(Published by South Bay Accent in August, 2014.)
Hot summer days can define your dining choices. Who wants stick-to-the-ribs dishes when sizzling weather calls for light, cool cuisine — if possible, featuring all of summer’s divine fruits and vegetables. So slip into your shorts and peruse our list of 10 great restaurant choices for summer dining and drinking, featuring dishes so delectable that you’ll want to have them all year long.
Madera, 2825 Sand Hill Rd., Menlo Park, (650) 561-1540, http://www.maderasandhill.com
Madera’s whisper-light abalone is a divine summer dish.
This prime VC hangout in the posh Rosewood Resort helps keep patrons lean and happy via some terrific summer seafood entrees — most notably, local abalone with flavorful matsutaki bouillon, turnips and crispy rice. Or dive into the chef’s yummy Alaskan king salmon with cauliflower, pistachio, chanterelle mushrooms, apricot and green coriander. A nice addition to the light summer seafood choices are great summer sides like crispy baby fava beans with pecorino and wilted chard with garlic confit.
Pre-entrée choices at Madera show off a cavalcade of fresh produce. Guests love the colorful, tasty beet salad accompanied by citrus and fromage blanc, a snowy, light, soft cheese, and pistachio vinaigrette dressing. Or sugar-snap pea soup with whipped yogurt and mint. Or seared scallops and asparagus with bacon, green strawberries and nettles. Don’t miss the shellfish and raw fish choices, which are amped up with a range of compatible summer ingredients.
Pastry chef Mellisa Root has major buzz in the food world and it’s easy to see why in her intoxicating summer desserts. Try her mind-bending lilikoi cheesecake with strawberry habañero sorbet. Gorgeous to look at, it expertly combines creamy sweetness with the exotic tang of the fruits and a slight chile zing. Or go directly to her dark chocolate and anise-seed mousse, which she pairs with crunchy praline, puffed grains and ginger beer citron sorbet.
The lounge at Madera is a swanky watering hole for power players and well-dressed cougars, who can sip such summer treats as a delightful Asian pear cocktail or an inspired house version of a Manhattan featuring vanilla and citrus-infused top-shelf rye whiskey with a brandied cherry. Head for the lovely patio with your drink on beautiful summer days.
Located in the midst of the greatest concentration of venture capital firms in the world, Madera dishes up the kind of environment one would expect for the Mercedes crowd. The spacious, tall-ceiled dining room and outdoor deck deliver an elegant but comfy ambience and gorgeous views across a vast expanse of rolling hills and trees.
Flea Street Cafe, 3607 Alameda de Las Pulgas, Menlo Park, (650) 854-1226, http://www.cooleatz.com/flea-st-cafe
Proprietor Jesse Cool is the godmother of the South Bay’s farm-to-table movement so it’s no surprise that local organic produce plays a huge role in divine entrees like pan-seared California coho salmon matched with beets, turnips, caper salsa verde and cumin-scented vadouvan cream. But to really revel in this menu, try the summer organic vegetarian tasting, which might feature items such as buttery Japanese eggplant with sauteed mirepoix or ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms.
The menu here isn’t large but it’s full of light dishes such as heirloom tomato and peach salad, a perfect ode to summer, whose Elbertas come from the famous Masumoto Farm. Then there’s a lovely, refreshing melon gazpacho or pancetta-wrapped asparagus served with Little Gem lettuce, shaved vegetables and croutons in a lively green goddess dressing. Classics like fried green tomatoes — made with superb local ingredients — have even shown up on the menu. Meanwhile, the fluffy, out-of-this-world biscuits the restaurant is known for can now be bought by the dozen for happy home consumption.
Demonstrating the kitchen’s commitment to sustainability are fantastic seafood choices such as grilled Half Moon Bay sardines, served with crispy potatoes, frisée, olives, currants and aioli, or a colorful salad that combines Dungeness crab, avocado, oranges, arugula and crisp nori. Seriously spectacular is the sustainable pink trout from renowned McFarland Springs that is simply smoked and paired with creamy horseradish vinaigrette.
