Friday, December 08, 2006

Tanglewood, Santana Row

When my sister heard that her absolute favorite server from the The Grill on the Alley (in the San Jose Fairmont) had been hired at Tanglewood, she immediately made a reservation for the Santana Row eatery.

Now I have to say, I haven't had the greatest dining experiences at the upscale shopping center. Food sometimes seems far too pricey for what you get. Stunning decor, but service is lacking. A lot of the restaurants in Santana Row are offshoots of well-known/successful local establishments (e.g., Chris Yeo's Straits Cafe and Sino, Bradley Ogden's Yankee Pier).

Tanglewood comes with a nice pedigree as well. The restaurant's proprietor is Roland Passot -- who is behind San Francisco's highly regarded La Folie. And Chef Quentin Topping is a graduate of Harvard University as well as the California Culinary Academy.

When I went to the Tanglewood web site the afternoon of our dinner reservation, I spotted a buttermilk-fried quail dish that sounded incredible. Did I mention that it comes with honey-butter mini biscuits? Drool. Sadly, it wasn't available the night my sister and I were there. But they had another quail option, served over grits and with a small salad topped with a fried quail egg. Although the quail itself wasn't fried, it was still quite tasty. And those grits were awesome. I could have eaten an entire bowl.

My sister opted for the Ahi salad that I don't remember much about. All I know is, she practically licked her plate clean. So it scored high marks with her.

Given that the Chef spent some time in the Boston area, I decided that my main entree should be a "Real New England Lobster Roll" (as the menu describes it).


I was a bit hesitant because the roll comes dressed, instead of naked, but the lobster mixture was delicious. There were chunks of sweet lobster meat, crunchy chopped celery, creamy mayo, and even a hint of curry. It was a nice combination of flavors and textures. Oh, and they did the bread right (i.e., a buttery New England-style hot dog bun). The onion rings were also very good.

My sister ordered the chicken, which was sort of a take on the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. It was served over mashed sweet potatoes, with tiny marshallows sprinkled on the plate (even toasted -- a sweet detail!) and some cranberry sauce. Tasty. But I looked at her plate after she finished off her meal, and there were just too many bones to have to pick through. I don't like to work that hard to get some meat.

Next up were the desserts: a triple-layer carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for me, and an apple tart with salty caramel ice cream for her. They were good, but her ice cream was the only stand-out on both of our plates. (That's a little glass of cold apple cider in the photo below.)


The service throughout the evening was top-notch. The server my sister had come to see was actually off the night we dined at Tanglewood (bummer!), but I'm sure he couldn't have done much better than our waitress did. This restaurant, by the way, is beautiful. Dark wood, patterned silk upholstery on the banquettes, and this cool sueded table liner (instead of the usual white paper that sits on top of most restaurant tables). I loved watching the kitchen's sliding glass doors -- such a simple idea, yet it makes so much sense (you get to peek into the kitchen, the servers can see each other and there's no risk of bumping as someone comes in and someone else goes out).

Okay, so is there any downside of this place? Yes. The portions are small. And they're not cheap. My sister and I are not big eaters, yet we found ourselves still hungry after our three-course meal (that was just over $100, pre-tip). If I go back to Tanglewood, I might have to order a couple of appetizers in fill me up. I'm sure they'll be delicious, but whether or not the bill will be worth it is another question.

334 Santana Row, #1000
San Jose, CA
(408) 244-0464