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Some Like it Haute

Chef Mark Dierkhising
Christopher Gardner

Hare Today: Executive Chef Mark Dierkhising made the jump from the wine country to the Silicon Valley and landed at Brandon's Restaurant in Milpitas.

Resplendent with glittering brass and wood paneling, Brandon's proves a serious venue for corporate meetings and power lunches

By Andrew X. Pham

STRADDLING THE San Jose­Milpitas border, Brandon's Restaurant boasts a new general. Hailing from the Napa Valley, Executive Chef Mark Dierkhising has staked out his spot in Silicon Valley and is cooking up a name for himself.

Dierkhising, a Minnesota native, brings his lifelong passion for food to the South Bay. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, he spent several fruitful years in the kitchen at the Robert Mondavi estates during its formative stage. He also owned and operated the Silverado Tavern and the Season Cafe in Calistoga. Ripe for a change with 20 years of wine-valley gastronomy under his belt, Dierkhising was successfully courted by the owners of Brandon's Restaurant.

Resplendent with glittering brass, wood paneling and a stiff-backed maitre d', the restaurant molds itself as a serious venue for corporate meetings and power lunches. A dim foyer separates the lounge from the sprawling dining room and banquet facilities. Thick carpeting, a high ceiling and very faint jazz muffle the noise level well, making both conversation and negotiation effortless. Seating is spacious and the service flawless.

To this formal setting, Dierkhising brings a changing menu that speaks of his playfulness and confidence. Among fresh green salads, grilled salmon cakes and barbecued New York steak are personable entrees such as sashimi ahi tuna wrapped in nori, prosciutto with brie and roasted garlic, and spicy Thai rotelle pasta with chicken.

We began the repast with a quintet of giant gulf prawns ($8.95), filleted to blossom like rose petals atop a sunny impression of miso-mustard hollandaise. The sauce, an ingenious and balanced pairing of miso and mustard, bathed the crustaceans in subtle notes of sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and fish fumet. A crafty touch showed in the sautéing of prawns in sesame oil to preserve the meat's supple texture.

One of the best entries on the starters list was the brainchild of sous chef Fortunato. His tamale ($10.75) essayed divine flavors in uncomplicated terms. A corn-husk canoe sailed to the table on a sea of roasted bell pepper coulis the color of flushed pumpkin, bearing a cargo of delta-sweet Louisiana crayfish coddled in cornmeal. The puréed and roasted red bell pepper whispered of cumin and cayenne pepper. The cornmeal burst with garlic, shallot and--yes--duck fat. Everything in Fortunato's tamale exuded character, every bite a sensuous pleasure.

We split a second course of warm baby spinach salad ($6.25) and were not disappointed by the size of the portions. On white porcelain, a fistful of gorgonzola rested in a glade of heat-softened baby spinach. A dew of red wine vinaigrette glistened on shapely leaves mossed over with mustard grains. The startling tartness of the dressing, perhaps overwhelming for some, made for a powerful palate invigorator.

The patrons' cellular phones and pagers chimed louder than the piped music, spurring us to jump on the bandwagon for the old-boys' favorite: filet mignon ($21.95), the enduring choice of power-diners. Escorted by a phalanx of asparagus spears and a tumble of oven-baked potato coins, runny with heavy cream and freckled with black pepper, the prima donna arrived gift-wrapped in bacon and teased in a glaze of veal and citrus juices. While the outer flesh was scored with diamond facets charred crusty-dark, the core gleamed crimson and the middle layer showed fleshy pink. Expert care at the grill cherishes this top cut of meat, making it truly a red morsel to remember.

The salmon filet ($18.50) arrived on a coach of saffron risotto-creamy Italian rice in the company of fava beans and red bell pepper sautéed in truffle oil. Pan-seared in the oven, the pink flesh acquired a crusty, caramelized robe with delightful traces of orange zest. The salmon was sweet, the rice creamy, the vegetables fresh, every detail self-evident and well-assembled.

On the evening of our visit, a sweet trio--chocolate pound cake a la mode, poached pear with berries, and crème brûlée ($6.95 each)--formed a conservative bloc for the meal's finale. At this end of the menu, the kitchen leans toward the familiar. But as always, it reserves an artistic eye for presentation.

There are simple pleasures as well as unique creations in Brandon's, where Dierkhising surprises with bold flair and deft sensibilities. Things are looking up in Milpitas.

Brandon's Restaurant

Cuisine: Inventive continental, Mediterranean
Ambiance: formal, dressy
Menu: starters $5­$10; entrees $15­$23
Hours: Mon.­Fri., 6:30am­10:30pm; Sat., 7am­ 10pm; Sun. brunch and lounge dining only
Address: 1800 Barber Lane, Milpitas
Phone: 408/432-6311
Extras: extensive wine list and full bar

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From the November 27-December 4, 1996 issue of Metro

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