Liquid Bread Gastropub - Campbell - deserves a try
Tonight I needed a spot in greater san jose. My parents were staying in the Pruneyard, and visiting my niece is a daytime affair. In the evenings is my time to see them, so I offered a nightcap or "second dinner" local to them.
Y*lp directed me to Liquid Bread, in a way. It's not listed as the finest restaurant in Campbell, or the top bar, or the top beer bar, but more sophisticated reviews seemed excited. Also, open until 11pm - I thought we might leave at 10-ish, and I didn't want to be rushed.
Liquid Bread is right across from NaschMarkt, and actually hard to find, because it's tucked in next to a pizza place, and Katie Blooms. I walked by it once before I found it.
The decor is minimal but not unstylish. The walls are undecorated cinderblock painted a fetching warm brown color, and the tables are a slight upgrade from Ikea but not far. The tables outside are more pleasant.
The beer menu contains 20 taps and a lot more bottles. The taps that night included Ninkasi, and I had a Linden St and something Belgian. Great selection, the likes of which I haven't seen anywhere in the south bay, and reason alone to visit, if you like beer.
The chef provides another reason to visit.
As a grazing app before my party fully arrived, I had a kale appetizer that was quite pleasant. Braised, with roasted strawberries, and jicama, and goat cheese, the dish was daring and mostly successful. In my opinion the raw kale-ness of the kale didn't fully carry the dish, and I would have liked something a little punchy - like just a squeeze of fresh lime or some salt or _anything_.
The next dish had a better story. Tuesday night is burger night. Although the menu had a great sounding bavette and a few other bits, after a beer and a long day there's nothing quite like a great burger. Besides a well seasoned patty, the burger was nearly smothered in Béarnaise, some kind of pungent cheese, house-made pickles, and was _perfect_. I was effusive enough in my praise that the waitress told me the story. This burger used to be on the main menu, and the place got very popular for the burger. More than half of the covers were burgers, and the chef said, "this sucks, I'm trying to do inventive food here and I'm flipping burgers. I'm taking that off the menu - except tuesdays".
Desert, once my guests arrived was also solid, with a lavender cookie and a small pot of lemon curd. The lavender was unusually fragrant in the cookie, and the curd solid.
Finally, I liked the music. I'm not a fan of music in restaurants (if I notice, that's bad), but the tune list was interesting, with a nice mix of Lou Reed, Beck, some punk covers on early synth, moving into some early Beatles.
The place is, frankly, flawed. The chef is still working out his style, and I wish he could go stage at Manresa for a month or two. He's working out the kinks on a style that's a little unique, but closer to that veg-centric Manresa/Plum feel, but in a friendlier way. There's not the 10 ingrediant tweezer symphony dishes, but there is a real attempt to bring together tastes.
The crowd was very pleasant. It's the younger side of the geek community, not stuffy like NaschMarkt. BlueLine is the other place in Campbell that seems worth going, this is when you're feeling ready to try something Different.
I'd rather have another meal here than at Chez TJ or Baume, that's for sure. I saw a Yelp buddy checked in at Parcel 104, to which I would say "nyah nyah nyah" - I know I had a better meal than them.
Open until 11, at least for a while.
Meal again tonight, great stuff
First, another note. After one of our wine/hikes, we gathered at Ruthe Robert's Wine Collective in Saratoga (behind a chinese place that had Cumin Chicken Wings at the top of their specials board, anything up with that?). Lots of unusual wines, $10/5 tastes, we ended up with three bottles we liked. Knowledgeable couple, worth a stop for expanding local wine intel.
Then off to liquid bread.
They're participating in Restaurant Week, and Octoberfest was breaking down outside.
That great octopus thing is still on the menu, but we shied away, and had:
1) Lettuce Cup Figs, like one of those chinese dishes, but with great fresh figs and goat cheese. Nice, fairly straight-up.
2) Beer Cheese Soup. This was off the Restaurant Week menu, and they charged us $10 for a hearty bowl. I was reminded of Plum back when I liked it - what a dish. Early tastes were heady with cinnamon and fall spices, broth was like a pureed squash, lots of crunchy pistachios suspended, then a few potatoes (whole) at the bottom. Excellent.
