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Scratch in downtown Mountain View

eatzalot Jan 2, 2011 12:05 PM

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. b
    budnball RE: eatzalot Jan 3, 2011 02:42 PM

    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!

    -----
    Cascal
    400 Castro St., Mountain View, CA 94041

    2 Replies
    1. re: budnball
      eatzalot RE: budnball Jan 3, 2011 07:29 PM

      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.)

      -----
      Reposado
      236 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301

      1. re: eatzalot
        m
        mdg RE: eatzalot Jan 3, 2011 08:56 PM

        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. r
      rotiprata RE: eatzalot Jan 3, 2011 09:33 PM

      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
        b
        budnball RE: rotiprata Jan 4, 2011 09:12 AM

        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
          eatzalot RE: budnball Jan 4, 2011 10:53 AM

          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
            eatzalot RE: budnball Jan 4, 2011 11:09 AM

            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. bbulkow RE: eatzalot Jan 6, 2011 07:24 AM

          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.

          -----
          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. c
            Claudette RE: eatzalot Jan 6, 2011 06:16 PM

            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.

            -----
            Cascal
            400 Castro St., Mountain View, CA 94041

            3 Replies
            1. re: Claudette
              bbulkow RE: Claudette Jan 6, 2011 07:06 PM

              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?

              -----
              Cascal
              400 Castro St., Mountain View, CA 94041

              1. re: bbulkow
                c
                Claudette RE: bbulkow Jan 9, 2011 06:38 PM

                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
                  eatzalot RE: Claudette Jan 10, 2011 10:19 AM

                  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.)

                  -----
                  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. eatzalot RE: eatzalot Jan 7, 2011 11:23 AM

              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.

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

               
              5 Replies
              1. re: eatzalot
                bbulkow RE: eatzalot Jan 7, 2011 11:54 AM

                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
                  eatzalot RE: bbulkow Jan 7, 2011 01:28 PM

                  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
                    bbulkow RE: eatzalot Jan 7, 2011 03:11 PM

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

                  2. re: bbulkow
                    c
                    ceekskat RE: bbulkow Jan 10, 2011 02:44 PM

                    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
                      bbulkow RE: ceekskat Jan 10, 2011 03:31 PM

                      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.

                2. a
                  alina555 RE: eatzalot Jan 7, 2011 08:13 PM

                  I had high hopes for this place based on these initial reviews, but unfortunately my experience was incredibly disappointing. My husband and I came in to enjoy an early dinner - there were only two other tables eating when we were seated, and the restaurant had a staff of about ten wandering around - everyone was still clearly in training mode. Wait staff was nervous but friendly; we placed our order and I received my soup a few minutes later. The soup was a butternut squash with bacon - the bacon ended up dominating the mild flavor of the soup, but the taste was interesting enough for me to finish.

                  And then we waited. And waited. We had ordered a margherita pizza and the rotisserie herb chicken - nothing too outlandish. After a half-hour the server came to tell us it would be a couple more minutes. Fifteen minutes after that, our dishes were served - only to find the chicken so dried out, it flaked into little pieces as you cut into it. We would have immediately ordered a replacement, but after waiting so long for our meal, we tried to make the most of the pieces of chicken that had some moisture and split the 10-inch pie for two. We kept looking for the manager - who we had seen circle the floor - but he was now out of sight. We finally brought it to the attention of the server, who promptly took away the plate but then awkwardly avoided eye contact for the remainder of our meal.

                  When our server came by with the check, we were shocked to see that the charge for the chicken was still there, despite us sending it back 20% eaten. We asked for the charge to be removed, which he did begrudgingly. On the way out, we finally saw the manager and explained what had happened. The manager was incredibly apologetic and comped the remainder of our meal, which was incredibly kind. My guess is that my pizza had taken a couple of tries to get right, and in the mean time the chicken was under a warmer for an extended period of time. We were more upset at how the server handled the situation (no explanation for the long wait, assuming we'd still pay for dry chicken, and then not fully explaining to the manager what had happened) than anything else.

