Go North — In Downtown Los Gatos
Downtown Los Gatos has never been a stronghold of ethnic cuisines, so it was a welcome sight to see North open its doors last summer.
Named for its location on North Santa Cruz Avenue, this lovely restaurant serves contemporary Vietnamese cuisine with California influences. It’s a collaboration between two veteran restaurateurs: Hanna Pham, who for years had 19 Market in downtown San Jose; and John Le, who had the popular Three Seasons in downtown Palo Alto.
From all appearances, it’s already a hit in the community. The warm dining room, done up with a mural of a Vietnamese woman in a traditional ao dai, antique mirrors, reclaimed wood, and a wall of living plants, was packed the night my friends and I dined in December, paying our own tab at the end.
Start with one of the fun cocktails, such as the Non La ($15), a play on a gin sour. The chic coupe is a study in green from the house-infused matcha gin blended with yellow chartreuse, orgeat, and lemon. Its frothy top is made of foaming bitters. A gold-hued turmeric-ginger tincture is poured atop through a stencil to recreate the restaurant’s logo, which on the drink almost looks like a pair of puckery lips. It’s an elegant drink that/s tangy, grassy, citrusy and delicious.
“North” dumplings ($14.95) resemble Chinese shu mai with a filling of shrimp, pork, ginger and scallions. They arrive atop a laksa curry-like sauce, providing a novel way to enjoy these classic dumplings. I only wished there was a little more heat and assertiveness in the sauce, though its temperateness will probably make the dish more appealing to a wider audience.
I can never resist the staple of fresh spring rolls ($12.95). The rice paper rolls, just soft enough, bundle a filling of shrimp, pork, lettuce, rice vermicelli, and mint. Shiso leaves were a nice addition to add extra brightness. Dunk away into the peanut sauce for a satisfying bite.
A crunchy julienne of mango and papaya provided the foundation for a salad ($14.95) crowned with shrimp, fried shallots and mint. Toss everything together to enjoy a tangy, refreshing salad with a hint of sweetness.
Lemongrass chicken ($20.95) brought a stir-fry of bite-sized chicken pieces tossed with mushrooms, onions and eggplant in a subtle citrusy lemongrass sauce.
Miso salmon ($24.95) brought a nice-sized, moist fillet finished with a mild butter-miso sauce alongside sauteed choy sum.
For a side dish, the Blue Lake green beans ($11.95) were a resounding hit. The beans, tender, shriveled and still nicely al dente, were sauteed with shiitakes in a sweet-savory soy caramel sauce. It’s a perfect dish to eat alongside some coconut rice ($3.50) enlivened with garlic and shallots.
For dessert, there was banana bread pudding ($10). Rather than the expected big heavy slab, it was a mini muffin-sized treat of soaked banana bread adorned with bourbon caramel and fresh blueberries that tasted homey and light.
The coconut panna cotta ($10) is perfect if you want something more tangy to end the night. The coconut milk panna cotta is voluptuous and none too sweet so that the zing of the passion fruit topping comes through loud and clear.
Head North — and get a more diverse taste of downtown Los Gatos.
More Places to Explore in Los Gato: The Lexington House
And: Manresa Bread
And: Oak & Rye