By Niki D’Andrea
Eating lunch on the patio in the spring at Greene House is a bit like picnicking in an epicurean Elysium: Leafy green vines wind around white trellises, while fence ledges and window sills spill over with colorful foliage and birds chip in the breeze.
Of course, there is also the rev of cars jostling for parking spaces, groups of people clutching bags and eyeing shiny retail displays (and themselves) in pristine clean windows, occasional screaming children, and the very rare whiff of secondhand cigarette smoke.
OK, so Kierland Commons isn’t precisely paradise. But the little slice that is Greene House comes deliciously close. This craftsman-style restaurant – one of several successful Fox Restaurant Concepts around the Valley – serves New American cuisine (mostly seasonal, California-style fare) in a bright and airy setting. It’s perfect for work lunches and business meetings, or a ladies’ lunch out – which is what we had. A few times.
For starters, the chicken tortilla soup takes a twist with a pico de gallo sauce (making it the most tomatoey chicken tortilla soup we’ve ever had). It contains huge chunks of chicken and avocado and is topped with queso blanco, and is almost perfect except for the tortilla chips, which are tasty and house-made but wither and soften in the hot soup. Crispy calamari does the trick with a perfectly crunchy coating and a not-too-chewy interior, set on a bed of tempura vegetables with a side of red chili shoyu.
But of all the appetizers, the sesame chicken pot stickers are worth fighting for. These plump Chinese dumplings stuffed with seasoned chicken are soaked in a slurp-worthy young ginger broth studded with scallions and radishes. It’s technically a shareable plate, but forks may cross over the last morsel.
The lunch menu offers several salads and sandwiches (standouts include the iceberg wedge and the French dip), and its array of entrées includes a magnificent roasted sea bass and an immaculate sweet corn agnolotti. The former dish is presented on potato puree, framed with wilted spinach, charred broccoli and Cipollini onions, and splashed with a hearty dash of preserved lemon vinaigrette. The latter dish is a perfectly balanced blend of sweet corn-stuffed pasta, torn basil, snap peas and Cipollini onions, swimming in a rich and creamy Parmesan and bacon lardon sauce.
The horseradish potato gratin’s status as a mere side dish seems almost criminal. Understated and mind-blowing, the creamy, perfectly cooked Yukon gold taters, served in a small cast iron dish, will make people forget what they were talking about. Someone in our party took a bite, blinked, looked down at the dish in disbelief at its deliciousness, and said “What?!” Horseradish potato gratin, that’s what.
Not that we’re advocating drinking at lunch, but Greene House’s approximation of the nectar of the gods is its mixed berry mojito, which, as far as drinks go, is like the supermodel of cocktails. Spirited and sassy and bobbing with buxom blackberries and raspberries, the drink’s Ron Matusalem Rum blends smoothly (read: dangerously) with Chambord and mint. The fig and ginger mule, served in a frosty copper mug, also tastes like a paradisiacal parable (maybe it’s the Figenza Fig Vodka, or maybe that’s the mojito talking).