                  Now I totally understand they are new and working out the kinks. The food certainly has potential (although clearly needs some fine tuning and quality control) and I love the space. I'm hoping that my experience is a complete anomaly, but I have to admit I'm hesitant to give it another shot. I'll have to keep my eye on this thread to see if they continue to get solid reviews from other CHs here.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: alina555
                    bbulkow RE: alina555 Jan 7, 2011 09:23 PM

                    My service experience there, also on the early side, was smooth and reasonable. Sister restaurant Reposado always has excellent service, so let's hope they work the kinks out. I am concerned that they'll have trouble moving to the more complicated menu of Scratch.

                    -----
                    Reposado
                    236 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                    1. re: alina555
                      eatzalot RE: alina555 Jan 8, 2011 12:29 PM

                      Sorry to read of your disappointment, alina.

                      I _urge_ anyone who seeks a smooth and polished experience, or even to judge this or any new restaurant in depth, to do as professional journalist dining critics do and wait at _least_ a month or two before trying a brand new place like this. I've now eaten there five (?) times in its first week or so of operation -- as you may notice here, I am encouraged. However, I and companions walked in with a forgiving attitude, very aware that the figurative paint was barely dry, most employees were just hired and haven't worked together much. In fact yesterday the big front doors were being replaced, and could not be closed until an hour or so after Scratch opened. A chilly late afternoon: we intrepid bar patrons, nearby, kept outer coats on for a while and even after the doors were closed the chill only slowly dispelled. (bbulkow, annoyed once before with the cold, would have been displeased.)

                      I am often so focused on trying and comparing impressions of food, when experiencing new restaurants, I don't notice other things that might bother some diners. (On the other hand, at a business dinner in the 1990s -- Plumed Horse, Saratoga -- a European co-worker grumbled that the waiter wore sneakers, albeit black ones; and went on to declare the sort of very conservative European server garb he considered appropriate. But it's the only time I've seen anyone even notice such details. Memo: this ain't Europe.)

                      1. re: eatzalot
                        v
                        vis RE: eatzalot Jan 17, 2011 02:53 PM

                        Tried Scratch a few days ago. Thought the room was really nice and the bar looks great. All the food we had (shared 4 apps and 2 desserts) was very good at quite reasonable prices. With that said, they have a quite a ways to go still on the service front. Drinks were taken and the waiter didn't know anything about any of the wines I asked about (I was trying to decide between a few of the whites that were served by the glass). Apps came and no drinks had yet been served (yes, we ordered our apps after we ordered the drinks). Waiter rarely checked on us. Plates were not cleared in a timely manner.
                        I get it, it's still early. Still, it leaves you a little underwhelmed when the service doesn't match the food/ambiance. I really want this place to succeed - it's definitely a welcome addition to the street. I'll bring myself to come back in a month and hopefully the process will be smoother.

                        1. re: vis
                          eatzalot RE: vis Jan 18, 2011 08:51 AM

                          A tip regarding ordering wines in restaurants: Staff training level varies widely in general, so unless I know specifically that the staff are trained and "tasted" on the current offerings, I always ask for the wine manager or sommelier. Don't know if I mentioned it earlier here, but that's what we did when first getting wine at Scratch. It happens that the wine manager there is a real expert -- that isn't his opinion but mine, I talked to him quite a bit. For example we considered the two (new to me) "domestic" Grüner Veltliners (a grape variety I've experienced a lot, but only from Austria) but when he compared them to the Austrian prototypes we passed, and followed his good advice for another (incidentally cheaper) wine. He's spent time working in Burgundy, collects wine personally, and is quite happy to discuss them in depth, as well as answer the usual question I have with unfamiliar by-the-glass offerings at restaurants:

                          "Have you tried this wine personally and if so, how would you describe it?"

                          1. re: eatzalot
                            PolarBear RE: eatzalot Jan 19, 2011 05:23 PM

                            Which domestic Grüner Veltliner did you have? We picked up a couple of bottles of Chien and Zocker recently tasting our way through the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. Haven't yet tried the Chien but the Zocker was great with a Sichuan feast.

