It was formerly known as the Chicken Bowl started in Santa Clara with a drive-in and now have three locations. Not fancy, but great, inexpensive food: teriyaki, curry, and Thai chicken rice bowl $2.99 specials have pot stickers, drinks, $3.99 to $4.49 or large bowls $3.99 or Stir-Fir Noodles $3.69 (great take-out or eat there---not fancy, but great food for the price)
San Jose Mercury Restaurant Review **** ( four stars)
When approaching a restaurant near Stevens Creek and De Anza, where traffic is usually terrible, your heart may not sing at the sight of "Cafe Torre.'' It's in standard strip mall neon -- sandwiched between a Sylvan Learning Center and the Sheu Family Dentistry.
Open since July 4, Cafe Torre already is popular at lunch. But that just tells you it's near a nest of office workers. Dinner tells the larger story.
Owner Vince Torre is a former partner in Los Gatos' Cafe Marcella. He opened this 60-seat California-Italian restaurant and wine bar with chef Jaime Cardiel, also from Cafe Marcella.
The space was Mondello Ristorante. Torre took it down to the four walls and installed hardwood floors, a banquette, an archway, a warmly simple decor. He also set wine racks into walls around the room. Not only are the labels pretty to look at, but also this way you don't have to memorize the wine list.
The list is a delightful work in progress. Although most restaurants would be proud of this one-page list on the back of a one-page menu, Torre wants to expand the Italian offerings and generally get people to go beyond what they already know. Remarkably, just about every wine is available by the glass. Even more: Every wine is available in the sampler of three 2-ounce tastes for $5.75. Torre and his staff are happy to talk with customers about the smaller, family-owned wineries and to help pair wine with food.
Staff knows how to help.
Staff members exude interest in their work. From greeting to goodbye, you'll feel their enthusiasm about the wine and the food. Even when there's a hitch -- and at these prices you can't expect the Ritz-Carlton -- they'll just take care of it. Our neighbors, for example, were slow to get their dessert. It didn't seem to bother them, but the server apologized nicely.
It didn't seem necessary to have the server explain the daily specials when they're printed on the menu, but he didn't go into excruciating detail. Nor did he push expensive bottled water, side dishes or dessert.
Among seven appetizers, the scallops ($8.50) were in the middle of the enticing list, so we chose them. These were four good-sized sea scallops briefly grilled and set down in a luscious sauce of mustard and braised scallions. A decorative rim of whole braised scallions circled the wagons. By the way, scallions lose their harsh edges when braised.
There's also a wild mushroom risotto; an appetizer plate with shrimp, smoked salmon and prosciutto; a plate of cheese, salmon mousse and tapenade; fried calamari; and clams in white wine. A recent special had house-made potato gnocchi in a fontina sage sauce. You could come to Cafe Torre often and not get bored.
The mixed-green salad ($5) is generous yet light, with a scallion-smoked mustard vinaigrette. This was split for us at no charge. Cherry tomatoes are kindly split as well, so you're less likely to send them flying.
Noni's pasta ($11.95) comes from a great-grandmother in Treviso, by way of Cafe Marcella. The three-meat tomato sauce (ground pork, beef and chicken) on perfectly cooked spaghetti is a favorite of Kathy and Vince Torre's three children.
Plenty of pasta There are eight or so pastas. Vegetarians will look for the eggplant and pine nut penne, or maybe the linguine with chanterelles. Fish-eaters will find linguine with clams, and a seafood pasta medley. A recent special was champagne risotto, with scallops and prawns. As with the wine list, just looking at the menu may expand your desires.
Regular entrees include pork tenderloin, rack of lamb, deboned half-chicken. Lamb is the priciest, at $21.95. We had the mussels ($11.95), a fleet in which all but one were steamed open and served in a lovely soup of white wine, garlic, onions, diced tomatoes, herbs and pancetta. Grilled bread, which done poorly can make you gag, is delicious with sharp Parmesan melted on top.
We also tried one daily special, the stupendous grilled veal chop ($19.95). One big chop, juicy through and through, was creamy white and delicate tasting. Shiitake mushrooms lay on top of a Marsala demiglace laced with sun-dried tomatoes. We ended it all with a fabulous tiramisu ($6.50), refreshingly based in Marsala and with ladyfingers not overly soaked.
The waiter refolded my napkin when I got up. Nice.
By this time we had learned something useful about the wines of the world. The '95 reserve chardonnay from Joullian, in the Carmel Valley ($7.50 glass, $30 bottle) is luscious, but not too creamy or oaky, a great bargain. Another nice surprise: the '97 Pinot Grigio Collio from Pra' de Pradis, a soft white wine with lots of levels ($6.50 glass, $25 bottle).
decide what to drink with dinner, we concocted a sampler of light and spicy '96
Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir (Santa Maria), a relatively dull '96 Franciacorta Rosso
(Contadi Castaldi, Lombardia), and a wonderful '96 Cahors (Clos La Coutale). It
was $5.75 for a glass.
For dessert, we couldn't resist a glass of '97 Sauternes, Roumieu-Lacoste, a bargain at $7.50.
Cafe Torre, by the way, has the owner Torre and the location Torre to its name. If you're heading east to the cafe on Stevens Creek from De Anza, you'll have to make a U-turn at Torre Avenue.
Parking: Free lot in front.
348 Mathew Street, Santa Clara, California 95050
(The heart of Silicon Valley - home of AMD, Intel,
National Semiconductor, 3COM, Yahoo, among many others)
Voice: 800-727-3844 Fax: 800-727-3851