increase the choices available to diners. Malcolm Benjamin of Mongo's Mongolian BBQ called to crow about some attention his eatery recently garnered. Last month the restaurant was featured on KGO Radio when radio personality Gene Burns broadcast his Saturday cooking show live from Mongo's booth at Tapestry in Talent. And yesterday (Oct. 20), Channel 11 taped a segment about the restaurant that will be aired later on KNTV. Mongo's is located at 83 S. Second St. (408.280.1738).

And speaking of multiculture, there's a double dose available this week at A.P. Stump's (163 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose). Tonight (Oct. 21), the Flamenco Society will perform in the stylish downtown eatery's patio, creating a supper-club ambiance with its dance performance. Then, the next night, Stump's plays host to the RoJo Trio, a straight-ahead jazz combo, from 7 to 11pm. The flamenco show starts at 7pm; the $65 price includes a three-course dinner. There is no cover for the jazz show. For reservations, call 408.292.9928.

Pumpkin Prize

Since Halloween is but a goblin's throw away, it might be nice to actually have some tips on how to select the perfect pumpkin. The Independent Pumpkin Farmers of America (really ... that's a group) are offering a free brochure which enlightens the pumpkin challenged. There is information on almost anything one might want to know about the jolly melon, including directions on how to make pumpkin puree and toasted pumpkin seeds. Send a legal-sized, self-addressed, stamped envelope (with two stamps) to Pumpkin Farm Recipes, Box 629, Burgin, KY 40310.

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From the October 21-27, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 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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