                            1. re: PolarBear
                              eatzalot RE: PolarBear Jan 20, 2011 10:35 AM

                              We passed on the GVs after he described them, comparing to the old-world prototypes (which are very distinctive and somewhat addicting and are, for example, consumed in thousands of glasses daily in casual wine bars and sandwich shops in Vienna -- writing this is making me hungry -- one reason I post here, actually). We got another white, unfamiliar label of one of the lesser standard US white varietals, PB or FC or something, I'd have to research what it was; but it was well suited and inexpensive. Scratch's large wine list is well stocked with mid-priced items around $20-$40 -- and it met the request for a wine of a style that we requested to go with one of the dishes.

                              That was my main point; as is often true in restaurants with interesting lists, the somm. or wine mgr., who chose the wines and does the most wine tasting of anyone in the place, is well tasted on the whole list and can help with very specific queries. Wine advice in restaurants from people who haven't actually experienced the wine is (quoting Poe on Welsh rabbit without brown stout) to be eschewed.

                    2. hhc RE: eatzalot Jan 22, 2011 11:04 PM

                      I read in the SJ Mercury the folks behind Peninsula Creamery are behind Scratch.

                      -----
                      Peninsula Creamery
                      900 High St, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: hhc
                        eatzalot RE: hhc Jan 23, 2011 08:10 AM

                        I read that news item. It's a strange statement even if true (contrary to my understanding).

                        Business cards at Scratch's host desk (and forthright comments from Scratch managers on duty when asked) cite _four_ other establishments in the restaurant group with Scratch: Downtown Creamery (566 Emerson, PA), Stanford Creamery, Reposado, and Gravity Wine Bar. (Three of the four are in the first posting here.) I believe I even heard remarks about deliberate design of Stanford Creamery to distinguish it from the nearly 90-year-old family-owned Peninsula Creamery. A phone call is the most that would have been needed to check these facts. I've seen people casually and understandably confuse the various "Creameries" around Palo Alto when discussing Scratch; however they were not print journalists, responsible to fact-check.

                        -----
                        Palo Alto Creamery Downtown
                        566 Emerson St, Palo Alto, CA

                        Gravity Wine Bar
                        544 Emerson St, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                      2. m
                        mdg RE: eatzalot Jan 29, 2011 09:04 PM

                        We tried this out tonight after giving it a few weeks to calm down, and this is a hit! It finally fills the long-lasting lack of a good American restaurant in this area ever since Jocco's closed. Mayfield Bakery and Cafe in Palo Alto aims at a similar cuisine, but the prices there are some $5 more for both entrees and appetizers with an atmosphere that's not as celebratory.

                        I started off with the oysters - 3 PEI, 3 Oregon - that were just great, and reasonably priced for this area at $12 for the half-dozen. I then had the grilled king salmon with potato cake, and my wife had the rotisserie half chicken with mashed potatoes and some nice roasted root vegetables. The cooking of both dishes was spot on - there were no problems with salt like bbulkow found early, and I like things saltier than many people on Chowhound). I like how the menu has interesting variants on familiar favorites, like the potato cake with the salmon or the root vegetables with the chicken.

                        The wine list is all-American and they have a nice by-the-glass selection. Our Clements Hills Albariño and Zaca Mesa Rose went well with our respective dishes. I had a late-harvest Gewurztramier from Oregon for dessert. The dessert list looked good but there was no room; maybe next time.

                        There are still no draft beers, which seems weird for a place like this. Hopefully they get in some great local heroes like Prohibition Ale and Devil's Canyon.

                        Fine food, good service, nice atmosphere, great location, and a vastly underserved culinary niche in this neighborhood. No wonder they were full on Saturday night! Hopefully that success is spreading to other days and times.

                        Michael

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: mdg
                          bbulkow RE: mdg Jan 30, 2011 12:05 PM

                          Great to hear things are picking up there. It really does fill a needed niche.

                          Did you try any of the cocktails? That's an area on my visit that I thought they should improve.

                          1. re: bbulkow
                            m
                            mdg RE: bbulkow Jan 30, 2011 06:27 PM

                            We generally don't do cocktails except at Mexican / Caribbean places. With this menu wine and beer are the way to go for our tastes.

