Familiar food, liberal libations
Gordon Biersch in Palo Alto still rocks despite uneven kitchen and waitstaff
Dan Gordon and Dean Biersch founded their eponymous brew pub restaurant chain in 1988, on the site of what was once Palo Alto's Rialto Theater.
The space has a sky-high ceiling, lots of glass in the front, sturdy wood tables and chairs and is sectioned off creating several smaller dining spaces. The bar area, replete with jumbo TV screens, dominates the rear of the building.
Gordon Biersch is now a chain of 38 eateries scattered across the U.S., situated wherever throngs of young people hang out. Messrs. Gordon and Biersch are long gone. The restaurants are now operated by Big Rivers Brewery of Chattanooga, Tenn. The brewery operation is owned by a billionaire from Las Vegas. So much for the local connection.
Ownership doesn't stand in the way of having a good time though, and that's what Gordon Biersch is all about, from Happy Hour to Monday night broadcasts of Inside Stanford Sports. It's a vibrant restaurant early in the evening, segueing to pulsing bar scene as the night unfolds.
The menu is huge, with over 100 items counting sides and daily specials. It's a big assignment for any kitchen to turn out perfect orders with regularity, even given the relative simplicity of the dishes. Indeed, the unevenness of the food was palpable, from visit to visit and course to course.
Crispy artichoke hearts ($9.50) were a great way to start any meal. The crispy 'chokes were topped with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, as good as any I've had in Castroville. Alas, the lemon aioli dipping sauce was lifeless.
The Kobe sliders ($11.95) were terrific. Three tender Kobe beef mini-burgers were sandwiched between tender house-made rolls with a slice of kosher dill pickle and mustard sauce. Served with fried onion strings, it was a meal itself.
Southwest egg rolls ($9.25) were bursting with flavor. Pulled chicken, black beans, corn, roasted red peppers and pepper jack cheese were stuffed inside crisp wrappers. The roasted jalapeno ranch dipping sauce was piquant enough to energize the egg rolls without scorching the tongue.
Chicken wings ($8.95) glazed with sweet chili and ginger was the perfect appetizer, enough tang to awaken the taste buds but not too big a portion to subdue the appetite.
The signature Gordon Biersch garlic fries ($5.95) were as tasty as ever, with the garlic much in evidence yet not overpowering the crisp fries.
The cedar plank pecan crusted salmon ($20.95) was a disaster. Cedar is supposed to infuse the fish with a delicate smoky flavor. There was flavor to the dish alright, although smoky is not an adjective I would use. The honey pecan crust was at odds with whatever the wood flavor was. The result was a most unappealing entree.
Further, the salmon couldn't have been grilled for more than a half minute, it was absolutely raw just under the pecan crust. Unhappily, my waitress was nowhere around. Despite my frequent protestations about waitstaff constantly haranguing patrons about the quality of each dish, this was one instance when I wished the server had been more attentive. When she finally showed and offered to have the dish remade, we were finished eating. She did take it off the bill though.
Which brings me to overall service issues which were generally too fast or too slow. Several times, appetizer plates were collected just as the entrees arrived. Or it took an inordinate amount of time for the dessert to come, or fresh utensils, or the check.
There are half a dozen mellow Gordon Biersch beers on tap, plus other labels. The wine list is good and fairly priced, with dozens of wines available by the glass. Martinis, margaritas and alcohol-free cocktails rounded out the lengthy libations menu.
Gordon Biersch, the brew pub, has a lot to offer. Gordon Biersch, the restaurant, perhaps has more to offer than the kitchen and waitstaff can handle.
640 Emerson St., Palo Alto
Sunday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m.