3) Rabbit meatballs. There was a sauce hard to describe - like minty with a serious very delayed hot pepper kick - nearly 5 seconds, then a solid pop. Rabbit meatballs is an interesting choice, because usually you need to add a lot of spice to get meatballs to taste like something, but rabbit has so much taste. And with little bits of okra (which I generally despise but these were good). Excellent dish.
4) The dish was listed as some kind of pasta, but it was matcha soba with seared shisitos and hog jowls. Although it didn't have a pop like the other dishes, it hung together very well. Nice dish, not the same level of excellence.
5) The beer. They have about 21 taps listed, but they have a taster - 3 x 2oz pours for $5, which is a little steep but not out of control given the glassware and annoyance on the servers. Really 21 x 2oz - 42 oz of beer, much of it in the 8 ~ 9% range.
We got all the beers. We asked the server - people _talk_ about getting all the beers, few do. As in, no one ever has, at least on her shift. She made it into 3 passes, top to bottom on the menu, of 7, 7, and 5 beers. Timing was excellent, and placed on little laminated mats with the name sharpeed on.
This was my definition of good service, cheerful, no attitude one way or another, but whenever we had a thought, she was there to help out.
It's really just about 3 pints, which two people can split reasonably, and 3 or 4 can make short work of. Although, given the high alcohol content (remember when most wine was 10%?), 21 oz is about 620 ml, so half is about a half-bottle of 15% wine. Again, still doable, although in a I'm-not-driving-you-take-the-keys-especially-after-that-nice-wine-tasting kind of way.
As you've remembered the "50 beers in 10 hours" crawl
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/874510 , and our other "all the beers at Drakes" adventure, I love things like this. It's now a "thing" with GF and self - we were at Ridge a few weeks ago and they said "which tasting do you want" and we said "pour everything, we'll split it" --- same thing with the nice lady at the wine collective, who said something about picking 5 of her wines. Ha. Whatever you're ready to pour, we're ready to drink.
Liquid Bread's beer menu is so INCREDIBLY broad that you must have a deeply curious palate, and hopefully a few friends with alternate palates, for the "all the beers" action to work its magic.
The list I see now is not the list that was in front of us. They pulled some items from the "coming soon", and the cask was dry. Of extreme note was the New Belgium Coconut Curry Hefeweizen, which the tasting note was "like a urinal cake, but in a good way". The gals loved the rasperry cider, which went down like a Bartles & Jaymes. Of the hoppy ones, I remember a Coronado, and the Clown Shoes had an unfortunate plastic taste.
6) Our comrades had the bavette, which they praised highly, but they didn't have the gusto to hit the complicated dishes we did. Get the interesting dishes. The burger is still on the menu, so you can just hit a fresh hoppy beer and a burger and go away happy as a clam.
7) Desert - we hit the matcha crepe with blackberry toffee and cream. Very nice, perfect for a four-way split at the end. The toffee thing was unusual, floating blackberries in a toffee matrix. A good trick.
8) Only minus was one of our party doesn't drink much beer (had a sip or two of some of the real germans, like the hacker-pschorr), so she tried the wine. Tried tastes of the chard - just wanted something uncomplicated with the bavette - and the wine (local stuff) was pretty weak. Tasted several things and couldn't enjoy any of it.
This place is still going strong, and I recommend the full monte sampler.
Will have to check this out! Still searching for innovative food south of Menlo Park.
Went to Chez TJ recently and for the price ($140 pp on food, $75 for pairings) the food was acceptable/solid for the area, but falls short of the food available in SF. The atmosphere was a shabby country house which is probably endearing or silly depending on ones tastes.
Chez TJ has much context and history, making it hard to generalize the experience -- largely from so many short-duration chef tenures in the past decade.
I experienced its first 7 or 8 chefs, starting over 20 years ago with the eponymous McCombie himself (disciple of the Ecole des Trois Gourmandes with Julia Child et al.) Each subsequent chef made it virtually a new restaurant. Chris Kostow (2 Michelin stars there, later 3 at Meadowood), Josh Skenes, and Bruno Chemel (later 2 stars in Palo Alto) each made TJ a distinctive restaurant in turn -- all talented chefs whose good work could be experienced at TJ _before_ they were chattered about in every online forum, travel magazine and guidebook. The only constant there is change, so a repeat visit in a year or two could reveal a very different experience, or a new up-and-coming chef everyone will be talking about later.
