As with any part of the Bay Area, the South Bay offers plenty of culinary riches. It may be Silicon Valley, the ‘burbs, numerous towns rather than a metropolitan city, but exploring Indian food from Mountain View to Santa Clara or international hole-in-the-walls in San Mateo can gleefully feel like eating through another country.
Here’s three restaurants where food and drink lightheartedly co-mingle, promising delights for the foodie, the gourmand, the drink aficionado, or the plain hungry.
STEINS BEER GARDEN, MOUNTAIN VIEW
There’s no better beer-with-food outpost in the South Bay (besides pastrami or brisket with Belgian beers at The Refuge in San Carlos) than Steins. Boasting a sunny beer garden, their spare, cavernous space features over 20 beers on tap, many of them rare kegs, and large, communal tables, ideal for larger parties.
EAT: Chef Colby M. Reade is clearly having fun with the menu. There’s obvious (but no less delightful) beer pairings like warm, house-baked pretzels ($6) coated in lye for golden brown color, sprinkled with Maldon sea salt, dipped in caraway beer mustard. Or a stunner of a burger ($11) – best medium-rare – a house-ground blend of dry-aged short rib, brisket and sirloin on brioche (add Danish blue, cheddar or Swiss for $1, pork belly, over easy egg, or mushroom for $2). Alternately, they serve a juicy fried chicken sandwich ($12) topped with apple slaw and spiced honey on ciabatta.
Unexpectedly, Chef Reade also offers seasonal, garden-fresh beauties that make me feel less guilty for chowing down on burgers, beer and pretzels. This summer it was thinly shaved and diced squash ($12) over a mound of roasted corn and cracked wheat in herb pesto and lemon vinaigrette. There’s good times to be had with Breakfast for Dinner ($15), a meaty hunk of smoked pork belly under poached egg in maple Dijon vinaigrette. End with cinnamon sugar crullers (doughnut-like pastries, $8) dipped in dark drinking chocolate.
DRINK: Just a few of the possible draft joys waiting to be poured from the ever-changing drafts at Steins? A rare cask of Dogfish Head Positive Contact ($8), an ale brewed with Fuji apple cider and spices, slow roasted farro, cayenne and fresh cilantro. Or try High Water Brewing Campfire Stout ($9) which is actually brewed with chocolate malt, marshmallow flavoring and actual graham crackers. Sounds like junk food, yes, but it’s a marvelously meaty, smoky-sweet brew. Happily co-existing with food might be Ninkasi’s Total Domination ($7), an IPA with citrus, floral notes and hoppy richness from Carahell and Munich malts.
NICK’S NEXT DOOR, LOS GATOS
Expect a warm welcome from Nick himself, who moves effortlessly between kitchen and guests, ensuring everyone is having a good time. Nick’s Next Door is a South Bay gem with front garden/patio, a neighborhood restaurant filled with regulars and upscale enough (though definitely relaxed) to feel like a night out.
EAT: There’s a Cali-fresh sensibility to the cooking and playful twists on some of my beloved favorites like steak tartare ($14). Here, a mound of silky tartare is topped with fried (vs. raw) sunnyside egg, surrounded by pommes frites and toasted sourdough crostini. Their “NOT your traditional Caesar” ($6) salad is a generous portion of baby spinach, wild arugula and radicchio littered with Pt. Reyes blue cheese, bright anchovies, garlic croutons and crispy bacon.
Entrees aren’t a let down either, particularly house staple Nani’s meatloaf ($21), a tender mound of beef partnered with whipped potatoes and sauteed broccolini, in a mushroom gravy. A special might be plump, seared scallops ($28) over a duck fat-infused faro grain. The dish is decadent in Parmesan cream and parsley lemon oil with crispy sheets of lollipop kale for contrast. Finish with a scoop of tarragon ice cream in port cherries ($4).
DRINK: Choose from a California-only wine list or sip a ginger-spiced Bulleit Rye whiskey cocktail, Bitter Old Man ($12), softened by lemon, Grand Marnier, ginger and basil, served up with a candied ginger garnish.
MANRESA, LOS GATOS
Manresa is a fine dining temple to produce (sourced from their own Love Apple Farms) and experimental cooking, thanks to Chef-Proprietor David Kinch. They are widely acknowledged internationally, hosting some of the world’s greatest chefs when they’re in town (like an unforgettable collaborative dinner last year with Chef Ben Shewry of Attica in Melbourne, Australia). If that weren’t enough, they own a coveted two Michelin stars.
EAT: Needless to say, this isn’t everyday dining for many of us. That’s why I was pleased in early June to taste through their just-launched lounge menu, a still delicate, exotic sampling of Manresa’s creativity without the price of the prix fixe ($130) or seasonal tasting ($185) menus.
In the small lounge, the tasting menu is five changing “bites” for $48, starting with warm garden beignets, and a seasonal dish like vibrant, sweet-savory strawberry-red bell pepper-cucumber gazpacho poured over Marcona almonds and lemon balm curd.
Then there might be silky Japanese sea bream in yuzu, or a rare treat of a Belon oyster from Maine (originally from Brittany, France) over seaweed ice.
Dessert from Pastry Chef Stephanie Prida might be goat milk ice, layered with kumquats, tapioca-like pearls and crumble, drizzled in a rum sauce.
DRINK: This peek at what goes on in a world class restaurant is ideally savored with wines from their impressive 600+ list.
Cocktails include the soft Golden Orange ($16), with a subtle taste of the Templeton Rye whiskey and Campari base, lemon, Amaro Nonino and bit of kumquat jam, or a Pumpernickel Twist ($16) using St. George’s Dry Rye gin, infused with caraway infusion, mixed with lemon, mole bitters, decanter bitters.
LODGING AND ACTIVITIES
While recently weekending in Los Gatos, which is about an hour’s drive south of San Francisco, I crashed at Toll House Hotel off the main street and easily walkable to all restaurants. My husband, The Renaissance Man, and I raided their in-house DVD collection for film noir and movie classics one night, complete with Scotch (which I brought) and chocolates from Amour Patisserie just up the block. I also recommend Amour for proper French pastries like pain au chocolat and almond croissants with Blue Bottle Coffee in the morning, and Garrod Farms in neighboring Saratoga where we spent a lovely morning riding horses through scenic trails with Bay views in the distance.