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April 02, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, April 02, 2004

Food for the soul Food for the soul (April 02, 2004)

Stanford Mall's Oakville Grocery does comfort food

By Jennifer Aquino

Every Sunday, Oakville Grocery Sous Chef Edmundo Hernandez begins the multi-day process of making his grandmother's famous mole sauce for enchiladas. Twenty odd ingredients from sauteed animal crackers to pumpkin seeds to four different chilis are simmered into a rich, cinnamon-colored sauce that fills his shredded chicken enchiladas.

Every aspect of the dish embodies what Oakville Grocery does best: Comfort food made from high-quality, fresh ingredients. It's a place where a person too tired to cook can pick up a warm brie and smoked turkey sandwich, or a host can find ingredients, such as dried juniper berries, or tasty main courses such as Hernandez's enchiladas.

Located next to Max's Opera Cafe in Stanford Mall's Street Market, Oakville Grocery is a bucolic, charming store spun from a successful Napa Valley food chain that started 122 years ago in Oakville.

Like Napa Valley, the cuisine is diverse, with California, Asian, French and Mediterranean persuasions. But the offerings most influenced by the principles of comfort food are developed by the kitchen staff, who often test recipes on their families before introducing them to the case.

Each vegetable in the roasted winter vegetables ($6.95 per pound), a mix of squash, celery, carrots, mushrooms and onions, stands on its own accord -- their earthy flavors subtly infused with sweet thyme and parsley.

The Mediterranean grilled chicken ($12.95 per pound) and the rock shrimp Caesar salad ($9.95) follow the same unfussy principle -- the succulent chicken bears the clean flavors of rosemary and lemon, and the tender rock shrimp shine in a citrus and cilantro seasoning highlighted by crisp romaine.

The main reason Oakville gets away with simple cuisine is its emphasis on high-quality products. They purchase their meats from the renowned Niman Ranch in Marin County and buy the finest cheeses.

You could call most of the dishes at Oakville food for the soul -- they summon the same inner peace as a cup of hot chocolate on a rainy day.

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