I enjoy experiencing cooking talent before it has acquired celebrity status, prices, and/or rationed access (whether here, elsewhere in the US, or in Europe), so I have a soft spot for restaurants with such a record.
Also, old residential houses were a fashionable restaurant format some decades ago, when TJ started. The one at 1517 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley still thrives, fire notwithstanding.
Another visit here, socks were knocked off.
The kitchen has settled in since the last visit, and is doing great stuff. I would call this a near michelin 1 star place, maybe even at that level.
We ate off the app menu exclusively, and it was structured a bit more like the old Plum menu.
Two salads: a fig-cheese-lettuce cup, and a pea green roasted peach light-fresh-cheese. Usually, restaurant figs aren't as good as home tree figs, they're still tight and not as sweet - these were loose and sweet, paired well with the cheese. The pea shoots had a delightful peppery taste, a light dressing, and the peaches were sublime.
The beer list is exceptional. I had a pumpernickle ale from maryland, and I didn't love it. It had a polypropolene note in the middle that wasn't so good. GF had a trippel, very nice spice and fruit notes.
Then the mussels. This is a grand dish, one of the most japanese non-japanese dishes I've had. It had that spice you sprinkle on ramen, and a bed of udon, and a very small number of mussels (10?), and SUBLIME roasted octopus (best octopus since Martin's West roast octopus), and chorizo. Second protien dish was "bavette bites", with liquid bread sauce, which was simply a modest cut of bavette, perfectly cooked, with this strange cheese/yeast sauce instead of bernaise or similar. The purity of the bavette, compared to the complexity of the other dishes, was satisfying.
I added on a second beer - Green Flash is making some kind of Black Saison. Now THAT's a beer. It tasted like Blue Cheese for the first half, then switched over to mint. Loved it.
Finally, the meal was light enough that we were happy for desert. The desert matcha crepe was wonderful. Raspberries at peak, both whole and puree, a very delicate slightly rubbery green crepe, and the matcha taste. I've had a lot of bad desert crepes, this was sublime. We also had the brownie, which was suitably great.
Kitchen closed at 9pm, bar closes at 11pm. We called ahead and they said they'd keep a light on for us. I love how the staff and workers just start hanging out after a certain hour. Music was still very good, and not as loud as last time.
Price was a little steep - $60/pp with tax, tip - but considering the quality, it was in line.
This is now my #1 restaurant south of 237 and not manresa.
Ciano's was across the street and up a bit, very jumping. Yelp is uninthusastic, not that means much.
There's Psycho Donut, which is making a Danolli - the Donut Canolli.
Thanks so much for this recommendation! We tried it tonight and finally, finally there's a creative mid-priced restaurant reminding me of so many inventive places we could find in the Boston area but not here, not at this price range.
We had two of the same dishes. The peach salad was as described but this dish is getting near its sell-by date; the season's getting a bit late for the peaches to be good enough to pull this off. Still a fine dish with great little swirls of ricotta offsetting the pea greens. The mussel dish was a huge hit - what a great assemblage of flavors, including some of the best cooked mussels (roasted? grilled?) I've had on this coast.
Our other dishes were a great spicy green tomato gazpacho with dungeness crab, and a disappointing rabbit meatball dish that lacked the zing of the others (and which my wife felt was a bit too close in flavor profile to her gazpacho).
For dessert we had the chocolate cardamom brownie - what a great combination, together with a coffee whipped cream that I skipped - and a float of cherry cider and strawberry ice cream. The delicious ice cream comes from Kelly's Bakery in Santa Cruz, the cherry cider from Red Branch in Sunnyvale. There were other porter float options available too.
For beers we had the Lost Abbey Witch's Wit - a wheat beer even my wife enjoyed, without the banana funk that she dislikes in many in this genre, along with the cask-conditioned porter from Santa Clara Valley Brewing. As bbulkow mentioned, this is a primo beer list.