Cool, who’s written a slew of cookbooks, is known for her comfort foods and devilish desserts that still follow her coda of fresh and organic. Try the warm date cake paired with roasted rhubarb and huckleberry compote with goat cheese ice cream. Then there’s house-made ice cream and sorbet with compatible toppings.
This hidden gem of a restaurant gets high marks for its caring, knowledgeable servers. They glide around the non-noisy, comfortable rooms that seem like they could be the nice home of a friend. Given that the menu is defined by the seasons, dishes are a bit different during each visit but vegan guests or others with particular dietary needs are warmly accommodated.
LV Mar, 2042 Broadway St., Redwood City, (650) 241-3111, http://www.lvmar.com
Hot-climate countries like Mexico have long since discovered the positive effects of a bit of fiery spice on warm days. As its name implies, this newish spot from well-regarded chef Manuel Martinez has many seafood choices that can have a touch of chile in the right places. His experience cooking in upscale restaurants shows in sophisticated, beautifully presented entrees like fat day-boat scallops with wild mushrooms and lobster tomato sauce or an innovative treatment of halibut in which the mild fish is crusted with pumpkin seeds and lapped with a chile emulsion that has just enough scorch. And don’t miss a seafood extravaganza that combines lobster, scallop and halibut with mushroom-like huitlacoche and Mexican herb sauce.
Given the chef’s skill at balancing sweet, salty and spicy flavors with high-quality ingredients, the ceviche choices here should definitely be tried on a hot summer evening. Like raw ahi tuna tossed with jicama, cucumber, tomato, lime and a dab of serrano chile. Then there’s lime-cured white shrimp ceviche blended with sweet potato and a sweetish chile sauce. If you can’t make up your mind, go with the mixed ceviche that presents octopus, scallops and seabass touched with orange and chile.
Among starters, try the almost-raw Cocas de Atun, which is slices of seared ahi in a chile sauce with field greens and pickled vegetables with coconut tuiles. Salads here are extra-special and show off seasonal ingredients, like mixed baby greens paired with toy-box beets, baby carrots, meyer lemon, coffee and cucumber puree. Refreshing! Or sample a summer salad of mixed berries, greens, jicama and candied walnuts in honey vinaigrette.
It’s easy to ignore the heat with dessert offerings like cornmeal shortcake with mixed berries and horchata (a blend of nuts and seeds) ice cream accented by mint syrup. Or try the cooling hibiscus granita that comes with a vanilla and coconut cookie. Then there’s thyme-touched custard with sangria-flavored accompaniment and lime cream.
LV Mar isn’t the right destination for those just seeking the usual heaps of guac, beans and rice. The food is sophisticated and the decor is modern-minimalist with white tablecloths and chrome/glass lighting. Even though Redwood City is known for its taquerias, this restaurant definitely takes Mexican food to a higher plane.
Rasam’s, 193 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale, 408-245-8500, www.rasams.com
Crispy samosas with a touch of heat are a tasty starter.
More Cooling Heat
Like Mexico, the Indian subcontinent deals with fiery weather through spicy cuisine. But this newer establishment in the historic Murphy Avenue district is miles beyond the usual Indian eatery. Pairing local ingredients with recipes from all across India, the chef sometimes goes to the precipice of searing and backs off a bit. Good summer entrees include salmon in a complex Kadai spice blend with vegetables and a flavorful nut-based curry featuring seasonal veggies.
While other Indian eateries break down their menus in the usual protein-focused way, Rasam’s takes an entirely different approach, displaying earlier courses based on how they’re prepared: wok, griddle, barbequed or clay oven. There’s also a section for street food, soups & salads and sides. A must-try is the magnificent chaat sampler, a lovely presentation of different breads — the clementine-juice-flavored hollow bread filled with vegetables is unbelievable — and accompaniments like flavored yogurt, avocado and corn salsa. Or munch on a cooling wrap with shredded tandoori chicken, cucumber, mint and chutney inside or the crispy samosas.