                            Michael

                            1. re: bbulkow
                              eatzalot RE: bbulkow Jan 31, 2011 02:32 AM

                              FYI (speaking as mainly a beer/wine person myself): spend more time checking out the cocktails (current and developing) and you might be pleasantly surprised. A bartender named Adam there specializes in that subject and I've seen him with bunches of fresh herbs and whatnot making infusions. At one point one of the bartenders gave me a sample of a subtle, not very sweet cocktail they were working on; impressive. I wish they'd finally get the draft beers in, though.

                              I notice (and this includes but obviously goes beyond Scratch), having seen cocktails evolve from mainstream up through the 1970s, to being very un-hip (the drink, seemingly, only of _parents_ of young adults for years), to rediscovery by a later generation of young adults, things have moved way beyond the Tequila Sunrises and Margaritas with fluorescent "sweet-sour mix" that were common before cocktails' partial hiatus. Now, good bartenders try things unheard-of before, including fresh flavor sources and new creations. Some of the results have complexities and subtleties not unlike creative cooking, good wines, etc.

                              1. re: eatzalot
                                bbulkow RE: eatzalot Feb 5, 2011 09:31 AM

                                They have upped the bar quotient to a great extent, they're now the equal (if not slightly above) anything on University Ave. Their signature cocktails are very good and inventive, the base liquor selection is "well curated".

                                We had a rolling booth party there last night. Happy Hour morphed to dinner to desert, with a cast of characters that were dropping in and out. (FourSquare acting as it should: the attractant and lubricant of a successful party). I didn't enjoy the fact that the booth was small and they don't have much seating for the 6-8 person group, but that's life.

                                Service - ie, the kitchen - was slow, apparently. I showed up on the late side of happy hour, then came back for desert. Dinner I think was a 1.5 hr affair, with dishes just taking a long time. When I came back, my friends were a little grumbly. The server himself was witty and well organized, full of awesome, dealt happily with the table having different people every time he came by, but the kitchen just seemed laggy and behind. That for a restaurant that was nearly full right around 7 but wasn't (yet) doing much business on the late side - I didn't see a lot of two seating tables. The place was busy but not crowded.

                                The atmosphere is so different from Cascal across the street that both will flourish. Scratch is my kind of place; I think you'll see me there for friday happy hour more often than not.

                                -----
                                Cascal
                                400 Castro St., Mountain View, CA 94041

                          2. bbulkow RE: eatzalot Mar 9, 2011 09:18 AM

                            I keep wanting to like scratch, and it's still an up-and-down.

                            There's only one other restaurant of its category in MV, Xahn. Scratch is closer to my office.

                            Service is still uneven. I was trying to watch, last night, what was happening, because I had a bar seat and could see around. I think it's part management / training, part restaurant design, part staffing levels.

                            There's a few too many waiters, not enough bar staff. The restaurant design has these nice private booths, where waiters can't see the smaller signs of "we need something". The bar is similar - a big podium in the middle. In this environment, the training needs to include a way to make a slow circuit of the serving area, constantly, remembering who is at what stage. What seems to happen in their service is being forgotten, where you're sitting with menus and no "what do you want to order" for 15 minutes. If you're lucky. I had wanted to stop by for a burger on the way home from the airport, and we waited and waited - and also found no burger on the dinner menu (lunch only - I do wish there were some sanditches on the dinner menu - or a "bar menu" - but I know this can undercut profit.)

                            Some of the individual servers seem to understand instinctively, and see better out of the corners of their eyes. There's a young short asian guy who works the booth area sometimes who seems very good. Some of the other servers just vanish for a while, and you see them at the station polishing glasses or tapping on the order screen - and doing so for minutes.

                            Last night, the meal wasn't coursed well. we would have preferred the dates first, then the fish and mac and cheese. Dates were an appetizer, after all. They came all together. The default should be app first. That's the kind of stumble we normally have there - something is a little off every time.

                            That all having been said, the food is really quite good at the moment.

