(To be published by South Bay Accent magazine.)
Historically, bars have been dimly lit places dedicated to the flow of booze while offering minimal, forgettable edibles. Some older drinkers can recall that dubious snack mix in their favorite watering holes possibly dating from the Reagan administration. Well, that was then. In our modern era with its relentless reinvention of food and drink, distilled spirits have been overhauled and up leveled, with fine whiskies having become particularly trendy. But no self-respecting proprietor would serve stale pretzels and petrified popcorn so the bar food accompanying high-end hootch is often a draw all on its own these days.
Roots & Rye in Santana Row nicely synthesizes the latest fashions in bars-with-food, delighting its mostly younger patrons with its noisy, energetic vibe, solid cocktails and tasty comestibles. It’s the creation of Chris Yeo, long known for his popular Asian joints, Straits and Sino, but Roots & Rye has an international menu leaning toward comfort food. A long line-up of booze-friendly snacks is just the start of its offerings, which also include a generous assortment of dinner plates and even desserts — although ordering an upscale sweetish cocktail at meal’s end isn’t a bad idea, either.
Hidden away in this tony shopping center, Roots & Rye is large inside and features an in-demand patio with two comfy fire pits — perfect spots for winter imbibing — and lots of plush, tufted leather banquettes and ottomans that keep behinds happily seated. The overall look is modern and open with an odd design theme of wooden framing standing in for walls and ceiling that makes this spot look like an unfinished construction project.
In some ways, the menu has also been under construction, with frequent overhauls as various executive chefs have come and gone since the opening in late 2015. Nevertheless, a few items have been such hits that they’ve stuck around, like the wonderfully creamy deviled eggs in which the yolk gets a truffle oil kick and crunch from skinny radish slices, replacing the pickled jalapeño of an earlier iteration. The burger remains a standout, super juicy, large and amped up with white cheddar, caramelized onions and apple bacon jam. True sybarites can add foie gras and/or bone marrow to take it well over the top.
Moving into the signature dish category are Parmesan fries, thick, crusty beauties with herbs, cheese topping and two dippers — truffle aoili and a perfectly poached egg, whose yolk is delightfully indulgent with the fries. Just be sure to keep scooping up the yolk while it’s still warm and runny.
Sophistication is at work in the generous list of additional small plates, such as lovely hamachi paired with avocado mousse, grapefruit and pistachio or tasty beets whose earthy sweetness is enhanced by beet-top marmalade, nectarine and pungent blue cheese. Always very popular is roasted Brussels sprouts, which are deliciously prepared with red wine vinegar, capers and cheese with plenty of oil to create that irresistible soft-center, edge-charred perfection.
Besides ubiquitous choices like roasted bone marrow, foie gras and New York steak, the in-vogue menu has popular main-course items like nicely executed, seared scallops on a just-right lemon risotto, expertly cooked salmon filet accompanied by gnocchi with more of that truffle oil, and delicious, crispy-skin duck breast with too-salty duck confit and vegetables. Roots & Rye does a respectable job on its two pasta items, both rib-sticking concoctions rich with cheeses, meats and flavor.
Desserts are revamped frequently but pray that the dark chocolate terrine with fruit, hazelnuts and smoked ice cream sticks around. Also palate pleasing is salted butterscotch brûlée with whipped cream and berries although some patrons still yearn for earlier standouts like fried apple pie with crème fraîche ice cream and some respectable cobblers.
Roots & Rye is a hit with its younger clientele, whose bargain-hunting contingent flocks to happy hour with its $6 snacks. In general, they groove to the dark lighting, blasting music and top-shelf drinks while being taken care of by a friendly crew of servers who, alas, sometimes forget to bring out dishes in timely fashion. No worries, just have another outstanding cocktail!
Roots & Rye, 3055 Olin Ave., San Jose (Santana Row); (408) 429-2909. http://www.rootsandrye.com
HOURS: Sunday-Tuesday, 11a.m.-10 p.m.; Wednesday, 11a.m.-11 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 11a.m.-midnight. Reservations recommended.
PRICES: Snacks/starters: $8-27. Dinners: $16-38. Dessert: $12.