A Lark Creek off a Short Pier

Lark Creek Blue's Executive Chef Paul Bruno Photography by Matthew Brandalise. All Rights Reserved © 2013 GEV Magazine

By Karie Zarsky Bennett
Photography by Matthew Brandalise

In the fashion world, everyone loves a great makeover. The metamorphosis of Santana Row’s Yankee Pier has been just as satisfying.  If Yankee Pier was a comfortable pair of blue jeans, Lark Creek Blue, now open in the space previously occupied by Yankee Pier, is a crisply pressed pair of dark-rinse denims.  Where YP was a casual, sustainable seafood restaurant, LCB brings us globally inspired, seasonal dishes under the direction of Chef Paul Bruno.  Bruno, formerly of such stellar restaurants as SEABLUE and Michael Mina in Las Vegas, brings such a high standard for the food that the service can’t help but keep pace.   The staff is attentive, knowledgeable, and big fans of the new menu themselves.

The re-invented menu offers the diner a vicarious trip around the world with an impressive variety of cultural introductions.  Exotic Thai, aromatic Indian, flavorful Italian, and architectural Japanese recipes all flourish under the chef’s loving hand.  I wonder if Chef Bruno dabbles in a bit of painting or sculpture in his spare time, as the dishes are so beautifully composed, they are truly mini works of art.  I marvel at the small hors d’oeuvre bites we’re served at the VIP media event—they’re like little kisses; a burst of citrus here, the crunch of a crostini there, and the soft slip of a silky oyster in a sassy sauce that zings with vodka.

Santana Row has gone all sexy with the addition of Lark Creek Blue.

The décor is darker, richer, more contemporary in design and has amazing acoustics that never seem too loud, even when it’s filled to capacity, which it often is for dinner.  It’s a ‘dress-up for grownups’ restaurant with a lot of great dishes to tempt your palate.  Going on a first date?  LCB won’t disappoint.  Thirty-year anniversary?  LCB is the place.  Small and intimate, with dishes that taste expensive but are really quite reasonable in price.

I brought one of my besties, Debbie Allison, who is a resident at Santana Row.  She has dined in every restaurant on the Row multiple times.  She was a big fan of YP, but says that LCB won her over for a few reasons, “Santana Row needed a date night place for serious foodies like myself – somewhere with a sensual, low-lit atmosphere, where you can actually hear each other’s conversation. I think LCB filled this need.  It’s an added bonus that it happens to serve the yummiest seafood dishes on The Row.  I especially love the Angry Lobster Pasta.  It’s a bit naughty, but quite addictive.  Saves me a trip to Rome for authentic Italian food.  I always enjoy the Iron Horse sparkling wine as well. An added bonus for me is being able to see the Chefs in action.”

The long wood-topped communal table as you enter Lark Creek Blue is the perfect place for extroverted foodies to meet new friends.  At the VIP media event I attended, it only took a few sips of wine for everyone to start chatting and exchanging business cards.  I met a nice couple who are connected to Ballet San Jose, who have been coming to the restaurant since before it had its makeover, and they couldn’t be happier.  As they confided, “Santana Row has such a European feeling, and the clam shack-like décor of Yankee Pier seemed like a fish out of water, pardon the pun.  We love coming to Lark Creek Blue, it has a casual euro-elegance that we love.”

I spoke to Greg, the bartender, who has 5 years in his field.  He described the two-week training process that the YP staff went through prior to LCB’s grand opening.

“We went through re-training, mainly as a guide to a higher standard of fine dining service.  A new standard was established, and the staff really enjoy taking it to a higher level.  We have embraced new ways to present and serve wine, a different way to listen, and even a new right-of-way for serving and clearing.  We really try to educate the guest on the food and what’s new and in season.”

Greg’s favorite dishes on the menu are (without hesitation):

Starter: Ahi Tuna Tartare

Main course: Local Petrale Sole

Dessert: Lemon Meringue Pie

Drink: Moscow Mule – Vodka and Lime Juice with a Ginger Beer float, served in a vintage copper mug.

I also met Michelle, who has been with YP for 4 years and stayed on to be on the LCB team.  She loves the new menu, saying, “It’s really exciting!  The raw bar is really front and center.  The variations on it are really interesting.  My menu favorites?  I love the Pulled-to-order mozzarella starter, for the main course I love the Angry Lobster pasta (make mine extra spicy!), and people will be surprised to find an amazing steak at a seafood restaurant.  For dessert I can’t choose between the Pumpkin Bread Pudding in the fall and the Chocolate Semifreddo any time of the year.  It’s so light, but frozen, and oh so delicious!”

I’ve had the Mozzarella starter.  The cheese is hand-pulled and placed on the plate so delicately—a soft puff of cheesy goodness with seasonal vegetable accompaniments. Sometimes a ratatouille, other times a garlicky broccolini.  Any way they serve it, it’s like sex on a plate.

The kitchen also serves up what they call ‘Nightly Classics’, dishes that you can eat on the same night every week.  Just think, every Friday can be Lobster night.

