Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late, Part 5
Pizza Antica, Santana Row San Jose, Lafayette, Mill Valley
The original Pizza Antica at San Jose’s Santana Row has been a huge draw since it opened its doors in 2003. Even in the midst of a pandemic, with only takeout and outdoor dining on the Row available, it remains ever popular.
When I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant last week, I found the takeout system easy as can be. There’s plenty of parking at Santana Row these days, so once you find a spot, just walk to the restaurant’s front doors to pick up your to-go food that you can order ahead of time online.
You can never go wrong with pizza here. The thin yet pliable crusts sport those lovely charred leopard spots from the oven. The Margherita ($17) is a solid, classic rendition with sweet tomato sauce, creamy mozzarella and fresh basil leaves on a crust with a noticeable yeasty, developed flavor.
The Broccoli pizza ($18) is a surprise, done up not with the frilly crowns, but the stalks, shaved into slender ribbons all over the top with three cheeses, sweet caramelized onions, and smoky-salty pancetta. It’s a wonderful, unexpected combination of ingredients that I’d definitely order again.
The meatballs ($14) come three to an order, smothered in enough tomato sauce so you can dunk in the garlic toast that comes with it.
The potato and ricotta gnocchi ($17) are tossed in a lively pesto sauce. A container of sun-dried tomato cream sauce comes separately. Pour some of the sauce into a bowl, and place the gnocchi on top to enjoy. Rather than pillowy, these are slightly denser gnocchi, but still plenty supple and comforting.
The fried chicken ($23) is definitely a winner-winner, chicken dinner. There’s a substantial crust on the chicken. So much so, that it easily lasts the car ride home, maintaining its formidable crunch that’s a joy to bite into. A little container of honey comes with it. It’s sweet and spicy, and even if you normally like your fried chicken sans sauce, you’ll want to dribble some over, as this chicken’s crust will stand up to it. The dish comes with sweet corn kernels cooked with green onions, and the most amazing potato puree — nearly as smooth as the famed Robuchon one, but not as overwhelmingly rich, so you don’t feel as if you just ate a brick of butter.
For dessert, you cannot pass up the Spruce Giant Chocolate Chip Cookie ($7). Pizza Antica’s sister restaurant, the Michelin-starred Spruce in San Francisco, is famous for baking them. It might seem incongruous for a fine-dining restaurant to offer these, but it was done on purpose to serve the desires of the kids and families in the neighborhood. When the pandemic hit, and folks all over craved homey eats, the decision was made to offer these cookies at all Pizza Antica locations, too.
Four and a half inches in diameter, this cookie covers my palm. It is crisp on the edges and chewy within. This cookie is easily more than 50 percent chocolate, too. Every bite is loaded — and I mean loaded — with an enormous amount of chocolate chunks that are still melty and gooey when you get the cookie. Just try resisting that kind of decadence.
Pro Tip: Go ahead and order two of the giant chocolate chip cookies. Don’t even think twice. Because once you devour one of them, you will wish you had another. Trust me on this. Plus, the extra cookie keeps just fine overnight. Well, if you can actually refrain from eating it that long.
Husband and wife, Mohit and Archana Nagrath never imagined what they would face when they opened their first restaurant, Desi, in downtown Campbell in November.
But then not even two smart, veteran Silicon Valley tech engineers who’ve always loved good food could predict a pandemic would hit when they decided to build their passion project.
The restaurant has a sunny outdoor space with tables for dining. When you pick up to-go food — as I did when I was invited in as a guest last week by the owners — you can get a glimpse of the super cute interior with its whimsical wall art.
The couple, born in India, has created a casual spot serving contemporary takes on traditional Indian food. It’s a little reminiscent of Curry Up Now, whose food truck and locales now span the Bay Area, and a few other parts of the country.
Start with a non-alcoholic drink because there are a few unusual ones here, They are packed up in resealable plastic bottles for takeout. In fact, all the cardboard boxes used for the food have been decorated fancifully with blue Desi stickers to brighten them up.
The Cal-Indo shake ($7) is essentially a milkshake, one flavored with blended figs, nuts and raisins to give it the subtle taste of a spice cookie in drinkable form. The Kaanji ($5) is a fuchsia-colored kombucha that gets its vivid hue from beets. This drink packs a throat-roaring wallop of spicy heat from mustard, plus carrots for sweetness. It will definitely wake you up, though, it might be a bit much in the morning when you first wake up with nothing else in your stomach.
Under “Quick Bites,” there are “Desi Sliders” ($12) that come two to an order with fries or salad, and your choice of filling. These are actually larger than regular sliders, so one is plenty ample if you’re enjoying it merely as an appetizer. I chose the ground lamb patty version, which was moist and tender, and garnished with mint chutney, and pickled onions and peppers. Fair warning: the fries will suffer in transport, turning limp.
Also under “Quick Bites” are Kulcha Chalupa Tacos ($12) that come three to an order with small leavened flatbreads taking the place of tortillas and stuffed with butter chicken. The soft flatbreads fold up easily around the tender chicken making them fun and easy to eat.
The “Street Eats” section of the menu includes the adorable looking Desi Paneer Bhurji Tarts ($8). They are one-bite crisp tarts filled with saffron-colored ground paneer that’s a bit like crumbled firm tofu in texture. Pour on a little of the fiery green cilantro chutney or tangy tamarind sauce, and you won’t be able to resist popping one after the other.
The fish and chips carry the light-hearted name of “Punjab to California via London” ($14). There’s a generous amount of fish fillets. Both the tilapia, which was nicely seasoned, and the fries do turn soft in transit, so don’t expect a lot of crunch. However, if you actually take the time to throw the them into a hot skillet at home for a few minutes, both the fish and the fries will regain a fairly decent amount of crispiness.
The Blackened Chicken Tikka Bowl ($18) is the way to go if you want an all-in-one, easily transportable meal. It comes in its own lidded round plastic container. The chicken is blackened, but fairly tame tasting, so just add add one of the chutneys or sauces to amp things up. Pickles and a crunchy earthy-sweet turnip salsa add a nice added texture.
If you’re a carb lover like I am, you’ll want a side of Desi Dip Sampler ($6), which comes with assorted naan and sauces, including cooling yogurt raita, a sweet creamy korma, a tikka curry, and a desi spicy one. The flatbreads may turn quite soft by the time you get them home, so just reheat them in a toaster oven or in saute pan or cast-iron pan on the stove-top to re-crisp
Desserts ($8 each) are all pudding-like and come in small, convenient, lidded parfait-like containers. The pineapple pudding has small, juicy pieces of pineapple throughout plus a soft crumb topping. The Gulabjamun Creme Brulee may not have the characteristic burnt sugar crust to break though on top, but it has that deep vanilla and caramel sweetness of classic creme brulee. Plus it comes with a gulabjamun, a soft cake-like ball made of milk solids and flour, then doused in sugar syrup. The Motichoor Rabdi Trifle is redolent of cardamom and pistachio. Its creamy base has sweet, fried little chickpea flour balls crumbled in it, giving it a slightly grainy texture. There’s a larger chickpea ball hidden within, too, which provides a second sweet surprise.
Pro Tip: If you have picky eaters, there’s a whole DIY section for tacos, bowls and wraps, in which diners can choose exactly what kind of flatbread, rice, salad greens, protein, sauce, and garnishes they desire in their order. There’s even a Family Pack ($85) that lets you choose two starters, two DIY entrees, a kid’s meal, and two desserts.