Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - July 6, 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 unusual 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 in Mountain View, 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 more than 100 regional files from national and international food scenes.

Hauser 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 downtown in 1980, when he said the area was in decline because retail businesses were hurt by 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 up from around 40, and that Mountain View has become a destination for foodies.

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 kept livestock, brewed beer and roasted coffee beans to make espresso.

Hauser said his father's army service in Korea in the '40s helped broaden his culinary horizons. And Hauser became passionate about food while traveling through Europe in high school. "I noticed the incredible range of food, which I had no idea about from the U.S. perspective."

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. He said a misconception that the area is dominated by Asian restaurants is rooted partly 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 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.

Hauser respects stubbornness even when it comes at his own expense. He recalls asking 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 ... 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?'"

For diners trying to know restaurants on a deeper level, Hauser says: visit multiple times; if you're on a budget go for lunch; and talk to the owners, cooks and servers. He said they appreciate customers who show interest. "They are trying to make people happy; they are not just trying to make a living."

Instead of ordering off the menu, Hauser will sometimes ask the cooks to choose 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."

Info: For restaurant updates, go to omvna.org and click on "Restaurant."

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