March 22-28, 2006

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It's Raining Menus

By Stett Holbrook

MAYBE IT'S ALL that rain we've been having, but suddenly there are a lot of new restaurants popping up in Silicon Valley. I wrote last week about the Naglee Park Garage, Chris Esparza's new neighborhood bistro in downtown San Jose. Now here come four more restaurants. In what is sure to be one of the most high-profile debuts of 2006, Mantra has opened at 632 Emerson St. in Palo Alto. The restaurant, which takes the place of the now-shuttered Stoa, blends California cuisine with East Indian influences.

Mantra executive chef Robert Ciborowski has an impressive résumé that includes the French Laundry, Ritz-Carlton properties in Japan, Hawaii and Florida, and, most recently, the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. The chef de cuisine is Thomas Horton, a veteran of Fifth Floor, Aqua, One Market, Postrio and the Left Bank. The co-owners of Mantra are Krishan Miglan, formerly of the Fairmont and St. Francis hotels and Zingari Ristorante in San Francisco, and Silicon Valley technology executive Ashwani Dhawan.

The menu includes appetizers such as Jerusalem artichoke "cappuccino" with tempura-fried matsutake mushrooms, open paneer ravioli with turnips, glazed baby onions, mushroom and curry jus and entrees like crispy skin fillet of wild stripe bass with oxtail and potato croquette and cumin-roasted loin of lamb, chorizo and black barley risotto with chocolate and pecan oil.

The restaurant's décor features limited edition lithographs by contemporary Indian artist M.F. Hussain and colorful silk lithographs by S.H. Raza encased in glass interior walls. Mantra will also feature live jazz on select nights.

In Los Gatos, Restaurant James Randall opened two weeks ago. The small, 24-seat restaurant is a true family business. Brenda Hammond owns the business and her son Ross Hanson, a California Culinary Academy-trained chef and Saratoga High School grad, runs the kitchen. Hanson cooked at Firefly in San Francisco and Harmon's Depot in Telluride, Colo.

Hammond and Hanson worked together in catering, but really wanted to own their own restaurant. The restaurant is named after Hammond's brother. He passed away about 10 years ago and left Hammond some money, telling her to do something with it she's always wanted to do. "So here it is," she said. The restaurant serves hearty but refined food that Hammond describes as "California comfort food."

While they're still waiting on permits for new equipment, the restaurant is only open for lunch and doesn't yet have a beer and wine license. It should be fully up and running in about 45 days. Restaurant James Randall is at 303 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos.

There are a lot of new restaurants in nearby Campbell. La Pizzeria, which is open for lunch and dinner at 373 E. Campbell Ave., is operated by Pino Spanu, owner of downtown Campbell's A'Bellagio. The restaurant features thin-crust, wood oven-fired pizzas, pannini, salads and a good Italian wine list. Across the street, Rico's Mexican Cafe has opened. It's owned by Arturo Hernandez, former longtime manager of Andale in Los Gatos. Noberto Aguirre, who cooked at Andale for 16 years, has joined Hernandez as chef.

Also in Campbell, Twist Cafe is expanding to include bistro dining Wednesday through Saturday, while Dominique and Eileen Faury anticipate opening a bistro in the adjacent space at the end of April. Cara Finn and Ruth Hennigar, owners of The Grapevine in Willow Glen, are opening Good Tastes wine shop, featuring premium wine, cheese and tasting events in the space adjacent to La Pizzeria. They plan to open in spring. Later this year Dave O'Mara will open his third Aqui Cal-Mex restaurant in the mixed-use building, under construction, across from the Sonoma Chicken Coop.

And finally, the Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley in East Palo Alto is home to 6-week-old Quattro Restaurant and Bar, an Italian restaurant. Chef Alessandro Cartumini is a native of Milan and was trained at the Hotel Restaurant School E. Maggia in Stresa, Italy. He worked in the kitchens of several five-star hotels in northern Italy before joining Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, where he has remained ever since.

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