Modern Cooking in a Classic Victorian at Trevese

(This review appeared in South Bay Accent in November, 2007. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed in 2011. )

Chef Michael Miller never gave up on the South Bay, despite the sign-of-the-times demise in 2003 of his first restaurant, Umunhum, in San Jose. Unfortunately, his terrific food couldn’t overcome the shopping-mall location nor the then-grim economy, but this local boy isn’t a quitter. His recent comeback has everything right going for it this time, particularly what is probably the most spectacular site in downtown Los Gatos – now indisputably south county’s premier restaurant town. Opened in early spring of 2007, Trevese Restaurant & Lounge inhabits the imposing, turreted 1891 Coggeshall mansion. Its stately façade and gingerbread have been attracting second looks for years from its spot in the heart of the action on North Santa Cruz Avenue.

This proud Victorian housed a middle-of-the-road steak house for a few decades, but with Miller back in town, the mansion now boasts the elegant cuisine that always seemed like what should be there. Unlike Umunhum, with its spare, industrial décor, the interior of Trevese is all understated sophistication, with subdued colors and approachable formality. Meanwhile, Miller has scaled up his food since the Umunhum days, adding more complexity and more luxury ingredients. Serving this cuisine is a staff of knowledgeable pros, a departure from the young, underskilled team at his previous venture.

Guests will see Miller’s higher ambitions on display in a look-at-me starter course: luscious grilled foie gras paired with saba (a balsamic-like condiment) granita and date tart. Temperature, texture and flavor contrasts like this are found in other dishes as well, such as a marvelous study in soups that presents a rich asparagus bisque along with an icy, airy asparagus broth. And a meaty, earthy, warm roasted porcini mushroom given faint sweetness from fermented apple syrup and garnished with cold baby greens in a tart sherry vinaigrette.

Rather than the often-ubiquitous dishes found on many South Bay menus, Miller’s offerings are new and exciting. Like plum-glazed quail on crisp rice noodle cake with pickled strawberries, or crispy rabbit and apricot mustard with chorizo and pumpernickel bread pudding. And these are just some of the starters.

One element retained from the Umunhum period is a terrific wine list. The Trevese list is pages long and filled with enticing choices – familiar and obscure – from all over the world’s great wine regions. This includes many excellent food wines to pair with complex main courses such as select parts of suckling pig –specifically, meaty ribs, super-rich belly and soft, flavorful cheek – in a dark Madeira sauce touched with cinnamon.

Seafood choices include grilled salmon whose sweetness is highlighted by roasted peaches, then balanced with basil vinaigrette. Or crisp-skinned sea bream perched on top of tender beans and garnished with oysters and greens. An old favorite from Umunhum days has been retained: Bouillabaisse-like “Mer Rouge” featuring an assortment of shellfish and braised cod in a light, tomato-based broth. Not light at all are some serious beef offerings that come from the Wagyu breed of cattle most famously found in Japan’s Kobe beef. Crispy duck and rack of lamb are other rib-sticking choices.

The side dishes alone on Miller’s menu are deeply enticing, like lemon waffle with bloomsdale spinach, or sautéed morels, fava beans and cipollini onions, or sweet potato French fries, or stone-ground yellow corn grits. Speaking of starches, Trevese (an amalgam of Miller’s wife’s and son’s names) has to serve the best bread in the South Bay – various addictive flavors created by pastry chef Michael Finehirsh that have earned such raves that they will now be sold at retail.

Finehirsh does a stellar job on desserts, too, which is not surprising for someone who once worked for superstars like Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse. Worth its own trip is an otherworldly almond paste soufflé teamed with a mouthful of strawberry port gelee topped with dried strawberries, and macerated fresh strawberries, and berry sorbet, and a tiny orange blossom honey parfait on the side. And a fried basil leaf. Equally wowee is a divine “tart” that involves layers of chocolate and pistachio mousse on chocolate crust, a puddle of killer bittersweet chocolate sauce, and pistachio ice cream on a chocolate tuille. And others in that heady realm.

Miller is also offering a seven-course tasting menu that seems aimed at heavy eaters. Each dish is multi-faceted and sounds delicious, but there are a lot of them and most feature rich ingredients. Maybe this able chef is trying to make up for the years without his own South Bay restaurant through this flurry of over-the-top creativity. Regardless, it’s good to have him back.

Travese, 115 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos, (408) 354-5551;

HOURS: Dinner, 5-11 p.m., Monday to Saturday. Reservations recommended.

PRICES: Starters, $8-19; entrees, $22-44; desserts, $9-10. Seven-course tasting menu: $90; $135 with wines.

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