The menu has a wealth of produce-focused choices that are great for summer dining. Try the sprout salad tossed with orange, grenadine, balsamic vinegar, truffle oil and spices. Or slurp up a lovely soup of tomato, ginger, fennel, cream and basil. The other breads are divine, such as wonderful thyme and olive naan and mushroom-flavored kulcha, a satisfying soft bread.
Normally, India isn’t on the list of great dessert producers but there are some enticing choices here. Best is Mishti Doi, in which yogurt is blended with saffron, cream and flavorings and baked, then topped with berry coulis. The flavor contrasts and textures are memorable. Or try the pistachio-infused clotted cream that is like a luscious frozen dessert.
While the 120-seat restaurant is one of the region’s best sources of terrific Indian cuisine, it offers an adjacent 20-seat lounge that brings modern Indian sensibilities and good ingredients to the cocktail menu. A perfect summer sipper blends gin, basil and lime in a delightfully cooling presentation. Or try the delicious raspberry tartini. The creative Old Fashioned here starts with Amrut whiskey and adds masala spices to the blend.
Tamarine, 546 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 325-8500, http://www.tamarinerestaurant.com
Tamarine’s famous shaking beef is actually part of a refreshing salad.
This lovely, always-busy Vietnamese fusion joint has long cornered the market for business diners, who don’t mind paying a lot for fresh, pretty, very tasty cuisine. Vietnam certainly has its share of hot weather but the antidote there seems to be lighter food rather than searing spices. Thus good summer entree choices include Lemongrass Seabass, which comes with cold mango and glass noodle salad; and Long-Life Salmon, which pairs steamed fish with soy-tamarind sauce and spinach. Beef isn’t usually on the summer wish list but Tamarine’s famous Shaking Beef comes with a refreshing salad, while the meat is tender and lean.
The vegetable-focused cuisine that is Vietnamese food is ideal for warm days. Tuck into a tasty tuna tartare in which chunks of raw Hawaiian Big Eye tuna are tossed with coconut milk, ginger and a little chile, served with crisp wonton chips. Or try an airy crostini topped with crushed peas, mint and house-made ricotta. Vietnamese spring rolls are famously light, such as Tamarine’s version, featuring rice paper filled with shrimp, pork, herbs and sprouts.
Traditionalists should order the classic green papaya salad, which here comes with basil and dried shredded beef. Trendier diners will like the healthful edamame and kale salad, which adds pine nuts and kabocha squash tossed with miso-tahini dressing. Or shaved Brussels sprouts salad that mixes the leaves with apple, toasted walnuts and feta cheese.
The professional crowd that fills Tamarine during lunch and dinner also flocks there for after-work libations, thus the bar delivers an enticing cocktail menu that sometimes has an Asian fusion bent. Some perfect summer blends are the “garden cooler,” with lime-flavored gin, fresh lime, cucumber, basil and club soda, or the “anti-oxidant mojito,” which blends dark rum, various summer berries, lime juice and club soda.
Tips for Visitors
While Tamarine is reasonably large, it’s so popular that reservations are a must. The least-popular seats are at the noisy communal tables next to the bar, so avoid those unless you’re keen to hear about your neighbor’s hernia operation. The comfy booths against the wall are prime seating and worth requesting. Some diners also like the window tables that provide a view of the main drag.
Dio Deka, 210 E Main St., Los Gatos, (408) 354-7700, http://www.diodeka.com
Seared octopus is a famous Greek starter and Dio Deka does it well.
Greece’s Mediterranean climate and plentiful seas have produced a healthy cuisine that is great for warm summer nights. This popular, expansive restaurant does the cuisine proud, marrying Greek recipes with good ingredients. While lamb is synonymous with Greek food — and the lamb chops here are to die for — there are plenty of lovely seafood entrees to consider. Like meltingly tender black cod in a smoky broth with earthy mushrooms and charred favas. And grilled branzino or grilled dorade that arrive in all their moist, succulent goodness. And seared scallops with celery-root purée.
