An itch for comfort food | March 4, 2011 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

Eating Out - March 4, 2011

An itch for comfort food

Scratch in downtown Mountain View serves up uneven American classics

by Sheila Himmel

The new restaurant called Scratch seats 270 people under the same high ceiling and mostly in view of each other. Despite its size, Scratch succeeds in providing comfort. It could be the one to break the curse of this corner of California and Castro streets.

The vast space at 401 Castro has been three restaurants in three years. But according to a knowledgeable-sounding contributor on, 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.


Posted by A. Reader, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 5, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Thanks for the review. Please review China Wok (2633 California Street) next time. And maybe revisit Sufi Coffee Shop since they have apparently taken down their signs since your last review.

Posted by Observer, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 5, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Another very odd review/hack job that slams the restaurant and much of the service and food ("scratch is not a well-oiled machine," "entrees are large, but... 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." [As if someone is going to run down town to have brussel sprouts!?!], "The signature pizza ($11) was a mess.")

Again, it's funny how this paper reserves some of its harshest and biting criticisms for local privately-owned restaurants that employ people at rock-bottom wages and provide the city much needed tax revenue, but directs very little genuine detailed criticism for the city and school districts' policies, finances, and very generous public employee salaries and benefit packages which are draining the city of taxpayer dollars!

Welcome to Mountain View!

Posted by reader, a resident of Waverly Park
on Mar 7, 2011 at 11:27 am

Agree with Observer, another odd and predictably negative restaurant review from the Voice.

Why in their right mind would a writer for the local newspaper trash a brand new restaurant, especially one located at this apparently cursed location?! Just say what was good about the place, and acknowledge that any new restaurant of course has a few rough spots to smooth out.

This article isn't even written very well, kind of rambling and incoherent, and then it just kind of ends, without an ending.

Your readers would appreciate better writing and reviews that are more supportive of local businesses.

Posted by A. Reader, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 11, 2011 at 11:32 pm

I totally agree with Sheila Himmel. She is a very professional and knowledgeable restaurant critic with a unique writing style. Her review of Sufi Coffee Shop was particularly outstanding!

Posted by "a knowledgeable-sounding contributor", a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 19, 2011 at 3:14 pm

FYI, some more serious and specific feedback about this review now appears on the same Chowhound discussion cited early in the review:

Web Link

After the Zolotars ceased tracking all downtown MV restaurants on an online index (source of the 2005 data that the review mentioned), I have done so, posting the list (now 100 or so) in various places including also Chowhound. Actually the steady growth of downtown MV restaurants has been underway for 20 years, following the big downtown remodeling project. They are the type of business that most often succeeded in replacing the old diverse population of small-town businesses that failed, as local history records, due to mall competition in the 1970s and 80s, leading to closed storefronts and eventually to the downtown remodeling/renewal. I have a separate list of the 25 or so restaurants that have closed during the same period.

Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm

What are you people talking about? The review is FAR too easy on the poor service at Scratch! You want a bogus positive review of a restaurant because they're LOCAL? Idiotic.

I went to Reposado (same ownership) weeks after it opened, and found the service to be just fine. Scratch has been open too long to brush off terrible service as opening night problems. If Scratch fails, its not the 'cursed location' but poor execution by an ownership group that knows better.

That said, I find this review poorly written. The paragraph about the "wine guy" (a phrase often used by food critics. Not.) for example makes litle sense.