Vats Good Cookin': Beer goes well with everything...especially after two or three rounds. Photo by Michelle Dudley
EVERYWHERE WE looked last week, vibrant changes were visible at the rustic Los Gatos Brewing Company. The expanded menu, created by new Chef de Cuisine Philippe Reynaud (formerly Executive Sous Chef at A.P. Stump’s), displays sensuous touches of French brasserie thinking. Crusted ahi, Australian lamb sirloin, barigoule of artichoke, tartare of salmon–even a comforting beef daube–have been added to a menu already handsomely packed with spit-roasted classics and hearty steaks.
Melanie found the new velvet upholstery and noise-reducing carpeting “very attractive,” and especially admired the beautiful mezzaluna chandeliers suspended from the lofty, open-beamed ceiling. With a full bar now in place, the brewery restaurant provides martinis and cosmos along with a wide-ranging list of wines and handmade beers.
Our orders of David Bruce Pinot Noir 2000 ($8.75) and Mt. Eden Chardonnay 1999 ($8) made sensitive partners for the excellent house sourdough. But the wines found even better company in an order of outstanding crab cakes ($9.50), served on a huge sky-blue plate. “These are not your grandmother’s crab cakes,” noted Melanie, enjoying the spicy rendition. Absolutely definitive, the crab cakes, crowned by a zesty roast corn salsa and lime cilantro dressing, were creamy and deviled inside, crisp and light outside–and everyone knows that is an impossible feat of culinary bravura. My salad of arugula (more teenaged than “baby”) and prosciutto ($10.50) was also quite good, though the promised shaves of parmesan were practically absent.
The chardonnay was opening into tropical hues of papaya and citrus as Melanie was presented with a robust fantasy of roast salmon on a bed of spinach, chanterelles and white beans ($19). The generous fillet was accompanied by a trio of clams in their shells, everything bathed in a memorable sauce perfumed by pepper and cloves. I found the unusual seasonings a welcome distinction from the clich* grilled salmon with red bell pepper coulis. The pale coral seafood arrived beautifully moist, but Melanie found the dish too busy, with too many big flavors to showcase the delicate flavor of the Atlantic salmon.
Charmed by some of the new menu possibilities, I had ordered the beef daube ($17.50), whose authentic home-cooked pot roast qualities were the right match for the chilly evening. The generous portion of beef shank arrived fork-tender and lean atop a pillow of mashed potatoes and surrounded by roasted carrots, turnips and bits of pancetta. The sacred marriage of meat and potatoes, I’ll admit, still packs plenty of charisma, especially in the hands of Los Gatos Brewing Company’s accomplished kitchen. Simple, straightforward but deeply satisfying, the beef daube was one of the big hits that evening. The table of three huge guys next to us happily worked their way through three portions of this slow-cooked classic. The sauce was one of those miracles of reduction that can only be created over hours of simmering. It was a highly convincing version of brasserie cookery at its finest–and yet here we were in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Glasses of Vin de Glaciére from Bonny Doon Vineyards ($6.50) helped wrap up our meal along with a shared dessert of German Chocolate Cake ($6.50). We bypassed lemon tart, pumpkin cheesecake and apple crisp for this cake, whose coconut-pecan frosting, freshly made layers of chocolate cake and vanilla bean gelato broke down our resistance. How right we were. It was a ravishing version of this fabulous old world cake, moist and light.
From start to finish the fine dinner presented refreshed brasserie foods lightened up without removing any of their flavor complexity. The place looks great, even managing to suggest intimate dining at the various islands of softly upholstered booths. The expert attitude of the new kitchen at Los Gatos Brewing Company offers dozens of excuses for spending a long, leisurely evening in the prettiest town in the South Bay.
130 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos
Cuisine: California brasserie
Moderate prices; full bar; microbrew beers
This article was originally published in the November 29-December 5, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley’s Weekly Newspaper.