With the appointment of new executive chef Julian Silvera, along with new culinary and service teams as of late last year, Los Gatos’ Tasting House is marching to a tighter, more precise drumbeat.
It’s no secret that owners Denise and Michael Thornberry have their eye on a Michelin star, and they’ve assembled talent with experience at restaurants that have achieved that benchmark.
Born and raised in Manhattan, Silvera learned his culinary craft at NYC spots like Jones Wood Foundry, Morimoto and Luthun, where he worked with chefs Nahid Ahmed and Arjuna Bull of Lespinasse, Fat Duck and El Bulli.
Then came the pandemic. “Everything shut down,” says Silvera. “I mean everything. It was a shock. After we realized this wasn’t going to end soon, we started looking at other options. Florida was open, so we went there.”
Silvera and his fiancée, sommelier Mary Martin, landed at the exclusive London House in Orlando, where he headed up R&D for cutting-edge techniques and presentations, training the culinary team in molecular, sous vide, butchering and fermentation.
In July 2021, the couple made the move to the Ritz in Orlando, where Olivera became sous chef at Knife and Spoon, taking charge of culinary innovation that played a pivotal role in the restaurant’s attaining a Michelin star in 2022.
Going to Florida was the first time he had ever traveled outside a city. It’s equally hard for people who grew up in New York City to relate to the greater, less hectic world outside of landscape-shrouding skyscrapers and that endless city din, as it is for those who fell asleep nightly to the sound of peepers and crickets to tolerate the sensory overload of Grand Central Station, on every street corner of The Big Apple.
For Silvera, Florida was too sleepy compared to NYC. For Martin, who hails from a tiny town in upstate New York, it wasn’t quiet enough. She says California is a great compromise.
“I think city people thrive on the excitement and the adrenalin, and they don’t know what to do when they’re taken away from it,” Martin adds.
Martin says the new gig at The Tasting House, where she’s now the maitre d’, is excitement enough. “We have no time for a wedding,” she adds. “The restaurant is our baby. I cannot imagine being on a honeymoon away from it.”
The chef’s tasting menu at The Tasting House Wine Bistro is Silvera’s personal playground. Martin says Silvera loves playing with local ingredients like seaweed, avocado, citrus, sea urchin and kohlrabi, fashioning them into cheeky plays on familiar themes with unfamiliar executions and presentations. His “Bay Greens” dish evokes a day at the beach in Half Moon Bay with bergamot avocado, seaweed, kohlrabi and miso sand, essentially miso paste with ground almonds; crunchy, like a meringue, and not at all gritty.
The shrimp garam-infused Fort Bragg sea urchin risotto is served in a small ceramic bowl with a wooden spoon and feels like breakfast for a deep sea fisherman. Rich and earthy, it pairs nicely with the 2016 Mount Eden pinot noir.
The Mt. Lassen trout dish layers pressed radishes atop tender trout filets, swimming in nuoc cham with kumquat and kohlrabi marbles, while the coulotte steak is served with caviar and a squid ink edamame puree, a fine pairing with the 2014 Spot Dog cabernet sauvignon.
The Tasting House Wine Bistro, located at 368 Village Lane in Los Gatos, is open Tuesday-Saturday, 5-10 p.m. The adjacent Champagne Bar is open Tuesday-Saturday, noon-10 p.m. Besides 80-plus Champagne offerings, including flights that vary monthly, there are a few tasty food options, including caviar, oysters, salads, pommes frites, cheese and charcuterie boards, plus fried chicken, croque madame and 72-hour beef short rib sandwiches. Items from the wine bistro’s dinner menu are available after 5 p.m.