Mountain View Voice

Eating Out - August 20, 2010

First & Main: A Clean, Well-Lighted Place for Sports

First & Main Sports Lounge scores points in Los Altos

by Monica Hayde Schreiber

If I were to open a sports bar (and restaurant) in downtown Los Altos, and I wanted to appeal to as broad a clientele as possible, I would make the place clean and airy. (No peanut-strewn, beer-sticky floors in this town.) I'd offer the requisite pub grub, but would mix it up with some seared ahi, salads and the like. I'd offer a nice wine list, some good single malts, and a couple of unusual brews on tap. There would be flat-screen TVs all around, a comfortable bar, and even a kids menu.

Given the location, I might give in to the temptation to price things a bit too high. However, to the infinite appreciation of many in Los Altos, I'd stay open late — maybe even until 11:30 p.m.!

Basically, I'd probably do a lot of what First & Main Sports Lounge's four owners have been doing since opening in 2008. It could be said that a restaurant/bar that appeals to such a wide audience ends up with something of an identity crisis, but this clean, well-lighted place to eat, drink and watch the game manages to work. Devotees of, say, the Old Pro, are going to find First & Main a little on the bright and sterile side. (You may find yourself subconsciously humming the theme song to Cheers.)

First & Main is in the historic Coleman building at the end of downtown, near Foothill Expressway. It is a casual, sometimes pleasantly noisy place where you might see your kids' soccer coach sharing a pitcher of Blue Moon ale with the guys or some of the neighborhood moms enjoying a BBQ chicken salad at the bar. Local sports personalities sometimes drop by for a meet-and-greet.

Incarnating a sports bar, family eatery, and neighborhood joint does lead to some uneven culinary and atmospheric results, but there's no denying that First & Main succeeds in the primary mission of any similar establishment: It offers a welcoming place to watch the game, with a good, long happy hour — $5 premium spirits from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and $5 "bar bites" (potato skins, sliders, etc.) from 3 to 6 p.m.

The beer selection ranges from your basic brews (Coors Light, Sierra Nevada) to Duvel Green, a Belgian beer not often found on tap in these parts. First & Main also offers three local beers from Belmont's Devil's Canyon Brewing Company. Bottles of wine range from $25 to $90.

I found the edible offerings a bit uneven. Many dishes scored well, but a few had us crying foul. Entrees are in the $10 to $13 range at lunch and slide up to $13 to $20 at dinner. That's high enough in the pricing strata to inspire some quibbles if things are not quite right.

A sports bar has to hit a home run with its French fries. It just has to. First & Main's cardboard-y fries should be benched for life. They are dry, lifeless and taste faintly of the freezer. Seriously, guys. This is an easy fix. Ditch the purveyor of frozen spuds.

I'm not sure whether to accuse the calamari appetizer ($7.95 lunch; $9.95 dinner) of having a similar provenance. But if I had to make a bet, I'd say the little squids also did some hard time in the freezer. Still, they were tasty enough. The serving was on the small side.

The grilled steak sandwich ($13.94 lunch; $14.95 dinner) was a winner. It was served on a soft ciabatta roll and slathered with rosemary aioli and grilled onions. Delicious. I ordered the steak medium rare, and while the slices that arrived on my sandwich were more to the medium-well side of things, it didn't much matter. The meat was tender and flavorful.

The spaghetti Bolognese ($11.95 lunch; $13.95 dinner) was a surprise. I didn't expect sports-bar spaghetti to be anything special. (I usually avoid pasta outside of Italian restaurants, but my daughter won't miss any opportunity to order it.) I ended up stealing half her portion. The chunky, meaty sauce was slightly piquant and full of savory flavors. The spaghetti was firm and seemed freshly prepared.

We weren't quite so pleased with another admittedly risky order: the matzo ball soup ($6.95), one of that evening's three soup specials. Six or seven small, chewy matzo balls floated in a rather paltry bowl of salty, dark broth. Also on the small side was my husband's ahi tuna salad ($12.95 lunch; $13.95 dinner). The fish was nicely seared with a rim of crusty spices, the organic greens were fresh, and the ginger soy dressing hit the right notes, but the salad's lack of heft just didn't seem to justify the price.

We were both happier going old school and digging into one of the newest items on the menu, a crispy iceberg lettuce wedge with blue cheese dressing and bacon ($7.95 lunch; $9.95 dinner). Another high scorer was the ridiculously decadent "molten mac and cheese" ($11.95 lunch; $14.95 dinner), made with brie, gruyere, fontina and aged cheddar. Bring the lactose pills and forget the diet. It is worth it.

First & Main offers an extensive children's menu with 10 selections (sliders, penne with butter, grilled cheese, chicken strips, etc.) for $5 each.

We sampled two desserts ($8), a bread pudding and a chocolate mousse. The mouse was too heavy and creamy, but the cinnamon-y bread pudding was generous, not too sweet, and just right for sharing.

First & Main owners Robert Peters, Debbie and Tony Villa, and Raymond Macalisang, have created a fun, convivial place to hang out in Los Altos. Kudos to them for bringing the town not just its only sports bar, but a welcoming neighborhood gathering spot. If they upgrade the French fries and could make some of the portion sizes commensurate with the prices, First & Main will score even higher.

First & Main Sports Lounge

397 Main Street, Los Altos

650-949-1380

Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

(Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner until 9:30 p.m.)

Opens at 8:30 a.m. on most football Sundays

Reservations: Groups larger than 15 only

Website: Yes

Credit cards: Yes

Parking: No

Alcohol: Full bar

Highchairs: Yes

Catering: Yes

Take-out: Yes

Outdoor dining: No

Party facilities: Yes

Noise level: High

Bathroom cleanliness: Excellent

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