Restaurant review: Asa in Los Altos proves a fine second act

(Click here, if you are unable to view this photo gallery on your mobile device.)

Success, as the aphorism goes, breeds success.

For some, it spreads like wildfire from one venture to the next. For others, like restaurateur Andrew Welch, success is a slow burn, realized over years of dedication and hard work. It’s been 18 years since he took over The Basin, a perennially popular spot in Saratoga, a major feat in the notoriously fickle restaurant business. Now he’s built on that accomplishment with Asa, a restaurant named for his young son that opened six months ago in Los Altos.

Like The Basin, Asa’s menu is American with Spanish and Italian influences, and there are several similar dishes including the paella appetizer, pastas and rainbow trout. But overall, the menu at Asa, overseen by head chef Steven Vu, skews more upscale with dishes such as Maine lobster on brioche ($18) or a truly indulgent snack, caviar with buckwheat pancakes ($70).

The dining room is sophisticated and modern, awash in black and gray with polished concrete floors and a high ceiling. Wood tabletops and a lighted marble bar add warmth, while giant white dahlia pendant lights bathe the room in their soft, luminescent glow. It’s a truly beautiful space, one that suits a special night out.

Welch personally greets diners when they arrive. He ushered us to our table with a brief pleasantry that felt genuine and welcoming. We had an early reservation on a Saturday evening as all the prime dining slots book up well in advance. Asa’s website makes it clear there’s a two-hour time limit on tables booked before 7 o’clock, but we never once felt rushed and managed to enjoy a leisurely three-course meal in just under two hours — thanks to the well-paced service.

Our server spent at least a couple of minutes describing the evening’s specials in great detail in an earnest yet slightly stilted manner, lacking the savoir faire you’d find in top restaurants. Still, he was always on the ball, making sure we had serving utensils before dishes were delivered and upon discovering the wine I’d ordered was sold out, proactively brought a bottle of the same varietal and vintage and offered a taste.

Starters arrived within minutes. The winter salad ($13), a jewel-toned medley of emerald-hued watercress, cumin-dusted butternut squash, pomegranate and marinated feta, was delicious. My friend and I both vowed to make a version of this salad at home. The Louisiana shrimp ($16) in a creamy white wine butter sauce, was disappointingly overdone and under-seasoned. We asked for salt, which improved the flavor of the shrimp but not the slightly rubbery texture. It was still edible, though, and the sauce was very good, so we used bread to soak it up.

Both main courses were excellent. Five good sized scallops ($39), seared golden brown and still glistening inside, were served on a velvet puree of cauliflower and fennel. Its creamy decadence was tempered by a tangle of perfectly balanced sweet-and-sour pickled vegetables. Handmade fettuccine stars in the exotic mushroom pasta ($25). Mushrooms are tucked in the nest of al dente pasta that’s bathed in a light, silky sauce that gave the earthy dish a nutty, roasted garlic finish. It was divine with a glass of pinot noir.

There were several desserts to choose from, but we needed little time to decide on the lemon pot de crème ($12). It was delightfully tangy with a light eggy finish. The nearly flavorless blackberries served on top seemed pointless, but the buttery fingers of shortbread served alongside more than made up for that.

Welch checked in with us again at the end of our meal. He has such an open, inviting personality, we couldn’t help but share with him our disappointment in the shrimp appetizer, a fluke in an otherwise very fine meal. He seemed surprised but graciously offered to take the dish off our check.

That courtesy is a hallmark of great hospitality which you’ll find in abundance at Asa. Combined with generally excellent food and a lovely space in which to enjoy it, Asa’s the sequel that may be even better than the original.



3 stars

Where: 242 State St., Los Altos

Contact: 650-935-2372;

Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 4:30-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Cuisine: American with Spanish and Italian influences

Prices: Entrees, $18-$39-plus

Vegetarian: A couple of appetizers, salads and two pastas, including the delicious exotic mushroom pasta.

Beverages: Wine, beer and cocktails.

Reservations: Recommended.

Noise level: Medium

Parking: Street parking

Children: Owner Andrew Welch would probably bend over backward to accommodate them, but we suggest you leave little ones at home so you can enjoy the decidedly grown-up food and ambiance.

Pluses: A beautiful space, with a warm host and food that, with rare exceptions, is well-executed.

Minuses: There might be an occasional dish that’s less than stellar. The two-hour limit on early tables, while understandable, can mean you might have to cut a pleasant evening a bit short.

Date opened: August 2017


Source: mercurynews
Restaurant review: Asa in Los Altos proves a fine second act