Thursday, November 26, 1998
On a clear day, you can see past Capitola to Santa Cruz. To the east, the Santa Lucias. And in the immediate foreground, the flurry of sightseers up and down Cannery Row and Fisherman's Wharf keep pace with the ebb and flow of boats in and out of the harbor.
"It's a first class view," admires executive chef and proprietor, Hamid Borna, "so I felt I had to do a first class restaurant." Which meant spending six months designing and creating the newly opened Bijan's, formerly the site of Bradley's Harborfront Restaurant. And taking the time necessary to create a fittingly vibrant indoor vista that celebrates the smallest detail, like the single, long-stem yellow rose at each perfectly appointed table, mimicking the curry-colored walls. By the sparkling light of day or silvery moonlight, the resulting ambiance is equally charismatic.
This is what can happen if you give a chef a little time out of the kitchen. "I was the chef at Ventana in Big Sur for three years," Borna explains. "Then, last winter with the roads washing out from all the rains, I suddenly had three months off." (A phenomenon roughly equivalent to winning the Reader's Digest Sweepstakes, his smile acknowledges.) "I saw that this place was available, and that was it." After many years of working all over the West Coast, the chance to work for yourself? "It's a disease. When you're chef, you gotta do it!"
Doing it right became Borna's objective, adding amenities like the full bar that conveniently stays open all day, a pleasant niche where you may find light, late afternoon fare. And as for the rest of the menu, it becomes evident that the chef is having at least as much fun designing the innovative presentations as you'll have de-constructing each bite.
Starting with the lunch menu: Spicy chicken satay appears as though ready to take flight, grounded by a thick square of savory focaccia. The oysters Rockefeller suggest the smoky influence of bits of bacon, or have them raw and on the half shell, if you prefer. Penne pasta in roasted tomato sauce is available both with fresh vegetables and tiger prawns. A centercut of grilled sirloin comes over fettucine in roasted garlic Parmesan sauce. The sandwich selection rounds things out: grilled vegetables with Bulgarian feta cheese on pita bread, roasted lamb and eggplant on a crispy baguette, along with some simple, yet interesting salads to choose from, including an original French-style salad modeled after Borna's own Aunt Maggie's unsurpassed potato, chicken and egg salad, garnished with English peas and wrapped in lavash.
Bijan's dinner menu finds items from Borna's repertoire that have received attention from both the Discovery Channel's "Great Country Inns" and Gourmet magazine. The chef varies the pan-seared Pacific salmon, alternating the fish with a crispy crust of mashed potatoes, and at other times circling the fillets with long thin slices of buttery potato 'scales.' Grilled lamb noisettes are served alongside rosemary potato gallettes and ratatouille, and a sturdy square of thickly cut New York Angus is complemented by potato gratin and onion confit, with a Zinfandel reduction.
Anyone with an ounce of capacity to spare won't want to miss dessert. Borna uses fresh grape leaves, caramelized in melted sugar, as elegant cups for house-made sorbets. There's also a trio of crme brulees, ice cream and Bailey's chocolate cake. A better plan is to forego indecision and have it all by ordering the tasting for two.
Taking the name of Borna's youngest son, Bijan's breathes life into this choicest of locations, an elegant overlook to all that surrounds.
32 Cannery Row at the Coast Guard Pier, 649-6700
Hours: 11am-closing, lunch and dinner, 7 days a week
Price range: $4.25-22.75