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Scratch in downtown Mountain View

This place recently opened. Personnel I asked said it has same ownership as Palo Alto Creamery, Reposado, and Gravity wine bar (also recent).

What I've tried so far at Scratch has been encouraging though obviousy they're just getting started. The Web site says something like comfort food meets fine dining. There's a lot of counter seating right at the open kitchen (someone asked here about such options recently) with a cold shellfish display at the end. Pizzas and raw bar seem to be sub-menus supplementing things like steamed mussels with French fries (we liked those), goat-cheese soufflé, bacon-wrapped chorizo-stuffed Medjool dates (a little heavy for my taste) -- those so far among current appetizers -- cider-brined pork chop, Hudson Valley duck, and several meat and fish specialties. I hope to report further after more experience.

Context: This large new restaurant at the corner of Castro and California streets may fill the role originally envisioned by Vivaca Grill (1999-2003) on the diagonally opposite corner: a fine-dining place with classy and creative kitchen. Vivaca was planned in particular to accommodate lawyers and clients expected from Fenwick and West's pending office building across California. But the dot-com bust delayed that building by years, and Vivaca failed, maybe for other reasons anyway. When the Fenwick building eventually opened, two new restaurants (Cascal, Cantankerous Fish) occupied its ground-floor spaces and Cascal proceeded to corner the local market for upscale bar-and-dining trade. Though, despite its popularity and several tastings through its menu, I have _never_ found Cascal distinguished for food; its papusas have been downright leaden; every gastronomic friend I've asked has similar impressions. (Contrast Joya in Palo Alto for more subtle and exciting international "tapas" of the sort Cascal purports to purvey.) Cantankerous Fish has demonstrated a much better kitchen in several sit-down meals (and an interesting and fully edible separate bar menu). But what I've tried at this new Scratch suggests a kitchen aiming higher than either of those.

Scratch by the way is the 100th restaurant currently in greater downtown MV (list I posted under a separate Mountain View - Palo Alto topic), grown from 70 in 2005.

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Cascal
400 Castro St., Mountain View, CA 94041

Palo Alto Creamery
180 Stanford Shopping Ctr, Palo Alto, CA

Reposado
236 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301

The Cantankerous Fish
420 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041

Scratch
401 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA 94041

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  1. Here's hoping them good luck. They are stepping into one of those "cursed" spots that turn over every other year or so. I have to agree about Cascal, tho, yuck!

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    Cascal
    400 Castro St., Mountain View, CA 94041

    2 Replies
    1. re: budnball

      I hear you, budnball, but -- coincidence? -- I just came from a brief stop at Scratch where I was telling someone about precisely this topic. Locals, of whom I know many, have been a bit glib on the same point, confidently predicting in many casual conversations another failure at 401 Castro. I for one don't claim to know the future, but some data, for what it's worth, in the interest of fact-checking:

      Exactly two restaurants opened and closed on that site since the building was constructed a few years ago. California Roadhouse (3 years?) showed a decent but unremarkable kitchen IMO after several visits. Popular bar in front, but not unique, and the grilled fish and steaks could be had in any town up or down the Peninsula (or across the street, more distinctively, at Cantankerous). Then, Nolan Bushnell's uWink (about one year duration) I never even tried after reliable friends described the food, and I don't go into restaurants to play video games. (It's said locally that the parent firm failed which had something to do with the local closure -- I haven't confirmed that.)

      Now we have something completely different. First, Scratch's kitchen frankly blows away those of all the (three) other large dining venues on Castro Street. Second, the same owner converted the far longer-struggling site of Bruce Cost's former Ginger Club and its sequelae, in front of Stanford Shopping Center, to a thriving restaurant and likewise another, Reposado -- a novel concept at the time which took a while to catch on, but catch it did. If the pockets are deep enough to support Scratch through a similar start-up learning curve for the local market, my sense is strongly that these people have what it takes to make a success at 401 Castro if anyone at all can. (At which point, my experience suggests that the same local wags, bless them, who've been lately dismissing the site's prospects offhand, will hold forth about how they knew all along Scratch would be a success. If you don't know how deep that behavior is in human nature, read Eisenhower's WW2 memoir. It's worth reading anyhow.)

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      Reposado
      236 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301

      1. re: eatzalot

        I agree - I don't think anything about the site is cursed, it's just attracted a bunch of places that would have struggled anywhere in the area. It sounds like Scratch is aiming at a culinary niche that is way underserved in this area, so if they do a good job they should do well indeed. I look forward to trying it out!

        Michael

    2. We sampled a few items on the restaurant's opening night and enjoyed Mussels with thick-cut fries that were perfectly fried in a very tasty broth.

      Short ribs bourguignon (a rectangular slab) was tender on a base of very smooth parsnip puree and complemented perfectly by sweet pearl onions and bits of portebello mushrooms and bacons. I told friendly waiter i wished there were more of that reddish brown sauce and was delighted when he brought us more.

