Fleming is regarded as one of the brightest restaurant concept developers in America and has won the Nation's Restaurant Group "Hot Concept" Award three times. While his creations have been financial winners, none of them appeal to the foodie in me.
I had my fingers crossed, hoping Paul Martin's in Mountain View wasn't another P.F. Chang's, wasn't another Fleming's and wasn't another glitzy oversized eat house. I wasn't disappointed.
The food was uniformly flavorful, the portions generous, the service excellent. The prices were not outlandish and the decor was smart and contemporary without being ostentatious. At capacity, the restaurant seats 170 and another 50 on the patio. Big, but not cavernous, and presentation details were noteworthy at every level.
Opened in early December in the reconstituted San Antonio Shopping Center, there are a half-dozen other Paul Martin's around the state and one in Arizona. The place was jammed on the three weekday evenings I visited. Fortunately, I had reservations and I highly recommend you do the same.
The interior decor was warmed with woods and a polished floor. There were both booths and tables and the space was broken into two dining areas. There were a dozen stools at the bar and community seating for another twenty adjacent. Wood blinds dimmed the busy outside world.
Paul Martin's seemed to have a menu to fit every possibility — lunch, dinner, dessert, wine, cocktails, beer, bar food, prime rib Sundays, wine night Mondays, fried chicken Tuesdays, and soon, Sunday brunch. Yet none of the menus were overly lengthy, which allowed the kitchen to focus on about 30 items plus a few sides and desserts.
There were soups and salads, of which the baby kale caesar salad ($8) with house-made croutons, Parmesan cheese, white anchovies and house-made dressing was fashionably good.
Many of the appetizers were meant to be shared. Spinach dip ($14), for instance, was a hot oval baking dish filled with Bloomsdale spinach, aged white cheddar cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes. A stack of toasted, buttered French bread accompanied it. It was hot and gooey with enough for two to four people to share.
The jumbo wild shrimp cocktail ($19) had five of the meatiest prawns I'd ever seen, served on an oversized tray of ice with a properly piquant and tomato-y cocktail sauce topped with fresh grated horseradish.
The crisp Town Dock calamari ($13) had been buttermilk battered and served with chili aioli and house cocktail sauces. The salt-and-pepper wild prawns ($17), served on a plank, were also buttermilk battered and served with pesto aioli. Both dishes fired the appetite.
My favorite starter was the mesquite-grilled Castroville artichoke ($12), with pesto aioli. The tender 'choke was buttery and lemony with smoky flavors.
The mouthwatering salmon tacos ($17), also from the mesquite grill, featured handmade flour tortillas, a squiggle of chili aioli, blistered tomatoes, arugula and pickled onion.
Tender marinated skirt steak ($24) with roasted maple-bourbon sweet potatoes, and a pile of arugula was cooked exactly as ordered though it was hard to detect any maple-bourbon on the potatoes. The meat was fork-tender.
The hoisin-marinated double-cut pork chop ($26) came with sautéed Brussels sprouts dressed with a warm bacon vinaigrette. Honeyed scents of the hoisin sauce wafted upward, leaving pleasant memories both pungent and slightly sweet.
Grilled salmon ($23) with Meyer lemon vinaigrette, chilled quinoa and bulgur wheat salad was healthy and hearty. The free-range brick chicken ($21), a half of a flattened chicken, would have been healthy without the mountain of mashed potatoes and herb jus that accompanied — not that anyone forced me to eat it.
Desserts were not for dieters. The banana cream pie had layers of vanilla bean pastry cream, chocolate, bananas and whipped cream. Don't even think about the calories. Oh, but it was worth it.
The chocolate devil's food cake had three layers of rich creamy ganache made from Cordillera Colombian chocolate. The plate was garnished with sour dark amarena cherries and whipped cream.
The pear-huckleberry crisp had a crumbly golden topping of oats, walnuts and brown sugar. It was served warm with fresh pears and vanilla bean ice cream. All desserts were $9.
The wine list had a good selection of boutique wineries, most from the West Coast, but included some well-priced choices from abroad. Most wines were available by the glass ($9-$24 for a 7 oz. pour).
Despite initial misgivings, Paul Martin's American Grill was worth seeking out. I had no complaints and the $5 valet service made parking in the busy area easy. I was seated on time with my reservation. Otherwise, waits could have been lengthy.
Paul Martin's American Grill
545 San Antonio Rd.
Lunch daily, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner Mon.-Thurs., 3 p.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 3 p.m.-11 p.m., Sundays 3 p.m.-9 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Parking: lot and valet ($5)
Alcohol: full bar
Outdoor dining: yes
Private parties: yes
Noise level: loud
Bathroom cleanliness: excellent