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Fertile Crescent

Crescent Park Grill
Christopher Gardner

A Touch of Glass: Chef/owner Chris Fernandez of Crescent Park Grill serves remarkably consistent and flavorful fare.

America meets Mediterranean at Crescent Park Grill, one more reason why Palo Alto exudes attitude

By Christina Waters

THE THINKING woman's water of choice--Pellegrino--arrived at our table moments before our goblets of Kendall Jackson Pinot Noir 1994 ($6.75 each), and we toasted the glittering restaurant scene in Palo Alto in true biblical style, with water and wine. Here we were at Crescent Park Grill, so smart, so understated--surrounded by three blocks of fine dining possibilities. And in a town so hip that even the street people carry cellular phones. But unlike trend-oriented dining rooms, Crescent Park succeeds on finesse and consistency. Chef-owner Chris Fernandez, who just celebrated his restaurant's one-year anniversary this week, has a solid grasp of real-world tastes evidenced by seasonal salads, a few serious pastas, grilled and roasted entrees and carefully chosen desserts. The rest of the ambiance is carried by sleek decor--low-key wood tones and white linens--and a stable of attractive patrons.

Our waiter, who spotting two women diners seemed to adopt an unfortunately condescending tone, was nonetheless swift and helpful in guiding us through the menu. Yes, a shared pear, hazelnut and radicchio salad ($8) sounded great, along with another appetizer of roasted chicken pappardelle ($14). There was no way I could resist the chance to pamper myself with braised short ribs and mashed potatoes ($19), and Kathleen, my companion du soir, went unhesitatingly for a wood-roasted leg of lamb with ratatouille ($17.50), a house specialty.

We were well on our way to finishing the first of several slices of lovely sourdough when our pretty salad arrived, divided into two plates of tart Bartlett pears punctuated by toasted hazelnuts, salt, pepper and a light vinaigrette and crowned by radicchio and a few baby greens. It suggested the new chill in the air, the tendency to think about having a fire in the fireplace--the season on a plate. But I have to admit, it was the voluptuous pappardelle dish that snapped us to attention.

Sensuous and wide, the flawlessly cooked egg noodles arrived very simply tossed with shreds of roasted chicken and its cooking juices. That's it. Like you wished your grandmother had been able to make. Superbly rich yet not heavy, it was ungodly good.

In a world where vegetables are gradually gaining the upper hand, it's a joy indeed to feast upon lovingly prepared beef. Especially meaty short ribs liberally adorned with that little frosting of fat that provides so much crucial flavor. The meat on these two oversized cuts literally fell away from the rib, practically melting into the pliant, buttery mashed potatoes and the tangy beat greens that were alive with early autumn intensity, and prepared without any elaborate seasoning. Content to realize that absolutely nothing can improve the flavor of high-quality beef, fresh harvested potatoes and greens, the kitchen simply romanced these items in their own integrity. Add pinot noir and you have a celestial dinner.

Kathleen enjoyed a taste of my short ribs, but admitted she preferred her outstanding lamb, a generous portion of rare slices with a ratatouille heightened by roasted red bell pepper fragrance and topped with pine nuts. Everything was excellent, and though we might have wished for less cursory service, the food and atmosphere more than made up the difference.

For dessert, we split an order of Cointreau crème brûlée ($6), which arrived without much detectable Cointreau but impeccably topped with a sheen of burnt sugar and a bouquet of crystallized ginger. The cappuccinos ($2.50) were letter-perfect--something regulars have just come to expect from the reliably wonderful Crescent Park Grill, a culinary landmark in a glamorous neighborhood.

Crescent Park Grill
Cuisine: American with Mediterranean spin
Ambiance: Urban bistro catering to a discerning professional clientele.
Menu: Entrees $14.50-$19
Hours: Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2:30pm; dinner Mon.-Thu. 5:30-10pm (until 11pm on weekends); Sun. 5-9:30pm
Address: 546 University Ave., Palo Alto

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From the Oct. 30-Nov. 5, 1997 issue of Metro.

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