Not just another chain restaurant | News | Palo Alto Online |


Not just another chain restaurant

Unexpectedly good food and attention to details at Paul Martin's American Grill

Paul Martin's American Grill in Mountain View has pedigree along with serious money and know-how behind it.

Co-founder Paul Fleming was also a founding partner of the Fleming's steakhouse chain, P.F. Chang's (which was sold in 2012 for $1.1 billion), Ruth's Chris Steakhouses and others. Fleming's partner in this venture is Brian Bennett, another skilled restaurateur.

Fleming is regarded as one of the brightest restaurant concept developers in America and has won the Nation's Restaurant Group "Hot Concept" Award three times. While his creations have been financial winners, none of them appeal to the foodie in me.

I had my fingers crossed, hoping Paul Martin's in Mountain View wasn't another P.F. Chang's, wasn't another Fleming's and wasn't another glitzy oversized eat house. I wasn't disappointed.

The food was uniformly flavorful, the portions generous, the service excellent. The prices were not outlandish, and the decor was smart and contemporary without being ostentatious. At capacity, the restaurant seats 170 and another 50 on the patio. Big, but not cavernous, and presentation details were noteworthy at every level.

Opened early December in Mountain View's reconstituted San Antonio Shopping Center, there are a half-dozen other Paul Martin's around the state and one in Arizona. The place was jammed on the three weekday evenings I visited. Fortunately, I had reservations, and I highly recommend you do the same.

The interior decor was warmed with woods and a polished floor. There were both booths and tables, and the space was broken into two dining areas. There were a dozen stools at the bar and community seating for another 20 adjacent. Wood blinds dimmed the busy outside world.

Paul Martin's seems to have a menu to fit every possibility lunch, dinner, dessert, wine, cocktails, beer, bar food, prime rib Sundays, wine night Mondays, fried chicken Tuesdays, and soon, Sunday brunch. Yet none of the menus were overly lengthy, which allowed the kitchen to focus on about 30 items plus a few sides and desserts.

There were soups and salads, of which the baby kale Caesar salad ($8) with house-made croutons, Parmesan cheese, white anchovies and house-made dressing was fashionably good.

Many of the appetizers were meant to be shared. Spinach dip ($14), for instance, was a hot oval baking dish filled with Bloomsdale spinach, aged white cheddar cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. A stack of toasted, buttered French bread accompanied it. It was hot and gooey with enough for two to four people to share.

The jumbo wild shrimp cocktail ($19) had five of the meatiest prawns I'd ever seen, served on an oversized tray of ice with a properly piquant and tomato-y cocktail sauce topped with fresh grated horseradish.

The crisp Town Dock calamari ($13) had been buttermilk-battered and was served with chili aioli and house cocktail sauces. The salt-and-pepper wild prawns ($17), served on a plank, were also buttermilk-battered and served with pesto aioli. Both dishes fired the appetite.

My favorite starter was the mesquite-grilled Castroville artichoke ($12) with pesto aioli. The tender 'choke was buttery and lemony with smoky flavors.

The mouthwatering salmon tacos ($17), also from the mesquite grill, featured handmade flour tortillas, a squiggle of chili aioli, blistered tomatoes, arugula and pickled onion.

Tender marinated skirt steak ($24) with roasted maple-bourbon sweet potatoes and a pile of arugula was cooked exactly as ordered though it was hard to detect any maple-bourbon on the potatoes. The meat was fork-tender.

The hoisin-marinated double-cut pork chop ($26) came with sauteed Brussels sprouts dressed with a warm bacon vinaigrette. Honeyed scents of the hoisin sauce wafted upward, leaving pleasant memories both pungent and slightly sweet.

Grilled salmon ($23) with Meyer lemon vinaigrette, chilled quinoa and bulgur wheat salad was healthy and hearty. The free-range brick chicken ($21), a half of a flattened chicken, would have been healthy without the mountain of mashed potatoes and herb jus that accompanied it not that anyone forced me to eat it.

Desserts were not for dieters. The banana cream pie had layers of vanilla bean pastry cream, chocolate, bananas and whipped cream. Don't even think about the calories. Oh, but it was worth it.

The chocolate devil's food cake had three layers of rich creamy ganache made from Cordillera Colombian chocolate. The plate was garnished with sour dark Amarena cherries and whipped cream.

The pear-huckleberry crisp had a crumbly golden topping of oats, walnuts and brown sugar. It was served warm with fresh pears and vanilla bean ice cream. All desserts were $9.

The wine list had a good selection of boutique wineries, most from the West Coast, but included some well-priced choices from abroad. Most wines were available by the glass ($9-$24 for a 7-oz. pour).

Despite initial misgivings, Paul Martin's American Grill was worth seeking out. I had no complaints, and the $5 valet service made parking in the busy area easy. I was seated on time with my reservation. Otherwise, waits could have been lengthy.

Paul Martin's American Grill

545 San Antonio Road

Mountain View



Lunch daily, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner Mon.-Thurs., 3 p.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 3 p.m.-11 p.m., Sundays 3 p.m.-9 p.m.

Reservations: yes

Credit cards: yes

Parking: lot and valet ($5)

Alcohol: full bar

Corkage: $10

Children: yes

Catering: no

Takeout: yes

Outdoor dining: yes

Private parties: yes

Noise level: loud

Bathroom cleanliness: excellent

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Like this comment
Posted by Max Hauser
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

"Co-founder Paul Fleming was also a founding partner of the Fleming's steakhouse chain ... Ruth's Chris Steakhouses and others."

Ruth's Chris was famously the creation, solely, of New Orleans chemist and divorced mother-of-two Ruth Fertel, who bought (1965) the struggling Chris Steakhouse and ran it, its successors, and later the chain franchise program, for 34 years, changing the name to Ruth's Chris after the first relocation, and commencing franchises in 1977. Fertel is a historic figure in US restaurant history.

Paul Fleming became one of the franchisees, opening his first Ruth's Chris in 1984, by which time the Ruth's Chris chain was already established in the US. He (like any franchisee) could reasonably claim to be a founding partner of chain locations in which he personally was involved, but the phrasing I quoted above from the article may be misleading.

Like this comment
Posted by Midtown Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2014 at 11:27 pm

We were there last night for our second time. Its funny that this review had the artichoke app as their photo, as we ordered THREE of them because they are THAT GOOD!! \ Both the times we have been to Paul Martin's the service has been amazing and the food delicious! Bravo to Paul Martins; we will be back! And my husband, who has never been a fan of salmon, has absolutely loved the salmon fish tacos. Shout out to Meeso and Luke, our waiters, who seriously enhanced our experience. They really know how to hire the right waiters there.

Like this comment
Posted by foodie
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2014 at 6:07 pm

I will give it one shot, since I have eaten at PF Chang's 3 times and it was worse each time. I have no idea how it stays in business. Too sweet, too salty, oily, icky, heavy, derivative, uninteresting, not fresh - maybe there's my answer.

Sometimes these places have a way of starting out okay then ending like PFC's. Let's hope this one stays good! I'm sure they'll do fine either way, judging by how PFC's has stayed in business, but, it would be a shame not to have a good new offering over there.

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