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Mervyn's in Mountain View, now serving ramen burgers

Uploaded: Aug 13, 2015
Longtime downtown Mountain View dive bar Mervyn's Lounge, which since the 1960s has been run in the back several iterations of restaurants at 236 Castro St., is now part of a new front-of-the-house operation called J Love Burger.

Ruddy Wang's family took over the Castro Street space in the 1990s to open Chef Liu, with Mervyn's Lounge continuing independently in the back, per this detailed history from local restaurant watchdog Max Hauser. Chef Liu closed last summer and the Wang family took over Mervyn's Lounge.

Now, a new restaurant is open in the front, serving up Japanese-style burgers and bar snacks. Wang said the idea was to maintain the Mervyn's Lounge history, but spice things up in the kitchen.

"Mervyn's has always been known as a dive bar ? we're trying to differentiate ourselves among the other competitors on our street, (do) something that nobody else really has," he said.

At J Love, you can create your own burger. Patty choices include menchikatsu, a homemade blend of ground beef and pork pate with tonkatsu sauce and sliced cabbage, "deep fried till best condition" ($9.95); the same patty blend but with homemade meat sauce ($10.95); "kinpira beggie," chopped burdock root and carrot cooked in a sweet soy sauce ($10.95); fried fish filet with tartar sauce ($11.95); yakiniku, grilled beef with grilled onion ($11.95); and BBQ ginger pork with grilled onion ($11.95). Go for a brioche, rice (extra $1) or ramen-noodle bun (extra $1.50). All buns are stamped on the top with the letter "J" inside a heart. Toppings are $1 each and include avocado, cheese, a sunny side-up egg or sliced tomato.

Snacks include onion rings ($4.95), fish and chips ($10.95), chicken tenders ($9.95), shrimp fries ($10.95), agetako (deep-fried Japanese teriyaki ball), sweet potato fries ($4.95) and anchovy fries ($6.95).

Salads range from $6.95 to $9.95 and include the J Love salad (lettuce, avocado, croutons, parmesan cheese and tomato in a wasabi-mayo dressing), tofu salad (cold tofu, lettuce, sliced seaweed, tomato in a Japanese-style spicy sauce) and fried chicken salad (deep-fried boneless chicken with parmesan cheese, romaine lettuce, seaweed and tomato in a wasabi mayo dressing).

Go for lunch and snag a deal: $9.95 for a burger, fries, salad and drink.

"Our backbone has always been known as Mervyn's bar," Wang said. "(It has a) very long history. We wanted to keep it intact ? just a little bit of an extra twist in the front."
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 13, 2015 at 4:53 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

The naming aspect is complex, confusing, and maybe still in flux.

Although younger folks and newcomers may not know this, for about 30 of the last 50 years Mervyn's "Fine Foods" ("Delightful Dining . . . and Cocktails") was a famous downtown-MV restaurant and gathering place at this address. Mervyn's "Lounge" at the back -- still open -- was the restaurant's bar. So "Mervyn's" was a venerable restaurant and bar both.

In July 2014, Ruddy Wang told me (and I posted online) that his plan was to restore the old Mervyn's name up front, honoring the restaurant's history, and to add a new front bar to it. The food menu would be modern and casual, emphasizing "small plates." The preliminary menu he showed me included slider sandwiches, potato specialties (sweet-potato "tater tots?"), and "street tacos."

When the new restaurant opened this year, the menu vision had evolved to these Japanese or "J-Love" burgers (a huge improvement over the 2014 menu plan-- I've tried most of them including vegetarian, and all of the "bun" options -- brioche, ramen, and rice -- I think the kitchen is great, it offers something delightful and unique at attractive prices). The new 2015 employees were buzzing about the J-Love hamburgers when I first visited, but none of them seemed aware of the local significance of "Mervyn's" as a restaurant (not just bar) name. Ruddy also told me that currently, both bars (original Lounge in rear and the new one in front) record as one department in the point-of-sale computer, while the burger kitchen shows as a separate department called "J-Love Burger."

I don't know who precisely introduced this "J-Love" language -- an impression comes across almost as if this is a subcontractor or restaurant tenant, who arrived unaware of the "Mervyn's" legacy. Yet Ruddy has stressed to me that he uses the name "Mervyn's" for the whole operation. The business card says "Mervyn's Lounge & Restaurant." So that's how I refer it.

I took Ruddy to a nearby business displaying a framed print of a 1980s cartoonist's map of Mountain View. Mervyn's restaurant is one of the few downtown landmarks visible. (Ruddy said he intended to order copies to display in the new business).

Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 14, 2015 at 10:37 am

Max Hauser is a registered user.

More on the menu and specialties.

A neighbor and fellow enthusiastic customer of this new restaurant gave me insight on the Japanese menu terms. (She happens to be a U.-of-Chicago-trained linguist with special expertise on word "borrowing" into Japanese.)

Many of those Japanese menu words are actually English, by way of Japanese.

"Katsu" came from the English word "cutlet" (in Japan, typically a pork cutlet). The Japanese version adapted the syllables of "cutlet" to "katsu-retsu." (English 'l' becomes 'r' and a final 't' turns into 'tsu'.) When she lived in Japan years ago, my neighbor said, the Tokyo restaurant habit of casually abbreviating food names ("katsu-retsu" simplified to just "katsu") was "frowned on" in Kyoto, but it has migrated to US Japanese-restaurant menus today, where cutlets are commonly "katsu," not the formal "katsu-retsu."

"Menchi" (as in "menchikatsu") is a longtime borrowed word for "mince" (in British English, I'll add here, "mince" is an everyday word for ground meat). So menchikatsu is a ground-meat cutlet.

Kinpira is a famous Japaness vegetable preparation of delicately braised burdock root and carrot. I can attest it makes a superb vegetarian sandwich filling at this restaurant, with the flavorings and garnishes the kitchen adds (though it's not solid like a typical "burger"). "Veggie" (pronounced like "edgy") is another bit of English absorbed into Japanese (normally transcribed there as "beji"); on this menu it shows up as "Kinpira beggie burger."

As a $10 lunch special, you get your choice of "burger" and "bun" combination, a choice of fries (including sweet-potato fries), and a small salad (I strongly prefer the "tofu" salad, which is interestingly seasoned with a touch of hot oil. I think all of the "burgers" are worth trying, and different ones tend to go best with different "bun" choices (the updated menu helpfully points out recommended combinations).

Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Aug 15, 2015 at 4:21 pm

It's probably just me, but when I see the name "Mervyn's" I think of a department store.

Boy, do I feel old...

Posted by DC, a resident of Sylvan Park,
on Aug 15, 2015 at 11:24 pm

when I see the name "Mervyn's" I think of a department store. Ha me too... That stores been empty for a while

Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 16, 2015 at 10:03 am

Max Hauser is a registered user.

"Boy, do I feel old..."

Not all THAT old: The restaurant and lounge predated the department-store chain (which arrived, when, 1980? -- when Mervyn's restaurant was already thriving). So, true old-timer locals will remember thinking "this store reminds me of our downtown restaurant!"

The lounge and restaurant out-lasted the chain store, too.

Posted by Agenda, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 16, 2015 at 1:54 pm

I ate there Friday evening. While the food was good, it is way overpriced. I had the menchikatsu on a ramen bun, anchovy fries and a bottle of Japanese soda. The main course was very good but small in size. Fires were very good.
Total with tip came to over $26. Good but pricey

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