San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis definitely knows his way around a football field.
But these days, he’s also happily finding his bearings around the menu at his apparently new favorite restaurant — the just-opened Oryza Bistro at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping center in San Jose.
The pan-Asian restaurant, on the ground floor behind the parking structure between the two Macy’s stores, is barely three weeks old. But No. 85 has already eaten there at least three times. The brawny 6-foot-3-inch, 250-pound athlete is partial to the dainty string beans amandine (with toasted almonds, charred cherry tomatoes, soy sauce and shrimp paste; $8.95), which he tweeted excitedly about.
I learned of his fondness for the restaurant from a mention made in the Tablehopper e-newsletter. So, when I was invited to dine as a guest of the restaurant last week, I had my eyes on the alert. As luck would have it, he walked in with a female companion as my husband and I were finishing our dinner. The waitstaff greeted him like an old friend as he took a seat in a booth.
I didn’t check to see if he ordered the green beans again, but I’m definitely going to have to try those the next time I’m there. And there will be a next time, as Oryza definitely knows what it’s doing.
The open, expansive restaurant has a contemporary look with dark wood tables and persimmon-hued booths. There’s a large bar, too, with three flat-screens. It’s quite pretty for a mall restaurant.
Chef Pailin Chongchitnant cooked in Vancouver, before graduating from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and becoming an intern on the staff of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Food section. Most recently, she was working at Coriander Gourmet Thai in the food court at the Westfield San Francisco Centre. That family-run restaurant had planned to open in the Valley Fair food court, too. But when that space got snagged by someone else, the family was offered the opportunity to open in this much larger space instead. They jumped at it.
Named for the botanical genus to which rice belongs, Oryza serves up family-style dishes with the flavors of Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Cambodia.
I couldn’t resist ordering a Mango Shandygaff ($7), an unlikely mix of beer and mango puree. Chongchitnant explained that she got the idea for it one day when she was drinking an Odwalla mango smoothie in one hand and a beer in the other. Served in a tall pilsner glass, the beer cocktail actually worked. It was quite refreshing to quaff with its bitter edge softened by the tropical fruit. It’s a perfect beverage for this type of cuisine. For even more refreshment, glasses of water served here are flavored with fresh cucumber for a spa-like treat.
I also never pass up roti when it’s on a menu. This version ($7.95) was accompanied by a trio of red, yellow and green curry sauces for dipping, none of which is too fierce on the palate. The roti arrived in a cute little steamer basket, already cut up into small triangles. They were golden, crisp and not unlike a flakier green onion pancake. If you’re used to the more traditional roti that’s fluffier, comes whole in one large round that’s draped in loose folds on a plate, which you then have to tear with your fingers, this one might disappoint because the texture definitely is different.
The green papaya grapefruit salad ($8.95) might just be my version of Davis’ green beans. It’s a dish I would come back for again and again. A tangle of green papaya strands is all crunch with dried shrimp, peanuts and refreshing grapefruit segments. Asian long beans added a surprise of green. You can add two small skewers of grilled shrimp to the dish for $3, which is what we did. It’s a dish of great texture that hits all the senses of taste.
Shaking beef ($15.95) is a good way to judge a restaurant’s skills since it’s such a ubiquitous dish these days. In Oryza’s version, petit filet cubes are tossed in a fiery wok with a red wine-soy reduction sauce with cherry tomatoes. Strands of pickled red onions added a nice tart contrast. A side salad of shaved fennel also was a thoughtful touch. The beef was tender and flavorful. My only quibble might be that it needed just a tad more black pepper to really make it all pop.
Barramundi ($17.95), also known as Asian seabass, is glazed with red miso and sake, then topped with glossy strands of nori. The fish was moist, and the accompanying bok choy and baby carrots cooked wonderfully al dente so that they still had nice crunch.
Pad Thai ($12.95) gets tossed with shrimp, tofu, egg, bean sprouts, garlic chives, pickled radish and chopped peanuts for a comforting dish.
For dessert, there’s a spin on bananas Foster, only this version uses the more starchy plaintain ($5.95). It’s a nice change of pace, with the plaintain slices drenched in a warm coconut butterscotch sauce. A scoop of young coconut ice cream, with chunks of tender coconut in it and made by San Jose’s own Treat Ice Cream Company, accompanied with a scattering of sesame brittle.
After an exhausting day of shopping or just working at your regular 9-to-5 job, Oryza is a great place to re-energize. Just be sure to keep your eyes peeled, though, as you just never know whom you might spot there.
Another New South Bay Eatery to Check Out: Arka in Sunnyvale