Dining Outside At Tasting House
Husband-and-wife, Mike and Denise Thornberry, might seem like an unlikely duo to open a wine bar-restaurant.
He is a senior director at Apple. She was executive vice president of global sales for Beats by Dr. Dre.
Neither has ever owned a restaurant before or even worked in one.
But they must know have a natural knack for it because their Tasting House in Los Gatos, which only opened in January, is already a hit. It garnered “Best Restaurant,” “Best Atmosphere,” and “Best Wine List” in the 2022 Best of Los Gatos list, and scored a “Best of Award of Excellence” this year from Wine Spectator. And when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant last week, the place was packed, even at all the tables on the patio where I dined on a toasty summer night.
Located in what was formerly Cin-Cin Wine Bar & Restaurant, Tasting House sports both a restaurant and an attached gourmet provisions shop.
The store stocks everything you need to put together a meal or party at home, including more than 400 wines by the bottle, artisan chocolates, olive oils, vinegars, mustards, preserves, dried pastas, tinned seafood, and wall-to-wall refrigerator cases brimming with charcuterie, cheeses, caviar, and imported butters.
Equally impressive, the core team for the restaurant are all sommeliers, including Executive Chef Ryan Fillhardt; Chief of Staff Christina Barnett; Bar Manager Curtis Cooke; and Executive Fromager Cesar Olivares.
The restaurant even sponsors four scholarships annually to the San Francisco Wine School.
Equipped with Coravin wine preservation system, the restaurant offers more than 65 wines by 1/2 glass and full glass.
Moreover, every single dish — from appetizer on down to dessert — is listed on the menu with a recommended corresponding glass of wine to pair with it. How nifty is that?
Denise Thornberry likes to describe Tasting House as not a restaurant, but a “wine bar with exceptional food.” The wine list was even developed before the food was.
Chef Fillhardt is a Los Gatos native who cites his time cooking at San Jose’s venerable and now-shuttered Paolo’s, where he cooked under head chef Mark Hopper, formerly of the French Laundry, as a seminal experience.
Almost everything on the menu is easily shared. In fact, the seared ahi tuna crudo ($22) was split into two plates for myself and my dining companion. That meant two rosy tuna slabs apiece that had a big pop of garlic sauce, artichoke tapenade, lemon oil, balsamic and fried capers. That might sound like a lot of stuff, but the adornments were used judiciously so they didn’t overwhelm.
I opted for a glass of the wine that paired with it: a 2018 Jim Barry Assyrtiko from Australia ($24), a Greek varietal that’s similar in taste to Sauvignon Blanc. Indeed, it was crisp and bright with citrus, with an edge of minerality — a perfect choice on a sultry evening.
To offer a contrast, sommelier Cooke came by to offer us a taste of the 2020 Estate Argyros Assyrtiko from Santorini. If the Australian one was more New World, the Greek one was definitely more Old World, with tropical fruit, a fuller body, and greater depth.
Next up was crispy Brussels sprouts ($16) from the grill, which imparted plenty of nice char, smokiness, and crispiness. The sweet-tangy taste from additions of dried cranberries and balsamic was addictive, especially when combined with the crunch of toasted almonds, and creaminess of farmstead cheese.
The restaurant also offers a variety of pinsas, oblong flatbread-like pizzas. The duck confit pinsa ($22) is crowned with tender shards of duck, pesto, balsamic-braised cabbage, Gruyere cheese, white truffle oil, and a drizzle of honey. It was meaty and savory, with a hint of sweetness. The dense crust held all the toppings well, but it lacked flavor, tasting rather one-note compared to a fine, long-fermented pizza crust that you relish digging into with real gusto.
Up next was probably my favorite dish — fried chicken and Belgian waffles ($18). Rather than one large waffle, here the dish is composed of four small tender waffle rounds, each topped with a slice of meaty turkey bacon, a crunchy piece of herby fried chicken, and a pert dill pickle to cut through the richness of everything else. Maple syrup comes on the side to add on as you wish. The dish is super cute looking and so much fun to eat.
Beef Wellington ($32) is not an easy dish to get right when you want the pastry crust exterior crisp but don’t want to overcook the beef inside. They get it right here in what is a big golden ball of pastry that arrives with caramelized mushrooms and onions off to the side rather than stuffed inside. For even more richness, a wedge of brie melts atop the Wellington, and an intense red wine demi glace finishes the dish.
Slice through the crisp puff pasty and into the Wellington, and you’ll find the meat still nicely rosy inside and plenty juicy. You definitely want a red wine to accompany this, and the suggested 2015 Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, “Josephine de Boyd” Bordeaux Blend from France has the deep berry notes and structured tannins to stand up to it.
For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the beignets ($12), which come in a pair, and are fried to order, arriving finger-pinching hot. They are impressively puffy and fluffy, and served with a trio of sauces: a thick chocolate-hazelnut, a vibrant raspberry coulis, and a delightful espresso anglaise.
Haven’t yet visited Tasting House? Come take a taste — and a sip — of a fine new addition to the South Bay.