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Bite Out of History

[whitespace] A.P. Stump's
Christopher Gardner

Vibrant Views: San Jose's new A.P. Stump's gets set for another meal that may 'fire the rockets of remembrance.'

At the end of the year, some moments rise to the top as the most memorable of 1998, for better or worse

By Christina Waters

ALMOST ANYTHING can be romanticized by the soft focus of memory. The intimidatingly large portions at more than one local restaurant now recede, through the filter of time, into humorous anecdote. A waiter who brought the entree before the appetizers, or who brought the entree during the appetizers, is now simply a harmless blip on the screen of my dining year. Yet there were some meals I enjoyed last year that loom larger than others, and most of them for delicious reasons.

It was with great pleasure that I joined San Jose in welcoming the opening of a vibrant new restaurant, A.P. Stump's--a dining room in which every single diner looks delectable. An appetizer of warm corn pudding topped with American Osetra caviar and slices of silken Maine lobster still fires the rockets of remembrance. In addition to the succession of miraculous entrees by chef Jim Stump, pastry chef Patrick Levesque's chocolate and mocha cake--topped with a filigree of spun sugar and two huge double curls of dark chocolate--lingered long as one of the top desserts of the year.

Two meals in Saratoga emerged as hits. One at Viaggio showed off A.J. Szenda's creative cuisinartistry, especially a tapas appetizer plate that deserves star billing in any time capsule. Some of the best flavors were showcased in a salad of baby limas and ham bordered by warm marinated shiitake mushrooms on a bundle of infant lettuce. Skewers of spicy beef dazzled, but it was a cool vinaigrette of baby scallops, rock shrimp and incredibly tender calamari--piled high with capers--that brought me to my knees. And across Big Basin Way at Sent Sovi, chef David Kinch claimed my undying devotion with a tower of ahi tartare shaped into a pretty turban interlaced with truffles and transparent slices of heirloom potatoes.

A journey to the East rewarded me with a simple and perfect bowl of linguine smothered with alio e olio and fresh sea scallops. It was served without fuss, but with loads of confidence, in an unassuming seafood house called Luciano's at the shore in Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Later in the summer I ate some spectacular meals from the hand of Native American cooking goddess Loretta Oden at her Santa Fe Corn Dance Cafe. An osso bucco of elk was brilliant, but even better was a rich, barely sweet pumpkin cheesecake with piñon crust.

Over in Santa Cruz, I enjoyed some key dining. Like a dinner at Avanti with roasted organic beets and an entree of linguine and black chanterelles. Finished by a glass of decent Cotes du Rhône and a slice of impeccably ripe Tellegio, it rounded out an autumn evening. Some of the best days began with textbook eggs over easy with seriously crusty hash browns and a slab of grilled ham at the Whale City Bakery & Cafe in Davenport. With the ocean over my shoulder and a cappuccino in hand, I felt that life was in perfect working order.

It was a year filled with sensational pasta dishes. One was a fusilli and roasted eggplant creation at San Jose's Stratta. Another was a farfalle with potatoes and sage at Al Dente in Santa Cruz's Seabright neighborhood. At Aldo's Cafe I succumbed to a plate of spaghetti joined by shredded chicken and enough rosemary to transport me to a Provençal meadow. But then a dish of capelli with baby artichokes, garlic and grated pecorino cheese at Aperto on Potrero Hill similarly moved my taste buds.

In Italy this fall I savored my fair share of pasta dishes. Many of the best were in an ancient Roman trattoria named La Campana. In one memorable evening, we joined a single seating of vivacious Romans for a dinner of puntarelle, the pungent chicory specialty of the region, tossed with lemon, anchovy and olive oil. This was followed by a Caprese salad infused with utterly fresh mozzarella, superior tomatoes and abundant handfuls of basil. Practically in tears, we then split plates of juicy veal chops and a linguine laced with fresh porcinis so good they were not to be believed. A Nobile di Montalcino fueled every bite.

A single scoop of nocciola gelato, consumed on the hoof while madly seeking an ATM in Como, came close to divinity. But the single most memorable dining moment of the year arrived on a rainy afternoon in a hotel suite perched high over Lake Como in the storybook village of Bellagio. Here we happily split a round loaf of the alpine specialty mattaloch, a nutty, rich version of fruitcake that offers the earthy flavors of almonds, hazelnuts, figs, raisins, citron, cloves and a few secret flavor notes, and washed each biteful down with sips of grappa which we'd brought with us in a tiny curved bottle from a shop in Orvieto. The cake tasted like the alpine forests gathered around the silver lake outside our window. The grappa hit our throats like fire and settled into a warm glow. The rain clouds were enchanting. As is my memory of those flavors.

It will be a good New Year that can provide dining memories as tasty as these. Salut!

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From the December 31, 1998-January 6, 1999 issue of Metro.

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