Parcel 104 – Santa Clara, California

Freshly caught trout, free-range chickens, hand-picked fruits and vegetables–those are what most influence Bradley Ogden, an uber chef and restaurant impresario dedicated to seasonal, farm-fresh American fare. Like a sculptor who painstakingly fashions inspiring masterpieces, Ogden crafts memorable dining experiences from the freshest ingredients available, melding them so that their inherent flavors, colors and textures combine to bring out the best in each other.

Proprietor of several high-end restaurants primarily in northern California, his name has become synonymous with new American cuisine. Las Vegas chowhounds wax poetic about Ogden’s eponymous restaurant, most often singing the praises of the Maytag blue cheese soufflé. In 2003, that Vegas restaurant earned James Beard accolades as the “best new restaurant” in America.

While not as nationally celebrated, Parcel 104 (whose name comes from the tract of land on which sits the Marriott which houses this restaurant) has earned a lion’s share of awards in the San Francisco area where competition for plaudits is keen. My expectations were high, but dashed almost immediately when I couldn’t be seated in the dining room.

Assurances by the hostess that the restaurant’s menu was also available on the spacious lounge placated me somewhat, but the long wait for service (the beginning of a pattern) tried my patience. A sole, hurried and ultimately haggard looking waitress tried hard to keep up with orders of appetizers, entrees and libations, but struggled to do so. Perhaps as a result, I was not treated to an amuse bouche, a complementary chef’s surprise for which Bradley Ogen’s restaurants are famous.

The restaurant calls its appetizers “beginnings” and my introduction came in the form of Mediterranean mussels and Willapa Bay clams served with a fennel-leek confit. Freshness was evident in every savory morsel and best of all, not a grit of the annoying sand could be found that often makes its way into mussels. Alas, there are several Albuquerque area restaurants (the Indigo Crow comes to mind) which serve better mussels and certainly in bigger portions.

Entrees ranged in price from $22 to $36. My choice was the Central Valley rabbit “pot-au-feu” with summer truffles. A pronounced sage and garlic taste permeated both the rabbit and truffles, but didn’t necessarily make either resonate with flavor as I had hoped. In fact, I’ve had simple rotisserie chicken that did more for my taste buds than did this lagomorph (Latin for rabbit).

The sole redeeming facet of my meal was the dessert, a triumvirate of terrific chocolate that included a thimble-sized milk shake, two miniscule volcanic chocolate cakes and a ceramic spoon of ice cream. While the chocolate troika was deliciously decadent, it was so small that just as my taste buds began to discern its composition, there was nothing left.

Perhaps the one thought that helps synopsize my inaugural experience at a Bradley Ogden restaurant comes from Luke 12:48, “To whom much has been given, much will be expected.” Both the chef and the restaurant have been given much acclaim and I certainly expected Parcel 104 to live up to its reputation, but defining my review as a “dining disappointment” certainly indicates my expectations were far from met.

Parcel 104
2700 Mission College Blvd.
Santa Clara, California
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 21 July 2004
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Dessert

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