The vast space at 401 Castro has been three restaurants in three years. But according to a knowledgeable-sounding contributor on chowhound.com, Scratch is Mountain View's 100th restaurant, up from 70 in 2005. Which is pretty remarkable, considering the economic turmoil since 2005. If anyone can make a large new restaurant work, it is Rob Fischer, owner of two big successes in downtown Palo Alto: Reposado and Palo Alto Creamery.
Two big rooms radiate from the glamorous centerpiece bar. Veer right around the bar to reach the reception desk, where you will see four venues for dining. Next to the bar are tall, family-style tables, good for groups. Beyond that, a large area with banquettes and four-tops feels more coffee shop than white napkin, except for the whole wall of wine bottles. Singles and foodies might like to sit at the counter where you can watch the kitchen action. For most occasions, the comfortable, high-backed booths straight-ahead would be my choice. The only issue there is the tables are long, meaning you may need to help pass plates.
The menu features updated American comfort food. In keeping with that, Scratch's extensive wine list is all-American, mainly small California producers, but with lots of European varietals like dolcetto and barbera. Beer and liquor are almost all American craft brewers and small-batch distilleries.
There are lots of good choices by the glass. When we inquired, the wine guy came to consult. He brought me a dolcetto, noting approvingly, "My favorite." My companion asked, "Oh this isn't your favorite?" Ah yes, he answered, "It's even more my favorite!"
Scratch is not a well-oiled machine. There are a lot of people in neckties and white shirts, but many seem to be in training. They may disappear or be too attentive. Still, you can tell that their intentions are good.
Fresh bread, sweet butter and a carafe of water come right away, and are refilled often.
Whether you're on a date or out with family, the one-page menu has something for everyone, all the better for assembling a bunch of small plates. Entrees are large, but except for the succulent short ribs bourguignon ($26), disappointing. Shrimp ravioli ($23) were salty. A huge pork chop ($26) was OK, but the best part was the bed of Brussels sprouts absorbing cider sauce with pecans and bacon. A lot of attention is paid to side dishes with the entrees. The beef ribs come with celery root puree, applewood bacon and portobello mushrooms.
Brussels sprouts also come as a side dish ($7).
Creamed spinach ($8) and macaroni and cheese ($8) are very rich and very good. One of them with a tuna nicoise salad ($12) makes a lovely meal.
The signature pizza ($11) was a mess. The thin, bland crust is splattered unevenly with diced pancetta, butternut squash, sage and arugula, all of which are completely overpowered by blue cheese.
The mussel appetizer ($9) is nine small but perfect PEI mussels steamed in a creamy white wine broth with shallots, garlic and carrots. The dish is topped with a ton of French fries, which get soggy if you don't pluck them off. On the other hand, they make a tasty, if very filling, chowder.
If you're a pork-eater, the bourbon-glazed pork belly ($11) appetizer is a must.
Scratch is all about American classics, which so far don't include a lot of vegetarian options. Pork shows up often.
Desserts (all $7) are human-size. Warm lava cake is more ooze than cake, with a couple of blackberries, vanilla gelato, a tiny chocolate tuile cookie, and a useless swirl of caramel. For a comfort everyone can spoon into, there's always room for butterscotch pudding.
410 Castro St., Mountain View. (650) 237-3131 or 3132
Hours: Lunch Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Happy hour 4-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Dinner Monday-Thursday 4-10 p.m., Saturday 4-11 p.m., Sunday 5-9 p.m.