There’s the usual Greek assortment of marinated olives, stuffed grape leaves and the like, naturally. But another classic appetizer, grilled octopus, is irresistible here, with the smoky, tender meat accompanied by a creamy red pepper/nut/garlic sauce perked up with grated hazelnuts. Or dive into the set of delicious spreads with pita bread, such as roasted red pepper and cheese spread or a yogurt/cucumber mélange. An appetizer medley is a good choice for the undecided.
Not always available but talked up on the menu are a few alluring dishes off the beaten Greek path. Try gigantes beans in a garlicky, smoky sauce or roasted, shaved sunchokes with the tangy accompaniment of goat cheese and sorrel with smoked roe and nettles. Then there’s an interesting take on smoked salmon, cured in resin and dill with asparagus, seared manouri cheese and radishes.
While baklava seems a tad heavy on a hot summer evening, Dio Deka has some cooling choices on the dessert menu. The most interesting is galaktoboureko, in which a textured custard, not too sweet, is lightly wrapped in dough and served with yummy roasted strawberry ice cream. Or get really light via Greek yogurt and fresh fruit served with imported honey and a pistachio tuille.
Tips for Visitors
This vast restaurant in the posh Hotel Los Gatos might have lost its Michelin star and had some chef rotations but this hasn’t daunted the crowds, who seem to revel in ear-splitting decibel levels. Those seeking romance or a less noisy dining experience can find no better summer seat than on the quiet back patio.
Le Papillon, 410 Saratoga Ave., San Jose, (408) 296-3730, http://www.lepapillon.com
Chef Scott Cooper is a maestro with summer berry desserts.
So deft is the hand of chef Scott Cooper that you’ll be tempted to eat even meat-based entrees on a summer night because of how enticing and non-heavy they sound on the menu. However, one good hot-weather meat choice is Cooper’s deer medallions — the lightest meat around — paired with huckleberries. Or try grilled swordfish in a vaporous soy-verjus reduction. Or just say the heck with it and order his sturgeon wellington with wild mushrooms — at least the rich pastry is wrapped around fish, right?
Complex, Beautiful Starters
As a modern French restaurant, Le Papillon doesn’t just plunk an ingredient or two on a plate. Cooper presents multi-item starters in which the individual pieces all complement one another and look ravishing. Case in point: roasted asparagus with an asparagus custard flavored with preserved citrus. Go raw and light with luscious truffled hamachi mated with avocado and drizzled with lemon and pea-shoot emulsion. Cooper even lightens up lobster, slow-poaching the meat and serving it with lemongrass, basil and tangy tamarind gel.
You’ll be tempted to make your three- or four-course meal entirely out of soups and salads given the creativity of Cooper’s menu. Try the sugar-snap pea soup with roasted shitake mushrooms. Salads are divine, like shaved fresh hearts of palm with grapefruit, avocado and macadamia nuts or roasted beets with dates and pistachios in sherry vinegar gelée.
As a French restaurant that’s been around since 1977, Le Papillon has its traditions — such as Grand Marnier soufflé. But summer dining calls for lighter fare, like whispery fresh berries in almond cookie cup with Grand Marnier cream. Berries show up again as an accompaniment to exotic white chocolate-passionfruit frozen mousse. Or experience strawberry vacherin in which the creamy filling is touched with mascarpone, marzipan and lemon balm.
The restaurant is very high-end French in that it’s a quiet oasis devoted to old-world elegance and attention to all details. You’ll never realize that Le Papillon is located on a high-traffic San Jose street as thoroughly professional servers pamper you without being obsequious. It’s relaxing to get away from the intrusive noise levels that often define other restaurants.
Cascal, 400 Castro St., Mountain View, (650) 940-9500, http://www.cascalrestaurant.com
As a local pioneer of the concept of a small-plates, pan-Latin eatery, Cascal is mostly about its tapas. However, main dishes are certainly available on the large menu even though many of them are better for cool-weather seasons. An exception — and a highlight of the restaurant — is the ceviche sampler, which delivers three refreshing, light renditions led by diced ahi tuna tossed with pineapple, cashews and spiced sesame seeds. The next ceviche is more traditional, with lime-marinated white fish mixed with onion, chile and fresh ginger. Finally, there’s scallop ceviche tossed in a coconut-lime sauce perked up with marinated mango, chiles and pickled onions.
