Best of Silicon Valley 2001 - Editors' Picks

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[whitespace] Ice cream
Here's the Scoop: Homemade ice cream mixed to order with a choice of dozens of additions makes Cold Stone Creamery a hit.

Editors' Picks:
Foraging & Grazing

Best Free Meal

Costco Wholesale
2201 Senter Rd., San Jose
1601 Coleman Ave., Santa Clara

Can we have a moment of silence, please, to remember the free food of dotcom past? There, there. Everything's going to be all right. Need an alternative, minus the free booze and gourmet jalapeño poppers? Head to Costco, sucka! Yes, it's acres of hell on earth, but they've got the free grub and the Sample Matrons. She wears a red apron over regular clothes and beckons us with those golden words, "Would you like a sample?" Well, hell yes, I'll have one. Actually, I'll take three, I'm giving them to my brothers over there. The Matron gives an evil eye, as she hands over a sample of sausage ravioli. Relax, just rotate to the next sampler hocking weenie dogs, egg rolls, mini pizzas and cheese. Spend an hour shopping and sampling and boom, insta-full. And jeepers, all the food groups are represented, too! GR

Best Place to Dine With Larry Ellison or Someone Equally Hard to Impress

Evvia Estiatorio
420 Emerson St., Palo Alto

Boom or bust, Evvia is still the hot spot for gratifying Greek dining. Designed like a neighborhood restaurant in Mykonos, Evvia is inviting and familiar with its collection of Greek pottery, colored bottles encased in a recessed wall and the open-air, wood-fired oven. The service is excellent, the wine list is more than ample and the place just oozes a quiet sexiness. Best of all, it affords privacy and conversation that doesn't bounce off the walls like at other restaurants. It's unpretentious, refined casual dining, and the most apropos of places when dining with Mr. Oracle. Everything served leaves a rich and lasting impression on the palate, whether it is the classic Greek salad horiatiki, grilled lamb chops, souvlaki or the baklava. It's easy doing business when the business of eating is this perfect. GR

Best Weenie on Wheels

Junior's Dogs
Corner of South Fifth and Virginia, San Jose

A staple in New York City, the old-fashioned hot dog cart enjoys little comparable imminence out here on the Left Coast. But when one's done right, like Junior's, it's worth searching out. Hidden under the shadows of a squat industrial building, Cesar Castro's cart has been offering up Coney Island specials for the last 11 years. Bowing to the ethnic preferences of the region, Castro also serves a mean burrito and tamale. But the Schwarz brand of weenies, Louisiana hot links and Polish dogs is what brings us back when only something fast and portable will do. KL

Best Reason to Stay in Chains

Baker's Square Restaurant & Pie Shop
Los Gatos, Santa Clara, Milpitas, San Jose

Edgy. Experimental. Spontaneous. Sounds great for a love life, but when it comes to picking up grub, let the food snobs be damned--think franchises. And when a hankering for pie hits, go with the king--Baker's Square. With almost two dozen flavors to choose from, the Square will have something for everyone; from apple-pie fanatics to diabetics who must shun sugar. For us chocoholics, nothing beats the sinfully rich chocolate silk pie--often imitated, never replicated.

Special props to the Square for not scrimping on the slices, always enough to promise a good insulin rush. But birdlike eaters can save money, too, by ordering the half-size slice. KL

Best Selfish Indulgence

Cold Stone Creamery
1875 S. Bascom Ave. #160, Campbell
4848 San Felipe Rd., Suite 170, South San Jose
757 E. El Camino Real, Suite #D, Sunnyvale

Whoever said that ice cream was strictly a summertime treat was a boob. Some might say that it's best enjoyed in the dead of winter, and speaking in California weather terms, that means cold and rainy but never frigid. Cold Stone is a new player in the ice cream industry and stays true to its tagline, "Create your own happiness." Happiness is ordering a Rocky Road concoction of chocolate ice cream, fresh walnuts and marshmallow creme mixed together by hand on a counter of cold granite stone and served in a gourmet waffle cone or waffle bowl by wired high-schoolers who scream to their cohorts, "Hey guys, we got a tip!' for a job well done. It is easy to get annoyed here, with the long lines on hot nights, the little tykes running around with chocolate on their noses and the employees dressed as if they were heading to the Australian Outback. Weird. But it's worth every penny for servicing a sugar, not stock, crash. GR

