After Sandro Costanza left his home in Calabria, Italy, in 1988, he devoted decades to waiting tables and cooking his way through Paris, London, and Rome before finally landing in Saratoga. There, he opened Ristorante Da Mario to re-create the bursting flavors and vibrant colors of the southern Italian dishes he remembered from his childhood. Today his chefs forge these staples by layering lasagna, stuffing ravioli, and fluffing gnocchi in-house, and by using a number of lighter cream sauces instead of exclusively glazing entrees with marinara. Although Sandro's wine list features numerous California varietals, it also includes bottles from major wine-producing regions across Italy to complement the authentic dishes.
Faux tuscan walls mimic the cuisine's rustic, down-home approach, but crisp, white tablecloths and framed artwork also lend their touches of refinement to the dining room. Outside, patio seating pairs rich Italian meals with light gulps of fresh air and lets diners keep eyes out for invading Byzantines.
The brainchild of husband-and-wife tandem Mitchell Cutler, a Québécois, and Tracey Tate-Cutler, a fifth-generation Californian who lived in Germany for years, La Fondue pairs the traditions of the European delicacy with the spirit of American cuisine. Cauldrons of cheese comprise the bubbling centerpiece at most tables, into which guests dip victuals such as Kobe flat-iron steak, alligator tail, sea scallops, and tiger blue shrimp. The experience comes with an added twist: servers bring the raw ingredients, but it’s up to the diners to choose from one of six cooking methods to heat their meat or seafood morsels, such as dipping them in a rich tomato-basil bisque or roasting them over a European-style grill from Munich.
On any given night, you might see diners following one of fondue's most popular traditions: if someone drops their cube into the fondue, they must then buy the next round of drinks for the table or accept a kick in the shin from the table companion with the strongest calves. Luckily, La Fondue's drinks include wine from a well-rounded list that earned an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator. But if it's Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday—BYOB nights—the table just might enforce the second punishment. Still, with cheese fondue such as pesto cognac and chocolate fondue enhanced with flavors such as mint or Irish cream, most diners do everything in their power to get their cubes into their mouths.
The whole fondue experience unfolds in an eccentric dining space that joins medieval motifs, zebra-print upholstery, and Andy Warhol wall-art in a vibrant, decorative pastiche. The restaurant offers multiple dining rooms, each with its own touches, such as ornate mirrors and leonine busts.
Cuisine Type: Mediterranean/Greek
Handicap Accessible: Yes
Number of Tables: 25?50
Parking: Parking lot
Most popular offering: Lamb
Alcohol: Beer and wine only
Delivery / Take-out Available: Yes
Outdoor Seating: Yes
Tucked between the Saratoga Mountains to the west and San Jose to the north east, Santorini Wine & Beer Garden exposes diners from the surrounding city to the wines of the vineyards that dot the area's foothills. The wine list highlights the array of microclimates that lend the area's varietals their distinctive flavors along with the families who have tended the wineries for generations. Wine tastings unfold out in the restaurant's impossibly charming wine garden, where a duo of acoustic guitarists, a central fire pit, and booths covered with trellises lend to the quaint and cozy ambiance.
To soak up the libations, the bistro also serves a selection of Greek tapas, including feta marinated in olive oil and grape leaves stuffed with seasoned rice, tomatoes, onions, and red peppers?a gluten-free option. Larger entree helpings take the form of grass-fed lamb shank imported from Santorini and chicken souvlaki.
At Roudon-Smith Winery, winemakers surrounded by unique murals create barrels of rich reds and refreshing white wines using high-quality grapes from the Santa Cruz Mountains and other regions of California. Whether crafting an elegant pinot noir or a richly colored zinfandel, the winemakers follow a philosophy of minimal intervention, seeking to preserve the essential qualities of the fruit.
Michelin may have stamped its Best Value and Charming Restaurant distinctions on Hachi Ju Hachi, but all the acclaim should be directed toward the restaurant's chef and owner, Jin Suzuki. His innovative vision for traditional Japanese cuisine and open kitchen have yielded dishes such as steamed-seafood egg custard, pork-belly stew, and seasonal mushrooms with grated mountain yam. The mackerel, which is seasoned and dried in-house, is a popular entree, especially when it's prepared on the grill or in a stew of red miso broth. Best of all, Hachi Ju Hachi's unassuming vibe makes it a great place to chow down and drink sake with friends?or people who will pass as friends until your real friends arrive.