      Also enjoyed the unique melange of Rice puddings with poached pear and port currant for dessert.

      The circular bar looked lovely but looks like they haven't worked out a cocktail menu yet.

      Bread was cold although everything was supposedly made in house hence 'Scratch'.

      I actually enjoyed this dinner more than my recent outing in Zazie (besides the bread). Having been to Reposado which was more run of the mill, i think Scratch was a better restaurant that night.

      Hope it keeps the good things going.

       
       
       
       
      3 Replies
      1. re: rotiprata

        Wow, If the food tastes as good as it looks, they should do fine. I will give it a try for lunch this week. This is a rrough place for new restaurants as there are literally 100 choices within a few blocks but This could be a winner. Great pix and thanx for the menu as the website is just a placekeeper for now.

        1. re: budnball

          They told me (again last night) they are phasing in the hours of operation and plan to start lunch next week (January 10), though it'll be a seven-days-a-week business from the start. A few obvious loose ends include limited beer selection.

          Last night I stopped at the bar for a beer and snack. They had only a few types of artisanal beers in big bottles, no draft or mainstream bottled beers yet (the sad sight of a large fancy bar with multiple tap fixtures but no handles on them yet!). So I tried one of the pricey bottles which was very good. With that I ordered Ahi tuna Niceoise from the appetizer menu, $12 (I'd shared this dish once before) which made a glorious light meal. It's the kind of dish many modern fine-dining restaurants offer, but this was not just well executed, it had tiny hard-cooked egg halves (looked like quail eggs) and pitted dark cured olive pieces à la Kalamata and a light lemony dressing. Thoughtfully and tastefully put together, typical of dishes I've tried there.

          Including at a New Year's Eve early dinner, their first official night of business, so it looks like rotiprata and I were there at the same time or at least same night. I too loved the short ribs, and the restaurant group includes a dedicated in-house bakery that I'd guess serves all four current diverse establishments, which might explain the bread. The group is called Restaurants From Scratch which seems to be the owner's particular interest, and I believe that's where this name arose.

          1. re: budnball

            Also budnball, it can't be too rough an area for restaurants, because those 100 that I listed in another thread were 90 in 2007, 70 in 2005 (with same boundaries and definitions). Despite a significant number of failures (Jacqueline's, Tien Fu, Global Village Café, Szechwan Garden, Vivaca, Babbo, 3TA, Golden Wok, etc., and now Thaiphoon and Villa 8 as I understand) the total number of restaurants operating there has risen steadily since 1990.

        2. Interesting place. Short answer: I think their kitchen needs a little more work, the bar even more so, the room needs to be warmer, and they've got a hit.

          There's no place quite like it in MV. PA is flush with places kind-of like that, where you can have a business lunch and things are spread out enough that you've got some privacy. But MV has always kept ahold of that shabby chic. The entrants Cascal and Cantankerous Fish tried to be a bit more upscale, but never quite got there.

          Scratch is at a full-business level, and needs the food chops to prove it. Don't get me wrong, it's good, it's worth a try, but I just expect a touch more. It's not yet up to sister restaurant Reposado (just happened to eat there the night before).

          What struck me was the lack of salt. That's a good thing, generally. They're getting a TON of flavor with as little salt as they're using, strikingly so. But at the bacon-brussel-sprout side, I just hit my limit. Bacon should be salty. It should have a decent kick of salt - so I busted out the salt shaker, something I never do, and tossed a few grain on. Boom! the dish exploded. A light touch with the salt is a good thing, and will earn them some culinary room, but at this level I expect flexibility, with some dishes salted more heavily, some more lightly.

          Still, nothing was as good as Cesar Berkeley. Reposado's more solid. It's not any one thing, it just needs to be "better". Maybe it's the first week struggles.

          The room was cold. Wicked cold. Lots of glass, fine in summer, but just turn up the thermostat for the first week before you've got a crowd. That kind of thing influences people.

          Service was very nice, but the place was only half-full - excellent, given the hour we went in. They have a nice bar on entrance, and (as I mentioned a few weeks ago) MV has no real cocktail bar. Xahn tries and fails. If these guys were to put together an actual cocktail program at the level of at Martin's West, they'd have something. I expect they will, as I had a first-rate pisco sour at Reposado.

          I think the hit for me will be the pizzas. A good casual pizza lunch when I need to unwind is a good thing.

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          Cascal
          400 Castro St., Mountain View, CA 94041

          Reposado
          236 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301

          The Cantankerous Fish
          420 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041

          1. Thanks for the tip, eatzalot! I'll give it a try. I agree w/ you about Cascal - the food is heavy, tired, and nothing like the tapas we had in Spain, yet my husband loves the place, as do my co-workers, so I'm a prisoner. I'll twist their arms to go to Scratch next time.