MONDAY – Southern Fried Chicken

TUESDAY – Kerala-Style Whole Fish Curry

WEDNESDAY – Dungeness Crab Cioppino

THURSDAY – Fried Ipswich Whole Belly Clam Platter

FRIDAY – Baked Stuffed Lobster

SATURDAY – Prime Rib – Yorkshire pudding, horseradish

SUNDAY – Whole Branzino on the Plancha

Seems like Chef Bruno has really made his mark on the staff.  Meeting him I understood why.  He is placid and calm, with a warm, calm handshake.  And as his food came out of the kitchen, I couldn’t help but think that the food arrived with a relaxed sense of ease.  The wait staff were efficient but not chaotic, which made for a very enjoyable dining experience.

Just to get your mouth watering, let me run down the hors d’oeuvres we were lucky to be served at the media event.  By the way, these dishes all make appearances on the menu seasonally.

Oysters Gratin topped with American Caviar: small, plump oysters were bathed in a sauce of crème fraiche, lemon zest, and vodka.  They were lightly tangy at first, then smooth and velvety with a bit of the caviar saltiness and the bite of the vodka at the finish.

Lobster roll bites: a scoop of a mélange of lobster chunks, celery, red onion, pickle and fresh parsley on a tiny puff pastry ball.  These were well-balanced, with a nice texture.

Shrimp Ceviche: I love lime, so I love this dish.  You definitely taste the lime amongst the perfectly cooked shrimp accompanied by orange, cilantro, jalapeno and red onion.  Topped with a crisp shard of pita and nestled on a cloud of avocado puree, it was absolutely lovely.

Ahi Tuna Tartare: A little tiny work of art.  Ruby red raw tuna shares a spot on a square cashew rice crackers with soy, dice of red onion and zingy horseradish.  I could eat a dozen of those, and I got halfway there at the event.

Kobe Beef on Crisp Crostini: a delicate slice of perfectly marbled and marvelous American Kobe, a dab of truffle aioli, a tasty sliver of black truffle to top it off—oh goodness, the job of a food reporter is a hard one, but I managed to write my notes, eat some food, and oh yes, I enjoyed a Moscow Mule.

Q&A With Chef Paul Bruno

What is the biggest difference between Vegas and Santana Row?

As often as fresh seafood and produce is shipped to Las Vegas, there’s no comparison to the quality and freshness of the ingredients I am able to source here. Being so close to the coast and local farms has been wonderful.

What are you most proud of in your career?

As corny as this sounds, when I was offered the executive chef position at Lark Creek Blue. It’s what I’ve been working towards my whole career, it’s an amazing opportunity and I’m thrilled to be at the helm of this great restaurant.

What has been the biggest change you’ve brought to LCB?

The inspiration in the variety of dishes that we offer, inspired by regional cuisine from traveling around the country.

What is your inspiration for the food?

Regional cuisine from around the country complemented by seasonal, fresh ingredients.

What is your creative process when you create a new menu?

Evaluate what ingredients are going to be in season and start creating a menu around that. My sous chefs and I experiment with different ideas and dishes, we consult with corporate chef Adrian Hoffman, and that develops into our creative, fresh menu for that season.

What keeps you up at night?

Usually, my two-year old son.

Favorite food?

Branzino. It’s a wonderfully flavored, Mediterranean sea bass; definitely my favorite to eat. Prepared right with a nice, crispy skin, it’s very versatile and can be complemented with many different, seasonal ingredients.

Lark Creek Blue is a great destination restaurant, destined for greatness.

Reservations are recommended, especially for dinner.

378 Santana Row, Suite 1100
San Jose, CA 95128
(408) 244-1244

Chef Paul Bruno
General Manager Doug Swett 

Visit their website: www.larkcreekblue.com

Karie Bennett likes to stay busy. Actually, that’s an understatement. She recently celebrated her 30th year as a hairdresser and her 15th as a multi-location salon owner by diving into a second career–as a writer, and a third, as a salon business consultant and keynote speaker. Her salons, Atelier Salonspa and Atelier Studio, both located at Santana Row, (www.ateliersalon.com) are constantly winning top honors from industry organizations, including the prestigious NAHA Salon Master of Business Award in 2011. A favorite of the fashion show and photo shoot circuit, she is often found leading beauty teams behind the scenes, and her styling work has been featured on the covers of Gentry, South Bay Accent, Scene magazine, Salon Today magazine, and GEV, as well as on the fashion runways for Santana Row, Valley Fair, multiple charity organizations and Vitamin Water’s Fashion Challenge in partnership with Red Haute and Co., and HMM Models. She is working her way through Stanford’s Writer’s Studio program, is a contributing writer for Salon Today magazine, and is also the Small Business examiner for San Jose’s examiner.com, in addition to being one of Gastronomique En Vogue’s Correspondents. Contact Karie at karie@kariebennett.com.
Matthew Brandalise is a corporate attorney specializing in mergers & acquisitions and commercial transactions for a technology company in Silicon Valley. When he is not working, he is typically photographing things or spending time with his wife and three wonderful boys. He loves to travel and explore unfamiliar things… and ultimately photograph them. A lover of good food, great music, Matthew has a deep admiration for artists & musicians. He’s loved photography since he was nine, when he found an old twin reflex camera in a box of things in his father’s garage. Since then, he’s always seemed to have a camera with him. He’s played and experimented with film and digital photography consistently over the years, but things really went to the next level once he had kids. He spent many years photographing all sorts of sporting events and activities for them. Matthew found it to be a great vehicle for improving his skills as a photographer and ultimately giving him the confidence to branch out into other areas of photography.