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Mixed Grill

Spiedo Ristorante
Christopher Gardner

New Grill in Town: Spiedo Ristorante, the latest arrival on San Pedro Square, converted a former Sizzler into a popular lunchtime draw for lovers of Mediterranean-style meat and pasta dishes.

Prime location and cosmopolitan ambiance make Spiedo a spot to watch

By Christina Waters

Sporting a sexy new façade and the name "SPIEDO" in big, brass letters, the latest in an exciting wave of downtown dining rooms joined the party one month ago. Having already sampled the sophisticated ambiance of Spiedo--where we enjoyed plush desserts of panna cotta and biscotti in the sleek bar area--we were ready for a serious meal.

Spiedo, occupying a high-profile location at the corner of Santa Clara and San Pedro streets, feels uncluttered and smart, from the iridescent pin spots, which mark the perimeter of the two-story dining area, to the winding staircase that leads to a corridor of mezzanine seating.

The three of us opted for a second-floor perch and, after ordering wines from a menu that tends toward Napa and Tuscany, turned to the menu. A light olive oil scented with rosemary enhanced a selection of three breads--highlighted by fragrant foccacia and moistly textured sourdough.

Our waiter seemed unprepared for our wine and food orders, first suggesting that one selection was out of stock and then bringing a white zinfandel instead of the red Newlan Zinfandel ($7) we'd ordered. He seemed trainable, however: While he didn't provide plates for our shared dishes, for example, he was happy to bring them upon request. Unsure about our orders, he persevered and eventually got into the rhythm of the meal, though he almost let us order coffee without suggesting dessert. It was one of those customer-driven dining experiences, which is fine as long as you're as firm about making your needs known as we were. These small glitches are easily worked out.

Two wonderful appetizers and two beautiful desserts proved the highlights of our meal, along with glasses of excellent fruity Banfi Rosso de Montepulcino ($5.50) from Tuscany. We started off with a plate of Polenta ai Porcini ($5.95), involving grilled polenta triangles, steaming hot and voluptuously topped with melted fontina and earthy porcini mushrooms. It was a destination dish, attractively presented and expertly crafted.

A salad of warm marinated beets ($5.95), topped with tangy goat cheese on a bed of peppery arugula, appealed to all three of us. We all agreed that the beets were of exquisite quality, and we made shamelessly short work of both appetizers. And all of the bread.

A house salad of mixed baby greens, plus a roasted tomato, a slice of avocodo and a slice of mozzarella, was pretty much ignored ($4.95). Completely lacking any of the advertised balsamic vinegar, it was simply uninteresting.

Three entrées representing a range of Spiedo menu ideas provoked mixed impressions. The presentation needs work, we all agreed, noticing how each plate had been crammed with items all piled on top of each other. A generous portion of Mezzalune pasta, filled with veal and ricotta, had been topped with minced chicken and pale pancetta ($10.95). A few fennel seeds and a surrounding cream sauce did little to spark any flavor action. Completely beige, in color and attitude, it was an unappetizing creation that should be dropped from the menu. Not one colorful garnish broke the monotony of its soupy texture.

The Petaluma duck, roasted and served with mushroom risotto ($13.95), had been listed as a house specialty. The duck was tasty enough, but it lacked the crispy skin and rich flavor that one expects with this preparation. The side of limp zucchini competed for space with a mound of underflavored rice, dotted with bits of oyster and shiitake mushroom. How could the cooks have let this dish leave the kitchen, I wondered?

Our third entrée, a mesquite-grilled lamb loin ($15.95), was the most successful dish. So tasty was the lamb, perfumed with the haunting smokiness of mesquite, that it transcended even its overcooking. It should be illegal to serve lamb any way but rare. With the lamb came a long line of wonderful, sweet and tasty red potatoes, and carmelized onions pungent with balsamic vinegar.

Along with espresso ($2) and cappucino ($2.50), we split two desserts, one an orange filled with orange sorbet ($4.50), which actually turned out to be a tangerine filled with tangerine sorbet (though obviously nobody at Spiedo is aware of this fact). Lovely idea, incredible fresh flavor. Our other dessert plate held three ricotta-filled puff pastry profiteroles ($4.50), dotted with barely sweetened whipped cream and doused with a hazelnut chocolate sauce. Two of us found the ricotta interior a bit dry. One of us didn't care. Both desserts, unlike the entrees, were smartly presented. Powdered sugar dusted the profiteroles; a huge fresh mint leaf hung from the top of the hollowed, sorbet-filled tangerine.

With some fine-tuning and consistency in presentation and service, Spiedo is going to make one fantastic downtown dining destination.

Spiedo Ristorante

Cuisine: rotisserie meats, Italian emphasis
Chef: Timothy Noddings
Price: moderate
Hours: Mon.­Fri. 11:30am­11:30pm;
Sat.­Sun. 4­11p Extras: full bar, banquet rooms available
Address: 151 W. Santa Clara Ave., San Jose
Phone: 408/971-6096

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From the April 17-23, 1997 issue of Metro

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