I'm pretty sure this is going to be a new favorite of ours, well worth the drive to Campbell. I'm looking forward to seeing how both the food and beer menus evolve with the change of seasons, and see if both stay as consistently delicious and interesting as they are right now.
I'm glad you liked it. It does have that creative feel missing from so many of the south bay spots. I love me some south bay, still thinking about that keralan meal, but Liquid Bread's doing some fine cooking.
Regarding NaschtMarkt - I went here partially because it was reviewed in the Metro, and I found it a bit ho-hum. If you've travelled around germany, you'll know germans are obsessive about food almost like the japanese, and very little of that translates to US german places --- although we have a few good ones. This felt like a B+ kind of place, good enough, but I was surprised how dressed up the clientelle was. As if this was a special night out, instead of a reasonable but not special neighborhood joint.
I hope that helps. I remember being unenthused about the menu, getting maybe a schnitzel, and enjoying everything but not being wow'd. We ate at the bar and it was a little loud.
"If you've travelled around germany, you'll know germans are obsessive about food almost like the japanese, and very little of that translates to US german places..."
God damn right. Incidentally I've mentioned Steins Beer Garden and Restaurant in downtown MV, which opened this year -- NOT a German restaurant. Yet its chef is a comfort-food evangelist, has worked under some big names, and traveled in Germany studying food. Accordingly, from about 9/21 - 10/6 he is putting on an already tested Oktoberfest menu of real Germanic specialties. NOT the Harry's-Hofbrau stuff often seen in the Bay Area. Also recently started a Sunday breakfast menu with chicken & waffles, fresh scones, etc.
Agree with mdg regarding creative midpriced restaurants around SC and SM Counties (SF and East Bay have been better endowed). Partly that has been a problem of market acceptance. Umunhum in Almaden Valley (SJ) was such a place IMO, the accounts here of Liqud Bread remind me of it; superb value. Closed 10 yrs ago, not enough trade. Today, popular downtowns in PA and MV getting $15k/mo. rents for moderate restaurant spaces impedes development of either novel or inexpensive restaurants in those particular districts.
Boston was not such a place for those things either, when I lived there; but that was a long time ago.
In Boston I'm thinking of places like East Coast Grill, Blue Room, and (especially nowadays) Rendezvous, all in Cambridge / Somerville, all with a creativity and boldly flavored spirit that is often missing from the Bay Area's American places, even in San Francisco, in the more mid-priced market.
I see stravaigint mentioned the chicken and waffles dish. That was my second choice and lots of tables were ordering it; it looked really good. On my list for next time.
I hope to get a chance to check out Stein's German specialities while they're around, and take another look at that beer list. The great cask-conditioned beer at Liquid Bread is something I don't recall seeing at Stein's though.
Sadly when I lived there, Cambridge was known for grunge, especially around Central and Kendal Squares (there was one old diner at Kendal); Somerville for mafia hits (there'd been a nasty incident in a bowling alley); the food avante-garde was what students at one school termed "your canonical Central Sq. Chinese restaurant," though the latter did include examples of the original wave of US Sichuanese cooking. Durgin-Park in Boston represented a more traditionalistic kind of American cookery, as (in a different way) did Cambridge's decrepit smokestack plants of the NAtional BIScuit CO. and the New England Confectionery CO.
Things have since looked up in that area.
Made it for diner on Friday and WOW! The Mussels and octopus with chorizo and fingerling potatoes dish that was hiding udon in broth underneath was just wonderful. What I thought was going to be a delicate salad, the chef's garden was a substantial plate of grilled veggies including my nemesis, okra, which we devoured. the pork belly with peach was tasty but it is hard to screw up pork belly My husband had the chicken with waffles which he thought was fine but a bit boring. I loved it the next day. My only complaint is I would enjoy this food so much more with wine instead of beer. Just me but next time will read the wine list with more interest as the beers have too much flavour and he sheer volume of liquid bread is very filling. A great addition to South Bay dining.
Thanks for the report! Since there aren't many reports for the restaurants in South Bay, I enjoy reading them when people post. I noticed this place last weekend when I went to the Campbell farmers market. I remember this used to be another restaurant that served Mediterranean food. Never made it there either. With 2 little kids, I haven't gotten out much, but this sounds promising, especially with 20 beers on tap!!