Soups & Salads
The lengthy tapas menu starts out with a half dozen optimal choices in this category, most prominent being that classic cold Spanish summer soup, gazpacho. Here, it’s got the proper tang to go along with all those pureed vegetables and herbs. A terrific salad on the list adds goat cheese to a mélange of orange segments, strawberries, fennel, olives and almonds with arugula in a light vinaigrette. The essence of the season is the salad of watermelon and cheese in a citrus-herb vinaigrette.
Cascal’s tapas menu runs through all kinds of proteins in various preparations but also has some lighter vegetable choices good for hot weather. Try the eggplant tian, which layers the veggie with mild peppers, Manchego cheese, tomato and smoked paprika sauce. Also appealing is a mixture of wild mushrooms marinated in garlic and herbs laced with sherry or a sauté in which white corn is blended with poblano chiles, onions, cheese and cream.
As a bar/restaurant, Cascal pours on the libations even though sangria seems like the most popular drink. This is definitely the place for margaritas, mojitos and other Latin concoctions in multiple iterations but check out the mango-mint margarita or the cooling citrus drink with vodka, lemon, Chambord raspberry liqueur and cranberry juice.
Even with its huge, handsome room and outdoor seating, Cascal seems perennially packed by a younger crowd that soaks up the noisy ambience, friendly servers, share-ful tapas and occasional live music. In particular, happy hour is hugely popular here, with patrons sucking up the discounted drinks and lower-cost bar snacks.
Lark Creek Blue, 378 Santana Row, San Jose, (408) 244-1244, http://www.larkcreekblue.com
Start with a colorful cocktail before diving into a wide assortment of summer seafood.
For a restaurant focused on seafood, this member of the Lark Creek Group still has plenty of meat items to entice you during colder months. But steer toward fish entrees during this season, such as lovely grilled swordfish with green olive tapenade and herb salad. Enjoyable any time is pink salmon trout roasted on a cedar plank and topped with mustard-dill beurre blanc. The restaurant’s signature dish is Maine lobster, perched on top of spaghetti tossed with tomatoes and calabrese chilies.
This is the place for oysters and other raw items, with the offerings on display over ice in the front of the restaurant. Consider the “keeper” platter that presents four oysters of your choice, three jumbo shrimp and mahi-mahi ceviche. The latter can also be ordered separately and comes with house-made flatbread. Or tuck into raw ahi tossed with horseradish and sweet soy, served with cashew crackers and sesame aioli.
While clam chowder seems out of place in this season, there are other early-meal picks that underscore the restaurant’s focus on fresh ingredients. Dive into the baby kale and apple salad in light vinaigrette, which is vegan and tasty with its toasted hazelnuts and dried cranberries. Meanwhile, fried calamari — that perennial people pleaser — is particularly enjoyable here as well as minimally greasy, featuring shishito peppers, scallions, cilantro, red cabbage and charred tomato ragout.
Given its parent company’s focus on classic American food, Lark Creek Blue is the right place to find well-executed iterations of comfort desserts including strawberry rhubarb crisp and lemon meringue pie. Or splurge on an enticing ice cream sandwich featuring chocolate brownie cookies wrapped around vanilla ice cream. But the star of the show is the unbelievably creamy butterscotch pudding, which might not be light but at least it’s cold.
The restaurant brings the same freshness focus to its cocktail menu, which — naturally — has some classics as well as house creations. An ideal summer pick is the strawberry Pimm’s Cup, which is like an alcoholic fruit salad. Also winsome are some modern concoctions with citrus and a tequila-lover’s dream called Blood & Flowers that mixes hibiscus-chipotle tequila with orange grenadine and lime juice.
John Bentley’s, 2915 El Camino Real, Redwood City, 650-365-777, http://www.johnbentleys.com
Don’t miss John Bentley’s famous crab and avocado starter.
