jcover8.14.09
jcover8.14.09

Recipe for success: New kosher restaurant in Mountain View creating a buzz

It’s approaching noon on a seasonably warm Wednesday in Mountain View as the “lunch rush” crowd strolls up and down a four-block stretch of Castro Street.

Released into the air is an epicurean alchemy of aromas from Asian and Indian fare, pizza and Mexican take-out, a brewpub and coffee bars — staples of a pedestrian- friendly downtown located near the Caltrain station.

But many of the hungry patrons resist the tempting scents in favor of those wafting out of the Bay Area’s only upscale, kosher eatery to serve meat: the Kitchen Table.

Silicon Valley techies gather for a quick business lunch in the back of the restaurant. Later in the day, families with upwards of five kids share dinner together.

And rabbis continue to walk in, eager to taste certified glatt kosher food that has been touted by frequent posters on the Kitchen Table’s Facebook page and by reviewers on Yelp as “very tasty,” “not your typical kosher restaurant” and “addicting.”

“I’m so happy there is a kosher restaurant here,” said diner Danny Silverman of Palo Alto. “This is my fifth time coming.”

A view from the outside. photo/joyce goldschmid

Since its grand opening the first week in June, the Kitchen Table has become the go-to spot for kosher cuisine that blends Mediterranean and Latin influences with the California ideals of buying locally grown, fresh ingredients.

Additionally, the restaurant features an extensive charcuterie of signature kosher meats, ranging from the classic (corned beef and pastrami) to the contemporary (duck pancetta, lamb bacon and Tuscan salami). All are smoked and cured in-house.

Typically, there is a wait to be seated not only during peak hours of business, but also when the restaurant reopens for Sunday brunch at 10 a.m. — after shutting down at 2:30 p.m. on Fridays for Shabbat. Guests are seated at the 59 chairs indoors or outside on the heated patio, which seats 20.

A silver mezuzah affixed to the doorpost is the first clue that the Kitchen Table is indeed a place made for Jews to feel at home.

To enhance the feeling of familiarity, a photo collage of Jewish families eating together covers an entire wall. Two hand-carved oak tables face the kitchen’s window, tributes to the restaurant’s name.

Additional interior design elements — crystal chandeliers, an ornate hand-washing station, a Tiffany-inspired paint scheme and artisan-crafted steel paneling — exude the “rustic elegance” that Kitchen Table general manager Brook Penquite hoped the clientele would find comfortable.

“The table turns have been 45 minutes longer than the average, because guests recognize each other” and linger to socialize. The leisurely, communal atmosphere, “that’s the feeling we want, even for those who aren’t Jewish,” he added.

About two weeks after the grand opening, Penquite, who is not Jewish, estimated that roughly 95 percent of the guests were Jewish. But that percentage has gradually shifted to reflect the increase in non-Jewish customers, due in part to many positive reviews about the food.

On the menu are staples of the quintessential delicatessen, from kosher dills barreled on site to Dr. Brown’s cream soda.

The caramel pecan chocolate torte with black cherry frozen custard.

“I was asked, ‘Can you make a pastrami sandwich,’ ” chef de cuisine Chaim Davids recalled. “I found a good recipe, brined the meat and smoked it. I was thinking thank God it tastes like pastrami. I get to keep my job.

“The pastrami’s been a hit,” added the 25-year-old Baltimore native. “It’s putting us on the map. Yes, it’s what people expect, but we have surprises, too.”

Like the red mole turkey with corn tortillas. Or the beer-battered fish ’n’ chips served with “creamy” tartar sauce and hand-cut yam fries. For dessert, there’s a slice of sinful cheesecake or a “blue-barb crumble” with vanilla bean frozen custard — all dairy-free.

“It’s so much fun seeing people’s faces when they see the pot of crumble with the scoop of ‘ice cream,’ ” said pastry chef Sarah Grobman. “They look like little kids.”

The Kitchen Table, which took over the space at 142 Castro Street from a sandwich chain, appears to have filled a niche that the Bay Area was missing, especially after the closing of Berkeley’s Ristorante Raphael, the kosher vegetarian restaurant started by Noah’s Bagels founder Noah Alper and his wife, Hope.

Sherri Morrison (left) and Naomi Temes enjoy a Kitchen Table salad and a Mediterranean salad. photo/joyce goldschmid

Ristorante Raphael, which shut its doors in 2007, earned numerous awards, including a top rating for downtown Berkeley in the 2007 ZAGAT survey of San Francisco Bay Area restaurants.

“It was always a struggle,” Noah Alper told j. in 2007. Still, he said, “we set an example of what could be. Some entrepreneurs will come along and take up the mantle.”

Enter SV Kosher, a high-powered team of eight investors. Since its formation in 2008, the Mountain View-based group has been planning the Kitchen Table brand from the ground up. Their initial task was to give the venture an address.

“We needed a location that would put us close to a core set of customers,” said Bobby Lent, a venture capitalist from Hillsborough and part owner of the Kitchen Table. “You can’t succeed with just those who are strictly observant in their kashrut.”

The Kitchen Table’s proximity to Google, Intel, Advanced Micro Systems and Cisco was no coincidence, Lent said. Several Silicon Valley companies have “significant Israeli operations,” Lent pointed out, with executives from Israel coming to the Bay Area regularly.

“Companies are obligated to provide kosher food,” he said. “All you need is one person who keeps kosher, and we’ll be the destination.”

Plans are in the works for the Kitchen Table to provide catering to one or all of the aforementioned companies, according to Lent. In the meantime, SV Kosher is focused on the happiness of its holiest clients — rabbis.

“The majority of rabbis in the Bay Area couldn’t eat at a nice restaurant, let alone one that serves meat,” Lent said. “Now people can go out [to a meal] with their rabbi. It’s almost like ‘Cheers’ around here. It’s a place where people know your name.”

Inside the Kitchen Table. photo/courtesy of the kitchen table

And the staff is getting to be known around town, too. Nearly every Sunday, for example, Davids and Grobman walk to the nearby farmers market to shop for fresh ingredients. “It reminds me of being in Israel,” Davids said. “We barter — sometimes it’s a case of mixed apricots and yellow peaches for our burgers.”

In addition to serving meat and poultry, the Kitchen Table also has plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.

The heirloom grain bowl, served warm with tossed fresh herbs, veggies and topped with avocado mash, and the Mediterranean chopped salad with Persian cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, olives and citrus yogurt (or vinaigrette) are two popular selections.

Gluten-free choices also are available, and special meals for the Jewish holidays are in the works, Penquite noted.

As for the prices, dinner entrees start at $12, but on one recent night, five of nine main courses on the menu were $24 or more. Lunch items are less, ranging up to $15.

Lunch and dinner time are especially busy.

“In terms of the number of guests who come through here daily, we’re doing better than we expected,” Penquite said.

Before joining the Kitchen Table, Penquite had no experience with kosher food — the dietary restrictions and the steps taken to kasher a kitchen were completely foreign to him. Still, managerial stints with the Cheesecake Factory and Red Robin gave him a good eye for what works in the restaurant industry.

“This culture and food will never go away,” Penquite said. “As far as community, there’s nothing like this. That’s why I chose this project above other groups.”