Thursday, April 21, 2011

Scratch Restaurant - Mountain View, CA

As a Mountain View resident I was pleased to see something going in on Castro other than another lousy Thai joint or another low-end Chinese joint or another lousy Asian fusion joint. Scratch has taken over a space that has been something of a Bermuda Triangle for Mountain View eateries. Nothing has done well in this space. But then, the previous occupant, U-Wink was probably the worst restaurant concept I've ever seen. It had to have been someone's tax shelter, it was doomed before they finished painting the sign.

We've had dinner at Scratch four times since their soft opening on New Years and meet friends at the bar for drinks and appetizers on a semi-regular basis. On our first visit I was shocked to see that they had not one, but four bartenders behind the well-stocked bar. I didn't understand why at first but soon realized that all their cocktails are mixed "from scratch" (get it?) without mixer guns and pre-made jugs of cocktail "bases".

The drinks aren't cheap...but they are excellent.  There's plenty of places for you to get a cheap and lousy cocktail in the South Bay. If that's what you like I suggest you go to one of them. Scratch seems to take pride in high quality, hand made drinks made with American boutique spirits. Their bourbon selection is unmatched by any bar in town.

As for the food, we've been equally pleased. The menu is based on upscale comfort food. Lot's of different braised or grilled options paired with hearty and flavorful side dishes. One of the elements of the menu that I found very pleasing is the portion size. They are sized such that one can enjoy an appetizer, entree, side dish and desert without needing to be rolled out on a gurney. A very thoughtfully designed menu although vegetarians probably won't find much to their liking...but I won't share a meal with Vegetarian or a Dodgers fan so it's not a big deal.

The service is prompt, friendly and attentive. The environment in the restaurant is lively, but the acoustics are such that you can have a quiet conversation at your table without having to yell.

Last night I and a couple of friends availed ourselves of a special event at Scratch. High West Distillery of Park City, UT hosted a Whiskey tasting dinner with five of their small batch whiskeys paired with special creations from the Scratch kitchen. I’m more of a Scotch guy so the introduction to the different types of whiskeys on offer was exciting and I was really looking forward to learning about the various single ingredient and blended spirits.

The event began with a welcome meet & greet hosted by a representative of High West accompanied by an excellent Mint Julep made with their “Rendezvous Rye”. A very nicely crafted cocktail. I usually find Julep’s too sweet for my liking. The inherent spice of the rye and a thoughtful blending of the drinks ingredients made for a pleasant and balanced starter to the evening without the palate killing syrupy effect you’d expect from a Julep.

The first course of the meal was a unique take on “Fish & Chips” created by Scratch’s excellent kitchen. The plate was a “deconstruction” of sorts featuring gin cured Hamachi crudo, a smear of green pea and mint puree, crispy fingerling potato coins, cubes of malt vinegar gelee and a coconut scented foam. Each ingredient was fairly and proudly represented, the flavors were bright and the individual quantities were perfectly matched. The dish was paired with High West’s “Silver Whiskey” an un-aged Western Oat whiskey. The tasting card for the Silver described it as follows:  

“Delicate aromas of bison grass, granola, toasted nut and grain and chervil follow through on a soft, satiny entry to a light-to-medium body with hints of anise, pear and apple. Finishes with delicate, lightly warming, mossy stone accented fade.”   

Mossy stone? I don’t know if I picked up on even a fraction of that but I did detect the nut & fruit tones in this very smooth and easy to drink Whiskey. I could see myself enjoying a spot of this on a pretty regular basis at home. I’ll have to see if I can hunt down a bottle.

The second course of the evening was pretty exciting. "Chicken Fried Bacon." How can you hate that? You can’t. The dish featured a large strip of smokey bacon dunked in the same batter Scratch uses for their fried Cornish game hen along with a sous-vide egg, fennel sausage gravy, honey pickled golden beets and arugula. If Scratch ever decides to do a Sunday brunch service this definitely should be the featured offering. Like breakfast turned up to 11 the dish felt homey and simple but the flavors and textures were incredibly refined and not at all heavy. The dish was paired with High West’s "Rendezvous Rye". A blend of two small batch Rye Whiskeys, the first a straight 6 year old containing 95% rye and 5% barley and the second a straight 16 year old containing 80% rye 10% corn and 10% barley. The Rendezvous was a nice blend of the aromatic smoothness of the older rye along with the spice from the relatively young 6 year old adjunct.