Best Place to Wait Out the Dot-Coma

A.P. Stump's
163 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose

Donna Karan spandex--from last year, naturally, since we can no longer afford designer outfits--still looks bitchin' at this upscale watering hole. Even though we can't shop at Banana Republic anymore, we can still look like we own a private island. Just perch at the lavishly polished bar, highly visible through the etched-glass room dividers. It's okay to pout, as long as the order is in for a really good glass of bubbly. Sip slowly and doodle on a cocktail napkin, designing perhaps, the new future of Silicon Valley. Prosperity consciousness can be fueled very nicely by that perfect Cosmopolitan they make at Stump's. It's easier to imagine that happier days for the thrashed 401K account are just around the corner after loading up on some high-octane designer fuel. And don't forget what Scarlett O'Hara said: "Tomorrow is another day!" CW

Best Quick, Sexy Italian Eatery

Pasta Pomodoro
1205 The Alameda, San Jose

When Italian chef Adriano Paganini looked around for something to follow his successful Bay Area culinary debut a few years ago, he hit on the idea of doing a string of fast, exuberant and very affordable Italian restaurants. Pasta Pomodoro was the result, and we've got our very own installment on The Alameda between Santa Clara and San Jose. Everything in the house is sensuous and freshly prepared. The salads are killer, breads dense and delicious, but the place is, let's face it, really all about pasta. Here the pasta is made to order, arrives impeccably al dente and is loaded with all those important Mediterranean food groups--tomatoes, garlic and garlic. The linguine with clams is definitive, and anything with seafood rocks. The spit-roasted chicken will make you moan. The mascarpone and ricotta cheesecake is the best in the South Bay. Period. Plus the whole scene here is lively and filled with very attractive people, all talking, eating and drinking at once. Look for Pomodoro's new eatery opening soon in the Evergreen area. CW

Best Apple Fritters in a Doughnut Shop With Christian Iconography and B-24s

Lou's Living Donut Museum
387 Delmas Ave., San Jose

The frying of a doughnut can be a solemn duty. Ralph and Connie Chavira continue in the spirit of the original owner, Lou Ades, a B-24 Liberator pilot in WWII, by honoring military personnel in the preparation of each and every doughnut. "We make an American doughnut," Ralph says. You don't have to be patriotic to enjoy the fancies--but it helps. Some folks swear by the apple fritters, and others sing the praises of the crumb. And one certainly can't ignore the maple glazed. What is the secret of these superlative dollops of dough? Eggs from free-range chickens? Secret recipes? Or maybe the shop decor of WWII bombers and religious icons supplies the secret ingredient. The proof is in the doughnuts. EC

Best New Food Trend

Organic and Local

Not new, actually--it's the oldest culinary habit around. Alice Waters knew it decades before most Californians. And the Europeans knew about it waaaaay before even the foundress of Chez Panisse. There's really no point in consuming fruit out of season, or vegetables grown with pesticides and chemicals. Need a reason? Here's two: they don't taste good and they're not good for us. There! Since we live in one of the savviest regions of the planet, our restaurateurs and grocers also know this. That's why we're seeing more cafes and food stores featuring produce grown using old-fashioned natural techniques, and rushed to market when they're at their peak of ripeness. Check out the neighborhood farmers market each week--what's sold there has been freshly harvested. That's why it tastes great. Enlightened restaurants keep step, and change their menus often to reflect what's really grown nearby and right now. So if it's winter and there's tomatoes on the menu, get up and walk out. CW

Best Politically Incorrect Grub

Veal Sandwich at Fratello
1712 Meridian Ave., San Jose

Not a PETA-approved meal but nevertheless worth mentioning for those who occasionally look to the days of yore when veal and wearing leather was a sign of higher consciousness or at least higher budgets. Fratello's owner Carmine, who hails from the Amalfi Coast in Italy, puts out the most authentic Italian cooking this side of Little Italy or my wife's kitchen. The PI lunch with a glass of PC iced tea goes for about $10 but packs the flavor of a huge dining experience. First Carmine and the boys saute the veal, bell pepper, mushrooms and onions in olive oil and a little white wine. When the veal is properly cooked and the oil and wine reduced he puts in the Swiss or American cheese and stirs until the cheese is melted. Carmine is then ready to arrange it between two pieces of warmed Focaccio bread. The flavors are abundant yet the price will keep you in PC radicchio for years. Mangia. DC

