Even when all the tech money was flying in the silicon-savvy South Bay, the better-known city by the bay got more press when it came to dining. Engineers and paper millionaires drove north to spend their take in San Francisco's hot restaurants and bars. But now, at last, a half-dozen high-profile restaurants have opened in San Jose and neighboring Santa Clara, raising South Bay dining stakes by a whole plateful of computer chips.
Arcadia, in the new San Jose Marriott, made a big splash last spring when it debuted as the first South Bay eatery of chef Michael Mina, who opened San Francisco's Aqua. The menu features American classics dressed up in finery fit for the opera: The corn dogs, for example, are filled with lobster.
Chef Bradley Ogden, of Marin's Lark Creek Inn, opened Parcel 104 in Santa Clara in December 2001 and Yankee Pier at San Jose's new mall, Santana Row, in December 2002. Parcel 104, named after the property's lot number in the formerly agricultural valley, offers organic and seasonal dishes, such as Sonoma foie gras with strawberries. And Yankee Pier, like the restaurant of the same name in Larkspur, is a California interpretation of an East Coast clam shack, with standout lobster rolls and creamy clam chowder.
In fact, there are a number of noteworthy restaurants at Santana Row, among them Chris Yeo's Straits Café, with a Singaporean fusion menu, and Cazuelas, offering traditional Mexican food.
Seven Restaurant & Lounge, a few blocks from downtown San Jose, is the brainchild of identical twins Russel and Curtis Valdez, along with Hugh Parker. It opened last summer with an industrial-chic dining room and a bar meant to draw the post-dinner downtown crowd.
What these restaurants have in common, besides filling a South Bay dining void, is menus that reinterpret a range of comfort-food classics, from roast chicken at Seven to chili-spiced beef at Straits.
Ogden says business at his two South Bay restaurants is good, despite the area's economic slump. "People will drive miles to go to a good restaurant. That's been proven many times over."
If San Franciscans feel left out, they can always head south.
DINING OUT IN THE SOUTH BAY
1. Arcadia. Elegant dining room in downtown San Jose. Fancified American classics and an elaborate salad menu. Good wine list. 100 W. San Carlos St., San Jose; (408) 278-4555.
2. Cazuelas. Mexican dishes with a few French-inspired touches. Great guacamole. 377 Santana Row, San Jose; (408) 260-7082.
3. Parcel 104. Delicious interpretations of American comfort food, with a menu that changes daily. Wine list offers a good representation of local wineries. Santa Clara Marriott, 2700 Mission College Blvd., Santa Clara; (408) 970-6104.
4. Seven Restaurant & Lounge. Tasty, hearty American classics such as braised beef short ribs and stuffed chicken. 754 The Alameda, San Jose; (408) 280-1644.
5. Straits Café. California-influenced Singaporean fare. Interesting drink menu; front bar has view of mall scene. 333 Santana Row, San Jose; (408) 246-6320.
6. Yankee Pier. East Coast-style clam shack, with picnic tables out front. 378 Santana Row, San Jose; (408) 244-1244.