The third offering was a “Duo of Pork” consisting of a Pulled Pork “cake” made in the fashion of a crab cake with a panko crust. The second ½ of the duo was Scratch’s brilliant red wine poached pear with a burbon glazed pork belly with Anson Mills grits that is on their daily appetizer menu. The pork belly is really fantastic. Dry rubbed with a Chinese 5-spice and seared before roasting it’s super rich and flavorful but small enough that it doesn’t wind up weighing you down ahead of the rest of your meal. Buttery grits and poached pear are a brilliant compliment. Honestly, I didn’t love the Pulled Pork cake. It was a bit dry and the pork flavor was slightly overpowered by the toasty panko crust. This dish was paired with High West’s “Double Rye”. Another blended Rye in this case dominated by a majority of 2 year old 95% rye combined with a bit of 16 year old  53% rye. The 2 year old contributes quite a lot of characteristic spicy “bite” and the 16 year old smoothed and sweetens it just enough to take the edge off of it. I found its drinkability was improved by the addition of just a little bit of water. If that makes me a philistine than a philistine I shall be, but absolutely neat the whiskey was a little to raw for me.

The fourth dish of the evening was dubbed “Texas Chili”. It featured a guagillo and ancho chili braised beef short rib accompanied by mini jalapeno and Vermont cheddar corn muffins with a pinto bean relish. This was my favorite dish of the five. The beef short rib was absolutely perfectly cooked. Fork-tender without falling apart and perfectly seasoned. Just enough of the roasted chili flavors without overpowering the beef flavor of the short rib. Scratch should consider featuring the dish as a regular special if not adding to their daily dinner menu. The dish was paired with High West’s “Bourye”. As the name suggests it is a blend of Bourbon & Rye. The blend is apparently unique and proprietary. High West does not disclose the percentages and they claim it is the only spirit of it’s type. I know I’ve never tasted anything like it. Not unlike some of the higher end blended Scotches it offers a rich, and very complex mix of flavors and it is supremely smooth. Perfectly neat it was fantastic. I never considered adding water or ice. Another whiskey I would consider as a routine entry on my home drinking rotation.

The desert course for the evening was a "Sweet Potato Souffle" with a High West Whiskey anglaise and a Saltine cracker & toffee bacon bark. The soufflĂ© was feather-light and proudly represented the sweet potato. The toffee bacon bark was nearly perfect. Sweet, salty, crunchy and bacon-rific it’s only fault was the chocolate which was not quite set. A minor nit-picking to be sure. The desert course was paired with High West’s 16 year old “Rocky Mountain” Rye. A straight 80% Rye 10% corn and 10% barley offering it is the spiciest of the offerings we sampled. Definitely an after-dinner type spirit I enjoyed it equally neat and with a bit of water. The water softened the bite a bit and brought out more of the fruit tones. 

As a special surprise, the folks from High West uncorked a bottle of their 21 year old “Rocky Mountain Rye". They don’t disclose the mash profile of this small batch (only 75 barrels) offering that is aged in used/charred barrels rather the traditional new oak barrels used in most straight whiskeys. Still quite spicy the extra age mellows and smoothed the bite and it the fruit and floral notes are much more pronounced without the addition of water. This was a real treat. No idea what a bottle of this nectar costs but I’d imagine it’s rarity makes it a “Special Occasion” type of drink.

In total this was probably the best meal I’ve had within the borders of Mountain View and certainly enters the conversation with many of the better eateries in the Bay Area. I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes on Scratch’s special events manager for future events of this type.

This special event aside, Scratch is a very welcome, upscale addition to the Mountain View scene and if they continue to do as well as they've done in their first few months they will be successful. I wish them well and will visit often.

401 Castro Street
Mountain View, CA, 94041
650-237-3131 or 650-237-3132

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