Having worked at Intel's headquarters in Santa Clara for a number of years, I knew of the existence of Parcel 104 (located in the Marriott just one block from the Intel offices), but never suspected what a great dining experience was to be found there. Years passed and I started hearing positive reviews of Parcel 104, but never found myself dining there. In January 2009, as Tina and I began our preparations for our move out of the Bay Area, I made it a point to go and dine at this restaurant that focuses on fresh, seasonal produce with an emphasis on Bay Area farmers and ranchers.
A meal at Parcel 104 costs $64 before drink, tax, and tip. You get three courses - an appetizer, entrée, and dessert - all remarkably prepared and quite fairly priced. The quality of execution is extremely good, but not the best I've encountered (for that you'll be paying at least twice as much). Although the meal wasn't perfection, it was very memorable, the wait staff prompt and courteous, and the chefs truly have a love for food and endeavor to continue to improve their cuisine. I found the meal to be unchallenging (no flavors really came out and surprised me or changed how I viewed food), but it's that very fact that made me find it comfortable and very enjoyable. They execute at an extremely high standard with familiar ingredients and flavors - in some cases bringing out the flavors more than any other restaurant that I've dined at recently. The fruits were ultra-ripe and ultra-fresh, the meats perfectly cooked, and the textures were welcoming and playful. At this price, I think you'd be hard pressed to find many restaurants that can provide as fine of a dining experience as Parcel 104 in Silicon Valley.
I started by asking our waiter, John, if Parcel 104 had any non-alcoholic beverages. He told me that Chef prepares a different lemonade depending on what's seasonal and fresh that day. That evening's lemonade was a Frozen Pomegranate Lemonade which tasted remarkably fresh, as if the lemon was just squeezed.
An amuse bouche came out that was a blood orange gelatin set on a fine foie gras pâté. Tangerine, brioche, and lavender flowers top the gelatin. Overall, the amuse was tasty and the contrasting flavor of the foie with the citrus of the gelatin was a nice pairing. The problem, however, was that the foie gras a bit too salty.}?>
Coconut Butter Poached Maine Lobster, Banana Consommé, Parcel Garden Keffir Lime Sea Salt
The lobster was deliciously "undercooked" with a softer and looser texture than what we were used to being served. When Chef de Cuisine Anthony Ippolito came out to chat with us, he explained that the lobster wasn't cooked sous vide (as I was guessing due to the evenness of cooking and exact temperature control necessary), but it was cooked for three minutes in boiling water - just long enough to extract the tail meat from the shell whole. Then the tail was set into a buerre blanc warmed to 130°F. When John brought out the tail, he poured a banana consommé (prepared by taking the juice from mashing up a banana, allowing the liquid to drain through fine cheesecloth, and drawing the clarified liquid left after the solids had separated from the liquid) around the tail. The consommé provided an additional sweetness onto the existing natural sweetness of lobster flesh but with an extra hint of exotic fruitiness. I say exotic because I don't think I've ever had such a light liquid filled with the taste of bananas.
Apple-Cinnamon Pork Belly, Gizdich Ranch Apple Glaze, Roasted Chestnut Ice Cream
The pork belly was amazingly prepared. The upper surface was crispy without becoming chewy (just the thinnest layer of crispiness) while the flesh literally fell apart when we chewed it. Contrasting textures is one of the things that I love about food and this meal had plenty of good examples. The pork was served with a small stack of sour apple brunoise and chestnut ice cream. I'm not sure how well these additional ingredients worked with the pork belly, but the pork was so good, I'd definitely order it again in the future. In fact, I wish there was a pork belly main dish at Parcel 104.
After our appetizers, John brought us something before we began our mains.
Sunchoke on Sunflower Seed Mock Risotto
The sunchoke was incredibly tasty with an almost smoky quality. The mock risotto it was set on was tasty with a strong sunflower seed flavor. I've read about sunchokes (sometimes called Jerusalem artichokes) before, but never had it myself. Now I want to try preparing them at home.
Cabernet Braised Short Rib, Potato "Terrine", Half Moon Bay Brussels Sprouts, Gilroy Pearl Onions
The short rib was, like the pork belly, exquisitely prepared. The texture was firm and held together while being cut with a knife, but incredibly tender in the mouth. Every bite effortlessly broke the meat apart releasing the hearty beef flavors into my mouth. Served under the short rib was another great example of contrasting textures. The potato "terrine" was made of russet potato that had been thinly sliced, cooked, and then stacked before being cooked again. The edge was crispy (like a potato chip) with the rest of the stack smooth and soft in texture.
Massachusetts Diver Scallops, Dungeness Crab Agnolotti, Satsuma Tangerine Butter, Radish
The scallops were also perfectly cooked (to medium-rare) with the flesh heated until it just firmed up. The agnolotti was just a bit too salty and was a bit odd with the tartness of the citrus butter. I had three of the four scallops (Tina had the other one), and I felt that was a bit much for one person to eat. When I eat a lot of oysters (six or more) I get a particular feeling in my head - that's what I was feeling a little after my third scallop. Eating some bread and drinking some water helped.
After we finished our mains, Anthony (Chef de Cuisine) came out to chat with us about the food and what we liked and didn't like. I also picked his brain about how he got his short rib so perfectly succulent. We were surprised how eager he was to talk about food, try to troubleshoot our home preparation issues, and genuinely seek feedback. Carlos Sanchez (Pastry Chef) then brought out the two desserts we ordered and explained how they were prepared.
Orange & Cream - Crêpe Suzette, Creamsicle Ice Cream, Fresh Citrus
This was a nice light dessert to end the meal. The crepe that the dessert was served on was warm, eggy, and multilayered (literally, the crepe had been folded a couple times to provide layering). On the crepe were citrus slices served at room temperature. The citrus was so sweet and flavorful that we kept wondering how we could find fruit so fresh and ripe. On top of all that was a serving of orange cream ("creamsicle") ice cream that completed the trio of different temperatures.
Salad - Petite Garden Lettuce, Citrus Fruit, Blood Orange Sorbet, Carmody Cheese Beignet
A salad at the end of a meal was a bit odd, but we wanted to give it a try. It turns out it's a great way to end the meal (especially when compared to a heavy chocolate cake). The fresh citrus worked well with the herbaceous mixed greens and the salty cheese beignets were a great match to the salad.
It was at this point that Carlos brought us an extra dessert to taste - his flan. The custard was rich and incredibly smooth and silky. The bottom of the flan (the top when it was cooked) was slightly denser and more strongly flavored than the rest of the flan (a subtle contrast that I found intriguing and incredibly tasty). The caramel sauce was golden, sweet, and not at all bitter (some flan caramels can be over cooked to bitterness). One of the best flans that we've ever had.
We ended our meal with a pleasant conversation with Carlos (about his style of cuisine, how he was one of two chefs to open Parcel 104 seven years ago, and the importance of fresh ingredients) and a couple passion fruit gems that were astounding. The flavor of the passion fruit was so strong and concentrated that a tiny little nibble of the gem was like biting into fresh fruit. Carlos explained that to make a fruit gem a lot of sugar needs to be added, so the sourness of the passion fruit really helps mitigate the intense sweetness. He said he usually likes the diners to end their meal with a little treat - tiny cookies, a small blondie, or a homemade confection like the one we ended with.
Update March 8, 2009: Tina and I went back to Parcel 104 for an invitation only dinner (along with about 100 other people) and the meal was delicious. I included it in my ongoing blog series entitled What I Ate.}?>
Parcel 104 (website; reservations)
2700 Mission College Blvd.
Santa Clara, CA 95054
Parcel 104 (Santa Clara, California)
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