The Catamount: The Cat’s Meow in Los Gatos
By Kathy Chin Leong
When the California Café in Los Gatos said bye bye, I grieved. It was a special place for me. This fine dining spot with a well-curated menu selection was part of a chain that once boasted several lovely properties. This café demonstrated the epitome of California cuisine back in the day. The ambiance was unpretentious, but elegant. I recall spending my birthday dinner there one time, about a decade ago. I came with my siblings, mother, husband, and kids. All eleven of us were each able to find a delectable entrée that satiated our dietary needs and tastes. It is a trek getting to Los Gatos from my house, and that probably explains why I didn’t go more often.
But this April came along another new entrant in the same digs: The Catamount. From the name, you cannot discern the cuisine. My first guess was that it would be Mediterranean, but when my foodie partner, Pearl C., and I got there, we were told it was “approachable” New American with a little of this and a little of that.
Famished and enthusiastic, we anxiously waited to see how the chef would fuse all the local flavors together and wow our palates. The team that brought the Presidio Social Club restaurant into being in San Francisco is on a mission to create honest-to-goodness delectable fare and recreate that “social club” vibe from the city. They revamped the 10,000 square-foot space and turned it into an even posher setting with soft gray walls, fireplaces, and wide white shutters dividing the various rooms for special occasions. Think bridal shower or birthday brunch!
First off, the historic architecture of the restaurant features high ceilings and windows emitting plenty of light that pours in from the panes. You can see the ancient 100-year-old tree outside. White tablecloths, pressed to perfection, greeted us at our window table. A snazzy bar has been installed towards the front, so patrons can feel the buzz upon entry.
On this Thursday night, one month after it opened, the customers were still sparse, but wait staff was excited and eager to serve. Like other high-end operations, the bartender whips up his own signature cocktail recipes, and if you are unsure of what to order, your waiter will describe them in detail, and you can ask for a recommendation given your penchant for drinks that are citrusy, bitter, and so on. Cocktails have become so trendy and diverse over the decade. It is the creativity of the bartender that creates a loyal following.
For me, I love how a mixmaster will toss in stuff I never would have thought of, and the ingredients on this cocktail menu are intriguing. The Foreign Legion includes orange marmalade; the Desert Rose includes prickly pear syrup, and the Catamount Mule blends in a huckleberry lime shrub mixture. I am glad that mocktails are also featured. The blackberry ice tea and the lemongrass cooler is a terrific alternative beverage with no apologies for being alcohol-free.
The menu does rotate seasonally, and on this day we conquered a stacked crab salad with avocado over pesto. Presentation for the crab gets five out of five golden forks, and taste also is rewarded with five out of five. We were delighted. I would classify the other appetizer, the spiced lamb meatballs as very good, (but not out-of-this-world crazy great), and we thought the pairing with mint yogurt was a classy touch. Then the heirloom tomato salad with arugula and basil vinigrette arrived; it cleansed our palates in such a refreshing way that we polished it off in milliseconds. That readied us for our seared ribeye steak for two.
The server marched it in with pomp and circumstance as if she were presenting us a holy gift. And a gift it was. The steak came plated, sliced in a semi circle array with charred baby tomatoes and roasted asparagus on the side so as not to steal center stage. After we skewered our first forkful of cow, juices ran clear. The savory slice of heaven entered our stomachs. The pieces were moist and tender beyond compare. If you eat meat rarely, wait, wait, wait until you come for dinner. At the time, the steak was priced at over $100, and today when I checked it online, the menu said MP or market price so you should call ahead and ask.
SIDES AND DESSERT
What I am finding these days is that side dishes, veggies, and starches are being elevated to superstar status. The baby carrots, a simple offering, was a one-two, sweet knockout punch. Did the farmer just pull them from the ground? Next, the garlic mashed potatoes were creamy, not starchy, and seasoned with herbs with a balance that gave every element equal air time. Of course, by this time were beyond stuffed, but it would not have been fair not to try dessert, so we attempted to tackle a sampler tray.
Most beautiful was the Le Gateau, a delicate milk chocolate bar with a coffee flavor and hazelnuts that reminded me of a cross between tiramisu and chocolate mousse. We also tried the pineapple upside down cake and vanilla ice cream- a yummy combo with a heavy cake designed for pineapple lovers. The favorite of the evening for me was the caramel pudding served in a class cup with whipped cream topped with a cookie and candied pecans. And a fourth dessert, yes a fourth, was a macaroon cookie filled with chocolate ice cream and edged with mini chocolate chips. Pearl and I plunged in with spoons, never minding the impending sugar rush that would send us crashing before bedtime.
For Los Gatos, this is definitely The New Place to Be. It’s got it all- flavor forward entrees and incredibly fresh veggies the way God intended them to taste, plus a clever cocktail and bar menu and top shelf desserts. Let’s call it definitely birthday-worthy. Entrée prices start at $21 and can go up to over $100 for specialty items. I cannot wait until my next birthday, but I may splurge and come back next week.
50 University Ave, Los Gatos
Entrees start at $21. Open for lunch and dinner. Closed Mondays.