                            Hit of the night last night was market fish, fennel pollen encrusted, which had a deep almost fried taste without actually being fried. The mac and cheese side was a little pot of delishousness, with a surprisingly light cheese taste. The bacon-choriszo dates were little flavor bombs, but could have used a stronger chorizo. My common on the food continues to be that they are light on the salt, and dishes could have a little more flavor. They are finding their way, though.

                            When I compare with Reposado, by the same people, Reposado has much better service. That's a restaurant with good sight lines, a square-plan design across the board, and clearly the group knows how to run a good service organization. Please, Scrach, rise to the service level of Reposado!

                            -----
                            Reposado
                            236 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: bbulkow
                              b
                              budnball RE: bbulkow Mar 9, 2011 12:59 PM

                              Maybe the problem with service is the physical latout of the place. It is not easy to see around the place with the huge bar right in the front. I have noticed a few service hiccups but I am so glad not to have to drive to SF for this food I can be patient. My only complaint with Scratch is the same with so many New American Bistro type places is salt. TONE IT DOWN! The brussel sprouts were more pancetta than greens. and they are a bit skimpy on the starches. otherwise I'm in.

                              1. re: budnball
                                bbulkow RE: budnball Mar 9, 2011 07:34 PM

                                Yes, that's what I was realizing yesterday - physical layout. Although the manager - guy in a suit - has a lot of visibility, and can often see me waiting impatiently. Nothing happens.

                                Regarding the salt - I think they generally don't use enough there. I dish with pancetta is allowed to be pretty salty. The mac and cheese, which could have been very salty, almost tasted bland with the amount of salt they used.

                              2. re: bbulkow
                                eatzalot RE: bbulkow Mar 19, 2011 01:51 PM

                                "When I compare with Reposado, by the same people, Reposado has much better service."

                                Some information possibly relevant: In an early visit I questioned Scratch's managing owner who made two comments: The new businesses, Scratch and Gravity Wine Bar (coincidentally reviewed respectively two weeks ago and this week in the local Embarcadero papers*), originally planned to open a few months apart, actually coincided so his attention to the start-ups was split. Second, it took many months for Reposado to catch on with the public, and presumably that restaurant had time to refine its service during and since. I notice service issues too at Scratch, though knowing that, and being focused on the food, I work around them.

                                * "MV Voice" and "PA Weekly." As usual with these papers, this week's Gravity review didn't mention the March 4 review of the parallel sibling restaurant Scratch, missing a useful tie-in (both weeklies normally carry the same review). That follows a tradition of both papers sometimes independently reviewing a restaurant a short time apart, or reviewing a restaurant previously reviewed prominently in the same paper -- always as if unaware of the earlier review, even when conspicuously posted at the restaurant entrance. The Scratch review (which quoted this CH thread, by the way) was generally descriptive though heavy, for my taste, with "is/was" characterizations ("Entrees are large, but except for the succulent short ribs bourguignon ($26), disappointing... A huge pork chop ($26) was OK ...") Some readers (as one complained to me) would rather know WHY the writer found her chop just OK and WHAT disappointed her about all eight or so other entrees; few are named, it's not clear even if all were tried. Diversity of "appetizer" small plates isn't mentioned, nor their extraordinary "happy-hour" pricing cited upthread (a big draw at Scratch for some folks). I mentioned to that other reader that these reviews have a severe word-count limit. Still, accompaniments that happened to "come with" the writer's entree orders may not do so at other times, which is obvious if you return and see that this kitchen often changes ingredients and presentations. Link to that Scratch review:

                                http://www.mv-voice.com/story.php?sto...

                                -----
                                Reposado
                                236 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                                Gravity Wine Bar
                                544 Emerson St, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                                1. re: eatzalot
                                  bbulkow RE: eatzalot Mar 19, 2011 04:36 PM

                                  The "it's a new restaurant" refrain is getting a bit old for Scratch's service misses. First week, yes, first month, sure, midway through the third month I expect better. I think they have an actual problem that they'll have to suss out and address.

                                  I would also say my problems have been about fifty-fifty - half the time, service is excellent, half the time there are numerous bobbles, suggesting personel problems.

