[Metroactive Dining]

[ Dining Index | Silicon Valley | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

Photograph by Troy Bayless

Timeless Dining: Creekside seating is one of the perks at the Echo.

Swingin' on a Star

Bing Crosby ate here, Bob Hope ate here, and baby, you can eat here, too--at the Echo, nostalgia is a steak cooked rare

By Joseph Izzo Jr.

THE MARTINI I ordered hits the old wooden counter at The Echo, and the mood is set. Next to me, a button-nosed woman with cat green eyes asks the bartender who that man is standing next to Bob Hope in a prominently placed photograph across from the dance floor. I swivel around on my stool to inspect the black and white picture, and face a well-dressed flanked bloke by Mr. Hope. The mystery man's huge smile fills the frame, shoving the Hollywood icon far to the right.

That galvanizing, cheek-to-cheek grin belongs to the late Johnny Bikakis, onetime king of the Echo. Although Johnny wasn't the original owner (it was "Hal's Echo" when it opened in 1942), Bikakis gave the place its larger-than-life personality. He arrived in 1960, just in time to cash in on the tail end of the steak and martini era--after Pat Boone, but before Bob Dylan.

With Bikakis at the helm, the Echo evolved from a small time lounge and diner into a restaurant with class, serving thick rare steaks with foil-wrapped Idaho spuds.

In the Echo's old brick surrounds, Johnny's ghost still takes you by the hand, leading you on a tour that celebrates his heyday. Photo ops are showcased everywhere--there's Johnny with Bing Crosby, Mickey Rooney, Mae West and Jimmy Durante. The poster-sized photographs form a trail from stem to stearn, giving these seasoned digs an added (and deserved) status.

And elegance blooms unexpectedly in the rear dining area, where panoramic windows look out onto Permanente Creek. This section, added on in the '60s, is spectacular. When night falls here, a feeling of romance descends upon the room like a silk scarf. So I prefer creekside seating, where white linen tables are comfortably aligned under timbered ceilings.

When it comes to food, cutting edge gastronomy has yet to arrive in the neighborhood. The Echo is not a four star establishment, nor does it claim to be. The chefs here make food like they did in the '50s and '60s--plain and simple. The menu comprises a modest selection of American-style favorites: red meats, pasta, fish and shellfish, mostly deep-fried and served with tartar sauce. Red meat stands the tallest, especially the Prime Rib ($14.95 8 oz.; $18.75 12 oz.), which is considered the specialty of the House. The plate turned out to feature a good piece of meat with exceptional marbling, served in natural juices. The foil wrapped potato on the side opened with a rush of steam, soaking butter and sour cream down to the bottom.

We began our meal with an order of crab cakes, found under entrees for $14.45, and Portobello Mushroom Ravioli ($12.95). Both were satisfactory, neither outstanding. The ravioli, cooked fork-tender, filled the mouth with a strong, unmistakable musk. The best aspects of the crab cake--the crispy, golden exterior and sweet ocean flavor--managed to overshadow the condition of the mushy, processed crab.

On a blackboard posted near the entrance to the dining room was written the offer of Blackened Pork Chop, priced at a reasonable $11.95. We received one massive chop sealed in an ebony crust, tasting more Italian than Cajun spicy, with its strong garlic infusion. It reminded me of the breaded pork chops my aunt Lucy used to prepare on special occasions.

Though Chicken Marsala and Mushrooms ($14.25) tempted us with intriguing possibilities, the actual flavors had little fortified wine, and even fewer mushrooms. The breading clung thick and heavy to the flattened chicken breast.

The Echo is a must see, even if you just stop for a cocktail. Nostalgia junkies and movie buffs should find it particularly engaging. Elderly locals frequent the restaurant, and when I asked questions, were likely to add, and argue about, historical details--but all in a good-natured way.

The Echo
Address: 1579 Miramonte, Los Altos
Phone: 650.967.0969
Hours: Lunch 11:30am-2pm Tue-Fri; dinner 5-9pm Tue-Thu, until 9:30pm Fri and Sat, 4-9pm Sun; Sunday brunch 10:30am-1:30pm
Cuisine: American favorites
Price Range: $12.25-$21.45

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

[ Silicon Valley | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

From the October 24-30, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

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

Foreclosures - Real Estate Investing
San Jose.com Real Estate