A culinary guide to Mountain View | June 8, 2012 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |


Mountain View Voice

Eating Out - June 8, 2012

A culinary guide to Mountain View

Max Hauser devotes himself to the ups and downs of the local restaurant scene

by Bryce Druzin

Mountain View resident Max Hauser has spent much of his life designing microelectronics. But the entrepreneurs he most admires aren't techies, but restaurateurs.

"These people are risking a lot, restaurants quite often fail," he said. "When they succeed, they often barely succeed."

And while risk is inherent in any small business, Hauser said restaurants add something unique to a community.

"You can bring opportunities and flavors and experiences that people wouldn't have access to otherwise," he said.

Over lunch at Napoletano Pizza, Hauser pulled out his own copy of the restaurant's menu with notes from previous visits. Besides collecting information on local restaurants, he said he has over 100 different regional restaurant files from both national and international food scenes.

Hauser periodically writes restaurant profiles and updates for the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association's newsletter and keeps an up-to-date listing of the more than 90 restaurants in downtown Mountain View.

Hauser began spending time in downtown Mountain View in 1980, a time when he said the area was in decline because retail businesses were hurt by competition from shopping malls.

In 1990 the city refashioned Castro Street, cutting lanes of traffic from four to two and widening sidewalks, which allowed for outdoor seating. Hauser said that since then, the number of restaurants has gone from around 40 to over 90 and Mountain View has become a destination for foodies.

This has led to some frustration when getting together with friends living in other cities.

"I want to go and visit their downtowns and try their restaurants, and they're always telling me 'We should go to Mountain View, you've got more restaurants,'" he said.

Hauser grew up in the 1960s in the East Bay and traces his love of food back to his parents. Homemade food like yogurts, breads and pickles often filled the kitchen. His parents roasted coffee beans to make espresso, kept livestock and brewed beer.

Hauser said his father's army service in Korea in the late 1940s helped broaden his horizons.

"He came back from his military experience with lots of appreciation for other cultures, other foods," he said.

It was while traveling through Europe during high school that Hauser truly became passionate about food.

"I noticed the incredible range of food which I had no idea about from the U.S. perspective, even from parents who were food fanatics," he said.

Using older cultures as a measuring stick, Hauser is enthusiastic about the development of Mountain View and the larger Peninsula food scene.

"That is what is so exciting," he said, "to be in a region that has been evolving the kind of ... interesting, inexpensive, neighborhood dining that is so characteristic of New York or Europe or Hong Kong."

Hauser said Mountain View's defining characteristic is its diversity, with no particular cuisine being represented by more than 12 restaurants. He said a misconception that the area is dominated by Asian restaurants is partly rooted in history.

"Twenty years ago, the surviving restaurants that had been around for a long time, a larger proportion of them were, particularly Chinese, but East Asian in general," he said.

Hauser has a special admiration for restaurateurs with an unwillingness to compromise, even if it means potentially disappointing a customer.

One such person is Costas Eleftheriadis, owner of Napoletano Pizza, whom Hauser congratulated for refusing a substitution request from a friend during a previous visit.

"It has to be how it has to be," Eleftheriadis said, explaining the Neapolitan pizzas he makes must follow certain guidelines.

Hauser respects stubbornness even when it comes at his own expense, recalling when he asked the late Mountain View restaurateur Sue Sista if she could make a vindaloo dish more mild.

"She got them to up the spices from the usual version, and I was having lunch with a co-worker and I was almost in tears from the pain," he said. "And she comes back with this gleam in her eye and says, 'Is the vindaloo mild enough for you?'"

Hauser has a number of suggestions for diners who are trying to get to know restaurants on a deeper level: visit multiple times; if you're on a budget go for lunch; and talk to the owners, cooks and servers. He said they usually appreciate customers who show interest.

"I get the most amazing perspective," he said. "They are trying to make people happy, they are not just trying to make a living. The good ones ... they take pride in what they do."

Instead of ordering off the menu, Hauser will sometimes ask the cooks to choose some dishes for him.

"By and large they just love that, because it means someone is there to appreciate their craft," he said. "It's not just somebody who's going to have a conversation and ignore their food."


To see profiles and updates on local restaurants, go to www.omvna.org and click on "Restaurant."


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