                                  1. re: bbulkow
                                    eatzalot RE: bbulkow Mar 20, 2011 10:37 AM

                                    I think you missed my points. Not that Scratch is a new restaurant but that Reposado is a mature one, so to compare Scratch at a similar level of maturity (which took 16 months at Reposado), do it 13 months from now. And the dual openings I reported (Scratch and Gravity) are an unusual factor that might bear.

                                    I hardly defend service errors, I see them too. Though after eating at Scratch more than you have, I think (12-plus times now), I've personally experienced them far less than half the time, generally minor, and corrected with good humor given even a little diner assertiveness. (Contrast some amazing attitudes I see elsewhere online, where diners avowedly fail to complain about things easily fixed, instead silently nurturing indignation until they can get to a keyboard, blind to their own role in their problem.)

                                    The most frequent issues I've seen at Scratch since the start (and it surprises me because they suggest a systematic or procedural weakness) are at the interface from the kitchen to the floor, _especially_ confusion in getting dishes to the right diners at the bar. And the levels of service experience do seem to vary, some servers may not have mastered the instinct of proactivity without intrusiveness. If servers ever stand around idly at the same time their customers need attention, it makes a wretched impression.

                                    IMO the ideal of fine-dining service is what I've seen at some of the very best restaurants in US and especially Europe. Servers circulate actively but quietly, attentive. Looking for diners who need help, who want to order. I noticed this even in my first overseas dining nearly 40 years ago. You start to think about ordering something else, some wine; a helpful server appears. You empty your water glass, and when you next turn to it it's refilled. Drop a utensil or napkin, another appears. This happens not through magic but attention, and diners love it and tip well.

                                    -----
                                    Reposado
                                    236 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                                    1. re: eatzalot
                                      bbulkow RE: eatzalot Mar 20, 2011 11:57 AM

                                      What's interesting is I remember being at Reposado in their first few weeks, and I don't remember similar bobbles.

                                      When I was sitting at the bar a few weeks ago, I literally had to wave my hands over my head to attract the attention of my bartender. I attracted one of the managers instead. The bartender was very busy, I didn't see him loafing, but I didn't see that "wide field vision" that I expect out of a bartender - the nod in your direction, and coming over a few minutes later when it's your turn. Every bartender I've seen works out some kind of circular pattern - two from the house station where the servers come, then a circuit of the patrons, or whatever, even if the circuit is just a glance over.

                                      I don't think this is a European fine dining thing, my favorite dive bars do exactly that - keep the patrons happy.

                                      Again, I wish Scratch every success, because they're unique on Castro St and my kind of place. I can only believe the problem does relate to server inexperience, and I hope they can improve - these are the changes you expect over the first month or so, that show management's mettle and makes a restaurant great. (as, I think, Reposado is very strong at its price point, and has been from my first meal).

                                      -----
                                      Reposado
                                      236 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                                      1. re: bbulkow
                                        eatzalot RE: bbulkow Mar 21, 2011 09:40 AM

                                        But did the bar problem recur recently? The timing may be important.

                                        As you may know, Scratch initially hired a large pool of bartenders probationally and then let some two-thirds of them go some time in Feb. after trying them out. I fould this out when I noticed some missing faces and the survivors explained.

                                        Most of my dining experience there has been at the bar, whose people have been quite attentive lately. Not to forget the systematic order-delivery problem I mentioned.

                                        (Some things slow to gel at Scratch have involved physical plant. The wine alcove was just open cartons for a few weeks. From a contractor plumbing error, the bar beer taps were useless until middle or late Feb when they finally were connected to the kegs. A display board (they told me an LED TV -- don't know if I've ever seen one of those) has been due to go in over the seafood counter to indicate daily specials, the wiring protrudes, but it's slow in coming.)

                                        1. re: eatzalot
                                          bbulkow RE: eatzalot Mar 31, 2011 09:33 PM

                                          Two out of two very good service meals. They're clearly doing something different. A waiter was getting shadowed, and the bar people were checking in very frequently. Perhaps they're learning.

                                      2. re: eatzalot
                                        r
                                        rotiprata RE: eatzalot Mar 31, 2011 07:12 PM

                                        Went for happy hour today. Food was still decent but service poor (bartender neglected to order our Pizza) and it was really tough trying to catch his attention. Noticed other hiccups around us as well.

                                         
                                         
                                         
                                         
                                         
                                2. c
                                  ceekskat RE: eatzalot Mar 21, 2011 10:05 AM

                                  Puzzling that a restaurant of this caliber, in the heart of Silicon Valley, does not have an online menu. Driving me nuts!

                                  http://www.scratchmtnview.com/

                                  1. b
                                    budnball RE: eatzalot Mar 30, 2011 08:49 AM

                                    Sometimes it takes a few visits to figure out what is wrong with a place and with Scratch it seems to be "acid". There is no acid or citrus cutting thru the cream and cheese and adding a brighting note. Some lemon, some bitter greens, something!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: budnball
                                      eatzalot RE: budnball Mar 30, 2011 09:58 AM

                                      But budnball, I've had exactly what you're missing. Including bitter greens and lemon, in particular among "appetizer" courses which actually are small plates, some of them garnished with creative salads and among the best values I've found at Scratch.

                                      The Ahi tuna "Niçoise" comes not just with bitter greens and Greek olives but a tart aioli sauce with chopped capers. If you ever dine at the bar (as many do), seek out the bartender named Anton. He is so fond of that aioli dressing (normally drizzled sparingly in a small border around the plate) that he gets extra on the side when he orders it himself (he said), and he does the same with diners who order that dish, if they like it. Most of the lemons I've gotten there were on the plate for squeezing (the unusual "shrimp cocktail" in the seafood sub-menu at top and in one or more appetizers, including maybe even the same Ahi).

                                    2. m
                                      mdg RE: eatzalot May 28, 2011 12:40 PM

                                      We finally made it back and had another fine meal. Portion sizes have thankfully been scaled back a bit so that there was room for dessert. The pineapple upside-down butter cake with caramel ice cream and pineapple chip was perhaps the highlight of the meal. It paired nicely with a late harvest Riesling from Oregon that actually had some very nice sour tastes to go with the sweet - pretty unusual for American late-harvest wines.

                                      The oysters were still a great choice and the mixed green salad was excellent. The southern fried chicken dish revealed the undersalting problem that was reported earlier. The batter was both undersalted and underseasoned, which seems a perpetual problem in the Bay Area fried chickens that I've had. This dish showed up on the bill as a fried cornish hen and that seems right given the portion. The meat itself was very tasty and the fry job was very good. It came with some nice not-too-sweet mini-cornmeal muffins (butter and honey on the side) plus a small amount of mashed potatoes, greens, and a mushroom glaze - just right for the potatoes, but could have used a little more of the delicious greens. With the addition of a little salt it was very satisfying.

                                      The signature pizza was a nice choice if you like blue cheese. The saltiness of the blue cheese overwhelmed the vegetables a bit, but this was still a delicious dish.

                                      So these entrees weren't in the same class as the roasted chicken and king salmon dishes on our first visit (still on the menu) but they still made for a fine meal. It's good to know the desserts can be great too. They now have an interesting selection of local draft beers, but we stuck to wine on this visit and did well with the albariño, viognier, and tempranillo choices. Service was excellent; perfectly paced for this type of restaurant without the longeurs that others have noticed.

                                      We'll be back!

                                      Michael

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: mdg
                                        bbulkow RE: mdg May 28, 2011 01:10 PM

                                        Two recent visits for me, all of the service was 100% perfect. Maybe their act is together.

                                        1. re: bbulkow
                                          j
                                          jacquesf RE: bbulkow Aug 12, 2011 08:27 PM

                                          I couldn't disagree more. I hate reading restaurant service "horror stories", but when we visited this week, we talked to our waiter three times during the meal (drinks order, food order, and bill), even though we were sitting right next to the terminal where they enter their orders. Not only that, but it took a half hour between finishing appetizers and getting our entrees. We didn't get any explanation or apologies, and the bussers took care of everything that didn't involve ordering or paying.

