by Max Hauser March Mixer at Sakoon: When: Monday, March 22, Time: 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. Featuring: $5 cocktails and wine (selected) and $3 beers until 7:00 p.m. Complimentary appetizers from 6:30-8:30. Sakoon, one of the newer of downtown Mountain View’s 90-plus restaurants, is a true phenomenon. The professional critics’ buzz alone would qualify it. Open barely in time for publication deadline, it appeared as a recommendation in the 2010 Michelin Guide for SF Bay Area (released October 2009), possibly a record for swift Michelin recognition. The Michelin recommends only a couple percent of all the region’s restaurants. (Downtown Mountain View beat the average with five; the others are Cantankerous Fish, Cascal, Xanh, and Chez TJ, which was singled out for special notice with a star.) Sakoon is a unique stylish Indian place with skilled imaginative kitchen. Chef Sachin Chopra, a New Delhi native, graduated from New York’s Culinary Institute of America and worked at several respected New York venues before moving to Silicon Valley several years ago. (In an implicit nod to another local place, Chef Chopra enjoys the coffees at Dana Street Roasting Company when not busy in the kitchen.) I’ve now experienced some 10 or 12 Sakoon meals in a wide range of circumstances. I and all companions were consistently pleased and surprised by the kitchen’s range and originality. Pricing was moderately upscale with individual courses (á la carte but usually substantial and well garnished) typically $8-$18. The menu, changing periodically, offers extensive vegetarian selections as you’d expect, and a variety of roasted breads (naan) and rices as side options. Occasionally I encounter someone with the naïve idea that vegetarian cooking sacrifices flavor or variety. So well-spiced and creative were the vegetarian dishes I’ve sampled at Sakoon that it would be my clinic of choice to cure such a misconception. Few could resist the therapy. Two delightful “appetizer” examples illustrate Sakoon’s style. These were substantial enough to appetize 2-3 people or fill one. The nimbu gobhi was spicy roasted cauliflower florets, exquisitely seasoned, with a sprouted lentil salad—a standout ($10). The tandoori agaaz, a “mixed grill” of tandoor grilled shrimps, chicken tikka, and lamb chop ($12), appeared on a quadrant plate with a salad in the fourth position, the meats accented by rings of tart green mint-herb sauce on the plate, more (and a red tamarind sauce) in little pitchers on the side. Ordered at the bar, these went very well with a draft Sam Adams beer. $2.99 is the current “happy-hour” beer price, 5-7 p.m. daily. Chef Chopra, when asked a few months ago, cited a some favorites on the menu (seabass tikka, seafood biryani, gush taba, lamb dishes in general including lamb rack, and from the appetizer menu the tuna sambhariya and the tulsi seekh kebab). Of course with periodic changes, Your Menu May Vary. Lunch service features a large diverse buffet with changing offerings, some familiar in Indian lunch buffets hereabouts, some not. In my experience, one side of the buffet table offered vegetarian and the other non-vegetarian specialties. An ambitious wine program, itself unusual in an Indian restaurant, seeks to pair wines with the wide-ranging dinner cuisine. I’ve tried a couple of recommendations by the glass, which worked well. One Sakoon manager is a wine enthusiast and knows her stuff; I’ve seen well-chosen labels in stock. Visually Sakoon is striking. Entering past a host desk and large curved bar, the cavernous dining room you see is only about half the restaurant. It’s an unusual building, going deep into the block, which some of us remember as Mountain View’s former main Post Office, unrecognizably remodeled. Actually there are four dining rooms, counting the upstairs “lounge” over the bar. I didn’t realize in the first few visits how far back the restaurant goes. In the middle depth, the kitchen occupies most of the width, booth seating filling the left-hand remainder (with a marble walkway lighted from below). Farther back are a smaller dining room, a few very modern bathrooms, and stairs to offices. The only problems seen were one or two trivial service gaffes at lunches in 2009. I gather that some servers work two jobs, making off-hours training difficult — and at any unique restaurant, training is necessary. I’ve had no complaints in more recent visits. On New Year’s Eve, Sakoon offered a special multiple-course menu at fixed price (the early-bird version that I experienced was $35 per person). That substantial meal showed a sequence of dishes so well-executed, interesting, and satisfying as to compare with experiences at outstanding high-end restaurants — the kinds of places with not just Michelin recognition, but stars. Don’t be surprised if Sakoon joins them. Sakoon, 357 Castro St, 650 965 2000, www.sakoonrestaurant.com
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