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            Cascal
            400 Castro St., Mountain View, CA 94041

            3 Replies
            1. re: Claudette

              I very much felt at Scratch they would be taking business from Cascal. It's still fun, but fun in a different way, it's *huge*, and the food is better. For certain, drag your work friends there.

              Have you considered a husband upgrade?

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              Cascal
              400 Castro St., Mountain View, CA 94041

              1. re: bbulkow

                LOL! I've considered a husband upgrade many times, but not because of his bad taste in restaurants! Luckily, he's got many good qualities, but being a Chowhound is not one of them.

                I'm going to drag him and our Chowteen to Scratch next week, and let you know how it fares with them...

                1. re: Claudette

                  In fairness to the poor gentleman, it should be said I encounter many local Cascal fans. It has high popularity in local polling, it's even cited in the Michelin, along with Cantankerous Fish next door, Sakoon, and Xanh. (Merely being listed in the Michelin is a strong endorsement, only around 1 or 2% of all Bay Area restaurants appear there.)

                  Though, as I mentioned above, this popularity does not include any gastronomic types I know. And in fact, in the downtown MV area, I've heard Cascal mentioned mainly for other merits. (A dozen or so marriages, it's said, can be traced to Cascal's very popular bar.)

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                  Cascal
                  400 Castro St., Mountain View, CA 94041

                  Xanh Restaurant
                  110 Castro St, Mountain View, CA

                  Sakoon
                  357 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA 94041

                  The Cantankerous Fish
                  420 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041

            2. Things are getting more serious. Yesterday Scratch started offering the appetizer menu and many drinks at _half price_ from 4-6 PM. If you can make it during those hours this is the best deal going in Mountain View at the moment. I thought the "appetizers" not bad at all, at the regular prices; at half off they are irresistable. They include the Ahi Niceoise (pictured, where you can see the little eggs and roasted "banana fingerling" potatoes, yellow inside) and one of the best "shrimp cocktails" I've ever had -- prawns on a plate like sushi, the customary horseradish-flavored tomato cocktail sauce on the side. I'm going to have trouble staying away from that deal, it easily beats in both price and gastronomic range even the locally-famous "happy hour' bar menu at Cantankerous Fish across the street (which has brought locals and regulars for good-value early dinners for years).

              Amazingly this deal extends also to not just a few cheap wines, but the entire considerable by-glass list. Including the "Route Stock" Pinot Noir from Oregon, a wine-trade joke name but also a Wilson-Daniels item (prestigious US reps of the S. C. du Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, popularly "DRC," who make the most famous and expensive French wines in modern history), an outstanding old-world styled Pinot, oak toast included. As if that weren't enough, I was amazed to find the St. George Spirits single-malt whisky classified as a "well" drink and so also half-off. (St. George, in Alameda, is a specialty distiller also known for Hangar One vodka and for the first legal post-ban US absinthe, discussed in the Spirits forum here in past years.) I'm a fan of single malts and own many; the St. George has a wonderful complex flavor, distinguished from its Scots ancestors by a fruity almost Calvados-like nose. (Drink it neat, of course, for full flavor.) Seafood appetizers and strong spirits are a classic pairing made famous by Russian "zakuski" and their Scandinavian and other international cousins.

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              The Cantankerous Fish
              420 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041

               
              5 Replies
              1. re: eatzalot

                Sounds great. I have a meet down there terminating at 3:30, hmmmmm.

                This competes with Mantra's half-price-happy-hour. The benefit at mantra is it's the entire menu, the entire bar, just order and get half-off. I think they do 4:30 to 6:30. If you like a good happy hour and are in PA, give them a shot.

                1. re: bbulkow

                  I should have added, in these situations it's gracious to tip well (as if the prices weren't discounted). The house may cut the prices, but the servers still work as hard, in my experience.

                  (bbulkow, I plan to stop at the bar again, 4:00 or so. If you do go there at the same time, I hope you'll let me buy you a drink and get a little more advice on PA restaurants. Ask for the gentleman who eats a lot.)

                  1. re: eatzalot

                    Ah, regrets, my travels didn't take me that far south after all. Another time...

                  2. re: bbulkow

                    I too have taken advantage of Mantra's happy hour; however, sometime last year, discount was reduced to 30% of entire menu. Still not bad.

                    From website:
                    WE OFFER TWO VERY HAPPY HOURS EVERYDAY 4:30 PM to 6:30PM 30% OFF OUR ENTIRE MENU, WINES, DRINKS & FOOD! 9:30 PM to Close 25% OFF OUR ENTIRE MENU!

                    1. re: ceekskat

                      Right - I forgot that change - it was sad, but I appreciate the need. The place would empty out at 6:30. The fact that it's 30% off the entire menu is still a bright side.