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[whitespace] Mojo
Photograph by Andy Kjellgren

Fast-Rising Star: Brand-new Mojo shines brightly in the constellation of fine restaurants on Palo Alto's Emerson Street.

Powerful Mojo

Palo Alto's Emerson Street dining boom picks up speed with the sassy new Mojo, where New American cooking goes platinum

By Christina Waters

A DEFINITE SOUTHERN accent inflects this exciting bistro, where chef Donald Link is busy revising the canon of New Orleans-style cuisine. Into a lofty space with a ceiling taller than the room's entire width Mojo packs the largest mirrors this side of Versailles and a sea of white linen. From its inviting sidewalk seating to its hyperactive exhibition kitchen, Mojo has finessed easily the most exciting restaurant opening in recent memory. The point here is unbelievably fine flavor. Those whose stereotype of Southern cooking involves blackened everything will find something akin to spiritual revelation in this remarkably focused menu. This is New American cooking, with some hoppin' John and wilted field greens on the side.

The wine list is small and to the point: lots of local offerings highlighted by an all-star listing of half bottles. More restaurants need to stock splits--they let diners sample more than one wine without leaving earth's orbit. Our foursome compared Bonny Doon's Le Cigare Volant 1997 ($25/half) with a French cousin, an E. Guigal Côte du Rhône 1996 ($14/half). Both syrah-driven beauties stood up to the amazing menu.

A starter of scallion beignets ($5)--ethereally light and crisp, silky moist greens inside--set the pace. Both earthy and elegant, they laid down the regional New Orleans mood, while other dishes improvised further. An appetizer of lightly smoked trout arrived on a pillow of silver-dollar corn cakes ($7.50). Small roasted beets--pink, red, yellow--were grouped to one side, while flash-fried frisee popped up here and there, amid dollops of mustardy sauce. Another appetizer of organic greens ($5.50) was equally flawless. Tossed in a sweet white balsamic vinaigrette, the tender lettuces were adorned with shaves of French radish and thick curls of Parmesan. Peppery croutons, made from the same francese provided in a tableside napkin manger, were knockouts. A lot of confidence and care had been packed into each dish. We responded by leaving not a trace.

Service at Mojo matches the culinary style, and our main dishes were placed smartly and with a hint of anticipatory drama. In a deep bowl, the evening's special of fresh cod ($18) arrived enshrined in a haze of squashes and tomatoes saturated with the opulence of white truffles. The chemistry among ingredients in this dish was frankly erotic. Another order of rare beef filet ($23)--aged into buttery subliminity--arrived with tiny roast onions and elegant blue cheese scalloped potatoes. Each flavor articulate and clear--no trickery, no coverup.

Earning the label pièce de résistance was a third entrée destined for the Mojo hall of fame. A clear triumph, it involved two plump grilled quails glazed with whiskey and molasses embedded in a bayou of cornbread stuffing ($17.50). A branch of fresh rosemary exuded a wild perfume. Chewy braised field greens offered bittersweet counterpoint to the rich quail--expertly grilled to just the point of succulence--and the spicy, herb-driven stuffing created a huge hit with everyone at our table. Chef Link may have to go public with this recipe in the interest of national security.

Furthermore, fine French roast ($2) is not the least of Mojo's pleasures. Sit back and enjoy the brief wait for a dessert of moist, supple, rich, warm chocolate cake ($5)--it's made to order and absolutely as good as it sounds. But it was the bread pudding ($5) with thick tracings of whiskey caramel sauce that conquered. We realized we were in the presence of the original of which all other bread puddings were but pale copies. The Platonic form of bread pudding. Not too sweet, moist and authentically crafted, it disappeared under four eager forks.

But then so did every trace of our meal at Mojo. Definitely got ours working. Mojo--not just whistling Dixie.

Address: 543 Emerson St. (near Hamilton Avenue), Palo Alto
Phone: 650.323.7700
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11:30am-2:30pm; dinner nightly 5-10pm (until 11pm Fri.-Sat.)
Chef: Donald Link

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From the December 16-22, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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