Now you're talking
Cascal's exciting Latin food and festive ambiance speak a common language
Who wouldn't want to open a restaurant like Mountain View's Cascal — vibrant Latin dishes from both sides of the Atlantic, loads of tapas, fresh seafood, fork-tender meats, terrific desserts, a colorful and energetic ambiance, effervescent bar scene, great service, a worthy wine list and prices that keep customers flocking back.
Opened in 2003, Cascal was the brainchild of Don Durante, a Peninsula restaurant veteran, who, for over 30 years, has been involved with everything from steakhouses to fine French dining. Cascal is the zenith of that experience.
Some years back, he noted that his kitchen crews were mostly Hispanic and employee meals were colorful, tasty, simply prepared and delicious. He dreamed of someday opening a restaurant that showcased the history, knowledge and expertise of his Latin staff.
It took two years of research for Durante to pull the concept together, culminating in the Castro Street location. "I liked Mountain View because it was multi-ethnic — filled with people who would appreciate the food," said Durante.
"The space had a European flair, lots of glass, high ceilings, set back from the street with room for an outdoor patio. And Castro street had a great downtown vibe to it," he added.
The decor is festive — even the dishes are flamboyant oranges, reds, blues, yellows and greens. The bare wood tabletops are highlighted with bright hued linens. Overhead are slow rotating ceiling fans. The walls are painted lime green, spicy pumpkin, vermilion red, maize yellow and ocean turquoise.
Soon after being shown to our table, a plate of house-made pan bread was delivered. The bread resembled focaccia but was crustier and denser. The accompanying dipping sauce of olive oil, lime juice, green onion, parsley, cilantro, garlic, cumin, mint and likely a half dozen other ingredients was so tantalizing, it took serious willpower not to make a meal of just bread and oil.
Cascal's Spanish tapas sampler ($23) was terrific in variety, quality and price. There were at least two morsels of everything — seafood, salads, meats, dates and tapenades — on the platter. A complete meal was washed down with a pitcher of white sangria ($15) and we departed happy as larks.
Tapas bars are numerous in Spain, and in most of its cities revelers move from bar to bar much like a pub crawl. Each tapas bar has a specialty or two: Partiers sip a glass of Tempranillo or cava, say, then move on to the next bar next door. The tapas themselves are little snacks of great variety, generally too time consuming for home preparation. Cascal offers an excellent assortment at a great price.
In addition to tapas, there are other small plate offerings. Roasted chile relleno ($8.50) featured a tantalizing roasted poblano chile with a three-cheese filling accented with a not-too-hot piquillo pepper and goat cheese sauce.
Brazilian moqueca ($8) was a scrumptious fresh Dungeness crab, shrimp, orange, and coconut milk soup. The generous portion was loaded with seafood, the broth lip-smacking good.
Queso fundido ($8.50) was a stringy, warm, Oaxacan cheese and smoked mushroom fondue with grilled poblano chiles. A sheaf of rolled warm corn tortillas accompanied. Beef short rib adobo ($13) was a fork-tender braised beef short rib, accompanied with a crisp red onion-cilantro salad and a delightful fresh corn arepa (corncake).
The potato gratin ($6.50) was silky layers of potatoes, poblano chiles and spices topped with crusty parmesan. The sizzling shrimp ($12.50) were mouth-watering in a bath of olive oil, garlic, piquant chile arbol and fresh lime.
Paella, the famous dish of Valencia, is served in cafes, restaurants and street markets throughout Spain. Cascal has four versions: I tried the Paella Cascal (small $22, large $41). The small platter proved to be huge, loaded with saffron rice, chicken, pork, chorizo sausage, shrimp, mussels, clams, smoked paprika soffritto (garlic, onion, bell peppers), peas and piquillo peppers. The dish was just moist enough, suggestive, slightly spicy, robust and irresistible.
Besides the small plates and tapas, Cascal offers a few larger plates as well. Puerco Cubano en mojo ($21) was marinated (mojo is a Cuban marinade) slow-roasted pork shoulder with velvety Cuban black beans, steamed rice and sweet potato-plantain mash. The pork was so tender it fell apart with my mere gaze.
The mouthwatering wild salmon filet ($24.50), paprika-crusted, was served with a lively roasted tomato black olive relish and sweet potato gnocchi in saffron sauce. The filet was thick, pink and fleshy.
No let down with desserts either. From tres leche cake to spiced bread pudding (both $7.50) to the pumpkin cheesecake ($7.75), all are fresh, unusual and sublime.
There is live Latin music on weekends, but the place is packed every day of the week, lunch and dinner. General manager Brad Bailey keeps the front of the house running like clock while chef Antonio Flores Lopez and his staff turn out delicious, exciting dishes day in and day out.
400 Castro Street, Mountain View
11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday
11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday
11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday