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Gracious Gervais

Gervais Restaurant Francais
Robert Scheer

French Dressing: Felix Medina's classic toque and chef's garb mesh perfectly with the Gallic stylings at Gervais.

A fixture on Park Avenue carries on its genteel, classy traditions

By Christina Waters

LIKE MANY Old World dining rooms--restaurants that in the '70s would have called their cuisine "continental"--Gervais exudes charm and good manners. White linens work with formal drapery, wallpaper and a few original oil paintings encased in thick gold frames to create a sense of order and calm. Yet it's never stuffy here--partly because the wait staff is so skilled, friendly and gifted with an impeccable sense of timing. You need more time? They pause and return later. You might like the wine but are unsure? They bring the bottle and offer a sample. Suggestions are made when requested, but essentially the point here is to make you feel comfortable and then leave you in peace to enjoy your meal. Gervais is where you would come for classic French onion soup, escargot, filet mignon with béarnaise sauce and textbook soufflés.

Some fresh rolls, soft inside with a pliantly chewy crust, begged to be spread with unsalted butter. We obliged as we wandered through a menu loaded with suggestive ideas. Seafood, roasted meats and some veal classics, as well as country-style French poultry dishes--it all looked tempting. The wine list at Gervais addresses a modest but comprehensive grouping of California and French varietals, offering something for everyone in a broad bandwidth of prices. Since we had a later engagement, we settled on glasses of a plummy 1995 Clos du Bois Merlot ($7.25) that did just what a nice merlot should do--make friends with the rest of the meal.

A house salad of organic butter and romaine lettuces arrived well dressed in a beautifully balanced vinaigrette, topped with crumbled blue cheese ($5).

Another appetizer of freshly made lobster-stuffed ravioli ($8.50) offered a sensuous mouth-feel. Sauced with restraint--some fresh tomato and a splash of cream--they were dreamy pasta pillows, opulent and oversize, filled with herb-inflected shellfish. It's such a pleasure to enjoy pasta in a manageable appetizer portion. More restaurants should give the option of appetizer pastas for those of us disinclined to wade through an entire entree of a single noodle.

Our entrées arrived on huge dishes warm enough to heighten the gorgeous aroma of fresh basil garnishing both plates. A golden grilled halibut filet ($19.50)--one of two seafood specials that evening, and cooked to just the point of succulence--was lightly finished with wine, butter and saffron. It came with vegetables and a tiny timbale of tasty rice pilaf. The latter was almost interesting enough to question my belief that rice pilaf is an idea whose 15 minutes are definitely up.

The sweet sautéed carrots and slender, mildly flavored wax beans also made an appearance in my dinner companion's excellent presentation of roast loin of pork ($15.50). Moist and loaded with earthy flavor, the thick slices were fanned out across the plate and glistened with capers, garlic and a wine-butter finish. We appreciated that the kitchen isn't afraid to call a sauce a sauce, though the hand is deft enough to produce a sophisticated rather than a palate-wearying result. Accompanying the pork loin were absolutely delicious scalloped potatoes.

Choosing from Gervais' glittering pastry tray was no simple task, but we both loved a dessert of Muscovit ($5) that tastes like almond cheesecake filling that had been shaped into a soft pyramid and topped with crushed raspberries and almond slivers. Impossibly rich, light and creamy, it was one of those combinations of creamy and tart that perfectly finishes a meal.

Our pretty wedge of apple cake was nice, but not as wildly appealing. Apple slices with the chewy texture of old-fashioned fruit kuchens had been nested atop a custard-filled pastry. The unlikely embellishment was a pool of chocolate sauce. To help my companion make her after-dinner drink decision, an array of tea bags arrived with a silver pot of boiling water.

Even after two decades of existence, it's clear that winning service, an attractive menu of updated continental ideas and a reliably comfortable setting keep this restaurant attracting the following it deserves.

Gervais Restaurant Francais
Address: 1798 Park Ave. (at Naglee), San Jose
Phone: 408/275-8631
Cuisine: Classic and contemporary French
Hours: Lunch Tue.-Fri. 11:30am-2pm; dinner Tue.-Sat. 5:30-10pm
Entrées: $15-$25
Chef: Felix Medina

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From the Dec. 4-10, 1997 issue of Metro.

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