San Jose’s Venerable La Foret Gets A New Lease on Life
When Chef-Owner John Davoudi decided to retire this year from La Foret, the San Jose restaurant he had nurtured for 38 years, faithful diners almost went into mourning.
But before they could shed a tear, Davoudi had struck a deal to sell the beloved establishment to Maurice and Giuseppe Carrubba, two brothers with a penchant for taking over old-school establishments to give them new life while still keeping their special spirit intact.
In late-summer, they took the reins of the historic La Foret, nestled in the trees in the Almaden Valley. The building dates back to 1848, when it housed workers from the surrounding quicksilver mines — the first mining operation established in California.
When I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant recently, it wasn’t the first time I had dined at La Foret. What I always loved about the place was that you felt far removed from the hustle-bustle of Silicon Valley. Off the two-lane road, the restaurant is an oasis of calm. It feels almost like a throw-back to another era when dining out felt special, and French continental cuisine and not molecular gastronomy ruled.
The Carrubba brothers haven’t changed the place all that much. They installed a brick wall behind the bar for a more speakeasy vibe. They added wallpaper in the dining room and cleaned the chandeliers until they gleamed.
The menu still skews French continental, though the Carrubbas have added fresh ingredients from their farm on Mount Hamilton. La Foret has always been known for its wild game dishes, and they are still featured prominently.
There is an a la carte menu, as well as two six-course tasting menus for $115 and $150 each.
Chef de Cuisine David Page, late of the Grandview, and Executive Chef Vincent Mazzeo, who has worked for many years with the Carrubbas, served my friend and I smaller portions from the menu so that we could try more dishes.
But first, a cocktail was in store. Not just any cocktail, but “Le Grand Johnnie” ($15), a new addition that is named for former La Foret owner Davoudi. A blend of Johnny Walker Blue, Domain de Canton Ginger Liqueur, ginger soda and lime, it’s tangy, gingery and really opens up the palate.
As we nibbled on the airy, house-made focaccia, one of my favorite dishes of the evening arrived: a roasted mushroom salad with porcinis and shimejis enlivened with a smoked goat cheese mousse. What looked like bacon bits actually was hazelnut streusel to lend toasty crunch to every bite. Micro celery leaves were an inspired last touch because the delicate leaves, with their bold celery flavor, added a distinctive brightness to the smoky, meaty, earthy mushrooms.
Day boat scallop starred in a deconstructed pot pie. The scallop was nicely seared, and arranged atop a saffron cream sauce. The puff pastry was off to the side, looking a little forlorn. But put it to good use by dragging it through the sauce to enjoy.
Tortellini La Foret are stuffed with ricotta and Parmesan, then finished with a porcini-tomato sauce. There’s a peppery kick on the finish. The restaurant makes its own black garlic, and here it’s combined with a little bit of honey to add a floral, slightly sweet, molasses-like accent.
New Zealand elk loin, with earthy and mineral notes, gets roasted until juicy and tender. A portabello-cognac demi glace complements it by amplifying its meatiness.
The other dish that La Foret is famed for? A Grand Marnier souffle that is served in a distinctive manner. It’s unmolded from its ramekin at the table, then placed on a dish with a pool of creme anglaise.
Apparently, Davoudi never liked how a server would have to plunge a spoon into a souffle in a ramekin, deflating it to pour in the sauce. This way, it’s a grand puff of a cloud laid bare to admire in its entirety.
Chocolate torte, its top strewn with sweet, crunchy nuts, tastes like a gourmet candy bar.
As you leave La Foret to return to the congestion of Silicon Valley, you can’t help but feel glad that places like this still exist, enduring the test of time.