Newish hot spot occupies former location of Cafe Marcella
(This review appeared in South Bay Accent in January of 2009)
Posh Los Gatos has long had the South Bay’s most convivial restaurant scent. Dining out in this cute town is about more than sustenance as patrons – local and those who wish they were – flock to the burg’s expanding array of lively eating spots to meet, greet, quaff, jabber, ogle and in general have a great time. In this spirited environment, Cin-Cin Wine Bar quickly emerged as perhaps the quintessential Los Gatos eatery, dedicated to nutrition but particularly to fun in the local style.
There are few better able than co-owner Don Durante to so expertly mine this vein. During his 30-plus years in the biz, he’s run such hits as Saratoga’s Le Mouton Noir, Birk’s in Santa Clara and Cascal in downtown Mountain View. The latter has some strong similarities to Cin-Cin, from the geo-hopping small-plates menu, ample prices and attractively casual décor to the ear-splitting decibels that don’t seem to faze Los Gatos restaurant goers whatsoever. Durante has been joined by co-owner Lisa Rhorer, a former Google marketer who now pours her energies into wine, having developed an alluring and smartly described selection of flights and tastings to seduce the party-oriented patrons.
Located in what used to be Café Marcella, Cin-Cin (an Italian drinking toast meaning “to your health”) takes a trendy “green” direction, design wise, featuring noise-enhancing bamboo floors and eco-friendly materials like recycled glass, cork and reclaimed black walnut. The earthy color scheme and wine-focused modern paintings enhance this leitmotif. Meanwhile, servers dressed in the ubiquitous dark clothes of today are low-key and helpful. The only problem we had on our visit was that it was so difficult to be heard that our server either brought the wrong item or didn’t hear it being ordered in the first place.
The majority of the menu focuses on small plates in various categories and these are where all the winners are located. So fantastic that it prompted a second order was the flatbread, heavenly bites of starch piled with cheddar fondue, grilled onions, dried apricots and hazelnuts with arugula leaves as garnish. Including almost every flavor and texture that exists all in one place, this dish is beyond addictive. Also tasty was another “nibble” in which crispy little balls of fried goat cheese cozied up to pear ceviche with a balsamic glaze and spiced walnuts.
Less successful was mushroom empanadas that tasted only of starch and an oversupply of truffle oil. However, the crowd has chosen the most popular item as we saw plate after plate piled high with “deluxe sliders” sweep by. These mini-burgers feature grilled onions, more of that divine cheddar fondue and chipotle aioli.
There has been positive buzz about the “Cin-Cin sampler,” small bites of seven items such as lush chicken livers whipped with goat cheese and raisins, pepper-crusted shrimp, deviled eggs and salt cod blended with fennel confit and olives. Another emerging local favorite are the albondigas – cumin-spiced lamb meatballs with fiery harissa and cooling cucumber yogurt.
Next time, we’ll camp in the small-plates section rather than moving on to large plates, which weren’t quite as exciting as their little brothers. The pan-seared salmon wasn’t entirely fresh and had an odd leathery exterior. Its fennel-focused accompaniments had little licorice flavor. Meanwhile, the diver scallops were tiny, a bit overcooked and overwhelmed by spicy sausage and a saffron butter sauce in which the former was undetectable.
Any food regrets can quickly be forgotten by plunging into the winsome wine offerings. Rhorer has packaged some nice flights – everything from racy Austrian whites to lush reds – as well as tastes and glasses of more than 30 selections that include sake and sherry. Clever descriptions help less-experienced drinkers zero in on the right choice.
Leave room for dessert, particularly if it’s the cheesecake beignets or polenta shortcake. Those beignets – little cheesecake-oozing donuts whose accompanying hazelnut honey and chocolate dipping sauces take the dish ravishingly over the top – should be licensed. Meanwhile, the shortcake deliciously pairs savory and sweet as rich cake interplays with rhubarb and strawberries, tangy yogurt gelato and a pungent pool of basil oil.
This wine bar/eatery has scored a bullseye in the local dining firmament as judged by the size of the crowds in attendance. And in lively Los Gatos, being hoarse the next day after an evening of screaming to be heard is one way you know you had an enjoyable time. Cin cin!
Cin-Cin Wine Bar, 368 Village Lane, Los Gatos, (408) 354-8006 cincinwinebar.com
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; until midnight Friday & Saturday. Sunday, 5-10 p.m. Closed Monday. Reservations strongly recommended.
PRICES: Appetizers/tapas, $5-23; entrees, $19-28; desserts, $7.