                                          As for the actual meal, our cocktails and the heirloom tomato appetizer special were spot on, but the entrees were mediocre. My wife had a baked pasta and meatball special that was probably destined never to be great. I had their fried chicken that had way too much fried batter surrounding the chicken, felt like it had been under a heat lamp for 20 minutes, and was accompanied by a gravy that tasted burnt more than anything else.

                                          It's really too bad because the drinks and appetizers made of think we were starting an absolutely great meal.

                                          1. re: jacquesf
                                            eatzalot RE: jacquesf Aug 14, 2011 09:58 AM

                                            You're not disagreeing with bbulkow so much as reporting a separate experience, which is always valuable. A single experience, if I read right; and if you remain interested enough to return several times, you could then assess if that one experience was representative. Though if someone's turned off by one experience, it's understandable if they don't return. (That will also mean they've chosen not to know the restaurant much.)

                                            FWIW, my perspective after eating at Scratch a good 20 times is that service was generally fine, if not super-polished like the French Laundry. In the random occasions of service errors, we looked beyond that to appreciate what merits Scratch did, and does, consistently offer. It did take time to explore the initial menu (at least three visits) and find favorite dishes (I mentioned some here), and how much they can be expected to vary in execution over several orders (basically not much).

                                            My perspective after a few thousand other Bay Area restaurant meals is that, barring VERY unusual circumstances (around one per thousand of my experiences), it takes time to know a restaurant and what to expect from it. (Those exceptions FYI generally entailed grossly inappropriate behavior by an owner or manager -- someone who sets a tone. One breathtakingly stupid arrogant weasely GM became known for things like spoiling a surprise birthday party booked at his high-end restaurant, and offending big customers of an associated wine sales dept. When he eventually left, former co-workers celebrated. His LinkedIn bio boasts a series of relatively brief restaurant positions. I'll do no business with any restaurant employing him and I'm not alone.)

                                            -----
                                            The French Laundry
                                            6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                        2. re: mdg
                                          eatzalot RE: mdg May 29, 2011 11:23 AM

                                          Re that Oregon Riesling: As Riesling's potential is being more broadly recognized by the market (I've seen that dramatically in just the last few years), the US wine producers are learning, as they did with other grapes. (Today the sweet-acid balance, tomorrow maybe even reducing the alcohol, though US growing regions have a perennial and long-recognized problem with cool-climate wine grape varieties that way and Riesling is about the coolest.)

                                          Scratch, late March or so, added a significant separate vegetarian menu with unique new dishes, also listing some existing dishes already vegetarian, and some others modified to make them so.

                                          Re pizzas, try the "Rustic" which has been a local favorite. Fresh crumbled sausage meat contrasting with bitter greens and tomatoes if I remember offhand. The house ("signature") pizza I've enjoyed a couple of times, though the sweet root vegetable chunks had a muting or bland effect, to my taste. (One day Micheal, you and I should tour some local pizzerias and I'll show you a few I've found delightful that I don't think you've tried. Your appreciation of Scratch's pizza suggests you haven't, after all, abjured almost all local pizza offerings as I thought from the Napoletana Pizzeria thread.)

                                          Related news, maybe justifying a further separate topic (I haven't checked yet to see if anyone else reported this, or if it's more widespread, as I'd guess): Some weeks ago, Help-Wanted signs began appearing in not one or two but MANY restaurant windows in downtown MV's restaurant row -- established restaurants of all genres. I saw three near each other on the 200 Castro block east side, at least two more on the west side. I continue to encounter new ones, I never saw so many at once before. Something has caused a very sharp, broad-based rise in local restaurant business.

                                          -----
                                          Napoletana Pizzeria
                                          1910 W El Camino Real, Mountain View, CA 94040

                                          1. re: eatzalot
                                            c
                                            Claudette RE: eatzalot May 30, 2011 01:34 PM

                                            I've noticed that, too, even in other ciites. And the restaurants on our regular circuit seem to all be busier. Good sign for the economy, I think.

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