Best Dessert Designer

Irit Ishai - Sent Sovi Restaurant
14583 Big Basin Way, Saratoga

The pastries designed by this artful pastry chef defy reason -- and seduce every taste bud. At least a half dozen extraordinary and unusual creations emerge from the kitchen each evening, always involving the fresh fruit of the season, and sensitive to the time of year. The reigning extravaganza is Ishai's Coconut "Pyramid," literally a small macaroon shaped like a pharaoh's monument, and surrounded with all manner of tropical fruits--gleaming like jewels--in a sultry lagoon of passion fruit cream. Bucking the predictable tide of gooey, chocolate desserts, these miracles of flavor complexity stress fruit, nuts and housemade ice creams and sorbets, like the current strawberry ice accompanying warm marzipan cake. These are adult desserts, for taste buds that like to be pushed to the limit. Go and be prepared to be thrilled. CW

Best Maitre D'

Jalil Samavarchian - Paolo's Restaurant
333 W. San Carlos St., San Jose

Walking into Paolo's Restaurant, one of downtown's premier dining spots, inevitably customers will be greeted by the charmer and disarmer, Jalil Samavarchian. His warm smile, quick wit and abundant savoir faire will set the stage for a wonderful dining experience. Jalil's thorough knowledge of Paolo's wine cellar is always helpful as is his ability to prescribe cold remedies on the spot if his customers are under the weather. Not feeling well? Try Jalil's concoction of hot water, Cognac, twisted lemon peel and some other secret ingredients blended with his strong-arm tactics of burying the customer's nose in the snifter with a firm hand placed on the back of the linen-draped head. Indeed, it worked wonders on this patron's stuffed nose. DC

Best-Kept Secret Recipe

La Victoria's Hot Sauce
140 W. San Carlos St., San Jose

So many have tried and failed miserably to recreate the unique orange hot sauce at this downtown San Jose institution. Just one taste of the popular taqueria's spicy, zesty blend of mystery ingredients is enough to have any Mexican-food junkie coming back again and again for a fix of the addictive condiment. It's become the stuff of legends. But what the heck is it? People spend whole meals speculating on and debating the contents of those clear plastic squeeze bottles--containers that are whisked off the tables and protectively placed in a refrigerated case the moment diners leave their chairs. While sight and taste analysis detects some sort of dairy product and some variety of red pepper, extensive research and no little trial and error have repeatedly failed to reproduce the enigmatic delicacy. This fiery ambrosia is definitely much more complicated than mere Tabasco and mayonnaise. Sworn to secrecy, those working behind the restaurant's busy counter only smile knowingly when asked about the recipe. It's likely the valley will never learn what magic goes into preparing the irresistible sauce, but at least its children can stroll down San Carlos morning, noon or late-late night and have one of the best burritos in town smothered in the savory stuff. SQ

Best Artery Cloggers

Dim Sum - Hong Kong Flower Lounge
560 Waverley St., Palo Alto

In recent years folks have discovered the indulgent pleasures of dim sum, the traditional Cantonese brunch comprised of small plates of wondrous delicacies.

HKFL boasts a selection of more than 50 dishes served in clean, elegant surroundings. A selection of imported teas perfectly complements the meal. The decorum and service makes it feel like Hong Kong. Be sure to try the "Shanghai-style Steamed Dumplings" garnished with wine vinegar and ginger slivers and the "Deep Fried Sesame Ball". One taste is sure to set off a spinal shiver from head to toe that feels like you-know-what.

Although HKFL serves dim sum every day at lunch, the full experience requires an empty stomach and a visit on a weekend morning. TP

Best Place to Fuel Between Bouts of Retail Therapy

Westfield Shoppingtown - Valley Fair
2855 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara

Mall food once tasted flatter than a TV dinner. No more. The newly-opened food court at Valley Fair, in the expanded wing of the mall, is a glorified, brand-heavy cafeteria, where the most pressing decision is deciding what the heck to eat. Shall it be gourmet pizza from California Pizza Kitchen or an assortment of meat, vegetables and noodles at The Great Kahn's Mongolian, with its giant hibachi-type grill? How about a trio of San Felipe-style fish tacos at Rubio's Baja Grill, the storied chain that began in San Diego as a roadside taco stand? In a hurry? Head to the always-a-line-but-worth-the-wait Auntie Anne's pretzel cart. For dessert, try a sinful, chewy brownie from Mrs. Field's Express (just a FYI, there's a second location next to Florsheim Shoes) or a cinnamon roll dripped in sugary glaze at Cinnabon. Memories of nasty mall food dissipate with just one taste of these quality, savory offerings. GR

Best of Silicon Valley 2001 Table of Contents

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From the October 18-24, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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