The longtime proprietor-chef is known for his tummy-pleasing creations but summer calls for selecting from among the seafood offerings, particularly a light take on broiled salmon in which the fish is paired with sautéed spinach and basil and beet essences. Colorful and very satisfying. Or try the pan-seared sole that snuggles up to a vegetable mixture with lemony butter sauce. Another refreshing summer choice is peppercorn-crusted ahi on thick Japanese noodles with seaweed.
Given the sustainable, local mindset when it comes to produce, one can get happily lost among the enticing starters here. A summer highlight of the menu is grilled watermelon with ample amounts of Dungeness crab along with an avocado napoleon and crunchy jicama. The contrasting flavors and textures are delightful. Then there’s pickled golden beets and wild mushrooms with crispy goat cheese and corn-bell pepper coulis. Also great for summer is a starter of fresh mozzarella, bay shrimp and tomato in basil vinaigrette.
It might be difficult to forgo John Bentley’s signature dessert — sticky toffee pudding cake with caramel gelato and chocolate sauce — but there are a couple of lighter choices for those with iron-willed self control. Doing less damage is cranberry pear crisp with cinnamon gelato or a nice apple tart with chopped pecans that comes with sun-dried cherry ice cream. Or be virtuous with scoops of house-made seasonal sorbet.
This hidden-away restaurant has a full bar and gets nods for its cocktail menu. There are amped-up versions of classics like martinis, sidecars, Moscow mule and other drinks but a good summer choice is a refreshing mojito that adds elderflower liqueur to the usual rum, citrus and mint. Or sip a lovely raspberry martini that includes fresh pureed fruit. A memorable special concoction that sometimes shows up is a pear martini that includes poached fruit, lychee and balsamic reduction.
John Bentley’s has long been a hangout for business folks, families celebrating special occasions, couples looking for a comfortable, friendly setting and locals who just plain enjoy the place. Inside, the ambience is warm and cozy, with the knowledgeable staff making sure to spread the love without pretentions among a guest population reflecting a wide mix of ages.
Summer Cocktails to Keep You Cool
Given the artisan cocktail trend, summer sipping has never been better. But to make the choices even more enticing, let’s check out five irresistible warm-weather cocktails from five regional Michelin Guide 2014 winners.
Nectar from Cane
With a renowned chef, two Michelin stars and remarkable produce, it’s no wonder the cocktail menu in Los Gatos-based Manresa’s little lounge is killer, with this drink a prime example. Starting with a fabulous Venezuelan dark golden rum, bartenders stir in nectarine consommé from one of the state’s most famous stonefruit producers, Andy’s Orchard, and mix it up with apple mint from Manresa’s own gardens. Yowza! Best sipped on the lovely patio in front.
The South Bay’s only other Michelin two star might not have a lounge or even serve hard liquor but the one signature cocktail at Baumé in Palo Alto is a stunner. Recipes have evolved but the base is sparkling sake with exotic fruit, most recently lilikoi, which is included as flavor pearls that explode in your mouth.
Noooo, this isn’t the usual. Saratoga’s Plumed Horse has become famous for its beguiling take on this classic drink, using amazing cucumber vodka, only-the-best tonic — you pour it in yourself — and one jumbo ice cube. You’ll never want the ordinary kind again. Bartenders work similar magic with Tom Collinses and martinis.
Bitter Berry Bramble
Also boasting its own gardens, Woodside’s Village Pub is no slouch in the drinks department, such as this tart/sweet/heady sipper. Swedish raspberry vodka gets kicked up with fresh berries, lemon and bitter lemon soda. It’s pretty, too. Sip it while spying on business talk among the VCs who hang out here.
Italian for “strawberry,” this cocktail from San Mateo’s Osteria Coppa amps up Bombay Sapphire gin, which already has exotic flavors. Added is a bit of herby, fruity, bitter Campari apertif, strawberries and basil. It’s a fruit salad with major punch. Sip it at the bar, on the back patio or right before sobering up with some terrific pasta.