Last night, I happened to be back in Santa Clara on business and needed a decent place for dinner, ahead of a big customer meeting the following morning. We decided on Parcel 104, partly because we had heard good things about the restaurant, and also because it was only a mile from our hotel.
Parcel 104 is Bradley Ogden's place (with Executive Chef Bart Hosmer), located at the Marriott Santa Clara. The entire restaurant is built around the concept of fresh, local ingredients. To uphold this philosophy, Parcel 104 changes their menu daily. That's the entire menu, not just the specials. Additionally, the wine list is managed by Master Sommelier Randall Bertao (there are only 124 master sommelier's in the entire world).
We arrived a few minutes ahead of our 7:45 reservation, so we decided to have a drink at the bar while we waited for our table. The drink menu was fairly extensive, with a number of signature martinis. I decided to go with the "Paint the Town Brown", a chocolate martini made with Hershey's syrup, Godiva dark chocolate liqueur, cream, and creme de cacao. It was pretty tasty, although not quite as smooth as other chocolate martinis I've had. It wasn't long until our table was ready.
There were several options on the menu worth noting. Options included ordering à la carte, a three course dinner (appetizer, entree, sweet course), a vegetarian tasting menu, or the chef's indulgence - a six course tasting menu, with or without wine pairings. After agonizing over what to have (there were so many interesting options), we all decided to go with the chef's indulgence with the wine option.
The first course was known as "A Little Bite" and consisted of a small espresso cup filled with corn bisque. This was served with a glass of Iron Horse Blanc de Blanc, 1998. The sweetness of the corn bisque was nicely balanced by the dryness of the sparkling wine.
Next up were Alaskan Halibut cheeks served with a green olive-molinari "salamitini" and a toy box eggplant "barta". I haven't seen cheeks on most American menus, although they are very popular in Asia. In this case, the Halibut cheeks were firm and sweet. They were paired with a glass of Leitz Riesling Rudesheimer Klosterlay, 2005. The Riesling was very delicate and not at all too sweet for the dish.
The third course consisted of cocoa crusted venison tartare accompanied by a white bean "mash", blueberry compote, and a cumin seed cracker. The tartare consisted of both seared and raw chunks of venison and was absolutely delish. Paired with a Tantara Pinot Noir, 2004, the fruity notes of the wine really stood out.
The main entree of the tasting was a Cedar Springs double lamb chop with Terra Firma Farms charred tomato sauce and caramelized fennel mashed potatoes, The lamb was done rare and had a nice meaty taste without even a hint of gamey flavor, as can be the case with lamb. I really enjoyed the mashed potatoes. The caramelized fennel added sweetness with just enough bite to make them interesting. The wine pairing, a Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, 2002 was well balanced and stood up to the strong flavor of the meat.
After the lamb came a small plate with a piece of "Rouge et Noir" Camembert from Marin Cheese, a piece of toasted walnut-currant bread, a few almonds, and a fresh sliced fig. The cheese was good, but what really stood out was how nicely it went with the Sauternes it was served with - Castelnau de Suduiraut, 2001.
By the time the final dessert course, a Gran Marnier creme brulee arrived, we were all completely stuffed. Somehow, though, we managed to make our way through it. The crust was golden brown and perfectly crisped while the inside was nice and velvety smooth, thanks no doubt to pastry chef Carlos Sanchez. The final wine pairing was a late harvest wine from Dolce. They only produce a single wine and as such label the bottle simply "Dolce". The vintage we had was 2004. It was very sweet, like the Sauternes, but more concentrated. It lived up to the "liquid gold" moniker it's also know by.
A few other points about our experience worth noting. First, our waiter Rusty was excellent. It's been a long time since I've had a waiter as knowledgeable, courteous, and friendly as Rusty. He was very passionate about the restaurant and what it serves, and it really showed - all without even the slightest hint of condescension. The second point has to do with pace. Our dinner was nice and leisurely - something that doesn't happen often enough in American restaurants. If there's one thing I hate, it's feeling like I'm being rushed through dinner just so the restaurant can turn another table.
Overall, our dinner at Parcel 104 turned out to be fantastic. It was pricey for sure, but when you consider the wide variety of items we were able to sample, the expert wine pairings, and the prompt and knowledgeable service, it's definitely worth a visit.