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Photograph by Goerge Sakkestad

Racking Up Points: Kambiz Razavi sports a platter of Capers' signature baby back ribs.

Comes With Capers

Campbell eatery combines fun and games with seriously good food

By Joseph Izzo Jr.

IN CAMPBELL there is a restaurant with a sports bar called, of all things, Capers. In no way, shape or form does the pod from the spiny caper shrub suggest the idea of sports or sporting events. Not even vaguely. Unless, of course, you believe that harvesting and pickling the plant's small buds (also known as capers) is an athletic endeavor. But no matter. This is California, after all, where restaurateurs like to mix it up. In this case, the oxymoronic concept is to provide a fine dining experience in a sports bar setting.

Specifically, the place is all about baseball. For me, stepping inside Capers was like sliding into second base on a hit up the middle. I found myself safe on the bag with daylight overhead and wide-open space to stretch my arms. It's a clean and fresh space with plenty of room to navigate your legs and your sensibilities. It truly is as unique as it sounds.

Unlike so many places that try to combine a casual atmosphere with serious food, this establishment has class--and plenty of it. It is not the kind of eatery where you anchor yourself at a stool and wash fancy burgers and trendy appetizers down with pints of the latest microbrew. Oh, it's a sports place all right, but one with real sophistication and a well-devised menu full of inventive recipes and delicious finger foods cooked and assembled by trained chefs who have done their homework. There's something for everyone on this menu. You want potato skins? So be it. You want lamb shanks in a port wine sauce? You get that, too--plus many other offerings rarely found in a venue of this nature.

While all the trappings you've come to expect in a place like this are present and accounted for, they are laid out in such a way as to evoke a feeling of fine dining. Go someplace else for boisterous bonding over earned run average or to commiserate about the offensive woes of the NFL's last place team. Capers is, first, a restaurant. It uses sports as its theme, but not its culinary direction--a refreshing change of pace.

On my first visit, I came for a late lunch--the place is open all day--and sat amid sunlight streaming through the panoramic front windows. It is an exceptionally light and airy environment. The bar is situated at the center of the room, in full view.

The kitchen--also visible--is a cubist theater with walls of stainless steel along which the chef walks back and forth doing his chores. If you are not at the bar, you are seated at a table; all are veritable viewing centers, by the way, all of them roomy and comfortable, clothed in linen, and appointed without clutter.

My favorite sports statement at Capers is an artistic standout as well. It is a wall-sized original painting (rendered on wallpaper) that was purchased--I was told--from the Stadium Club at Candlestick Park. It depicts an anonymous ballplayer sliding into a base. As you enter Capers the piece just jumps out at you, chronicling a moment of extraordinary action frozen in time. There are, too, the typical TV monitors here. But they are set high against the far wall in such a way as to not distract uninterested diners. (And with food this good, I suspect there will be plenty.)

In addition, you'll find a vast collection of sports memorabilia respectfully framed and displayed, as they might be in a museum. Take time to walk around and study them. They're placed along the walls at eye level for optimum appreciation.

As to the food, the menu is essentially the same for both lunch and dinner. For our late lunch visit, we opened with a garlic custard ($6.95) framed in a dark, glossy pecan-mushroom port sauce. Surrounding this mold of silken-textured custard were crostini, or toasted and seasoned bread, fashioned inside the plate like the petals of a sunflower.

We also sampled the marinated fire-roasted artichokes ($8.95), cut into four pieces with chipotle and sun-dried tomato aioli. Artichokes can be a problem for those us not patient enough to pick through the leaves of this edible thistle. I went directly for the hearts and dipped them liberally in the smoked chili aioli.

The entree we enjoyed the most that first visit was the Atlantic Salmon ($14.95)--a thick, ocean-fresh fillet grilled to orange-pink perfection and served with another port wine reduction, this time seasoned with tarragon. This port wine-based sauce is a signature here at Capers and is used often with many of the dishes--both fish and red meat--including the aforementioned braised lamb shanks ($14.95), and is served over garlic mashed potatoes with vegetables on the side.

The highlight of our dinner visit was the grilled Angus filet mignon ($22.95), an exquisite cut of well-aged beef so tender it cut with a fork--and with little effort. The grain mustard and portobello mushroom sauce--sharing the ruddy qualities of that versatile port wine reduction--partnered like true love with the steak. We were almost tempted into having the breaded capon instead ($13.95)--it sounded so good with its spices and leeks and vermouth cream sauce. A less distinctive red meat item was the grilled flank steak ($14.95). Though it sounded delightful on the menu, with its marinade of olive oil, chili spice, oranges and bell peppers, the meat--however tender and juicy--purveyed none of the spiciness suggested in the description. The papaya-jicama salsa helped, but not enough. Adjustments are needed to bring this dish to life.

In the end, a dense chocolate cake streaked with heavy cream and resting in a pool of raspberry sauce sweetened the conclusion of our meal. Sweet, too, are the servers at Capers. More than one fit the description of characters fresh from the pages of some underground novel. Our late-lunch waiter in particular exuded a quirky, charming manner that entertained us from cocktail to check. And although he amused us, his service was serious--he didn't miss a beat in his tableside duties.

So far, Capers seems to be working. The concept may be incongruous, but the product is good. Right now, anyway. Time will tell if the management can maintain the quality and commitment I found on my recent visits. Let's hope.


Capers
Address: 1710 W. Campbell Ave., Campbell
Phone: 408.374.5777
Hours: 11:30am-10pm daily, until 11pm Fri and Sat
Price Range: $4.95-$22.95
Cuisine: Well-heeled sports bar and restaurant

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From the November 2-8, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 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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