From a distance, Martini Sky looks marvelous.
This cocktails and small-plates place in Danville's Livery and Mercantile has so much going for it. The location is ideal, and the venue, the former home of Patrick David, has been completely redone. The interior is chic, the outdoor patio inviting, and the menu positively brims with interesting small plates and cocktails.
Which is why the execution is so darn frustrating. When Martini Sky is good, it's very, very good. And when it's not, you want to go shake someone -- because it could be good all the time.
The vibe is sleek and grown-up, with a palette of glossy greys and blacks, perfect for date night or an evening out with girlfriends. A bar extends down the center of the newly decorated interior, with dining tables tucked on either side -- and we'd have enjoyed sitting there if the air-conditioning hadn't been cranked up to arctic levels. Instead, we opted for a spot on the patio, where a balmy September evening made jackets unnecessary.
As the name implies, Martini Sky boasts an extensive cocktail menu of martinis and sweet, fruity riffs on the cosmo and lemon-drop theme ($10 each). Northern California wines, including several from Livermore, are available by the bottle or glass. And the menu is divided into an enticing array of small plates, salads and entrees, with a focus on fresh, seasonal fare to share.
The standout dish of the evening was a watermelon gazpacho with
It was eye-catching, especially when the perfectly sized portion arrived in an enormous flat-rimmed soup bowl. It looked amazing, but actually eating it proved problematic. The bowl was so large, our server had difficulty fitting it on the table, and the immensity of the bowl's rim made it difficult to eat without spattering soup everywhere, which we did.
In fact, our glossy white table began looking like a battle zone halfway through our meal. Most of the "small plates" arrived on serving platters so huge, you couldn't fit more than one or two atop a two-top. But our dining plates were so very small that if you took a small serving -- a half slice of the fried heirloom tomato salad with burrata ($12), for example -- and decided that while tomatoes and burrata are a match made in heaven, fried heirloom tomatoes are a match from the opposite end of the spectrum, the dining plate was instantly rendered unusable for anything else.
The alternative quickly became an incredibly messy reach across a crammed table to fork up, say, a mouthful of blackened bavette topped with wild mushroom ragout and served with crispy sweet potatoes ($14 for four tiny pieces of steak cooked just so, but delivered at room temperature and served over four uncrispy circles of root vegetable).
It's an interesting, far-reaching menu, with plenty of seafood choices, including a lobster risotto ($15) that was pleasant -- a little more acidity would make those flavors sparkle -- and crab cake sliders ($15 for two) that looked fantastic,
Martini Sky serves entrees as well, including a 16-ounce grilled rib-eye ($32), tapenade-crusted ahi ($29) and a seafood paella ($24), but most diners seem to gravitate to the smaller plates, ordering two or three per person.
Clearly, there's considerable talent in the kitchen. The watermelon gazpacho was a thing of beauty. Truffled fries ($6) were crisp and heavenly, albeit insufficiently truffley, and the chocolate souffle ($9) was lovely, though misnamed. It was a warm, molten chocolate cake served in a mousse cup.
There's so much promise here, but I suspect that the menu's wide-flung approach -- sushi, sliders, empanadas, risottoed this and barbecued that -- is responsible for the uneven execution. When it's good, it's excellent. When it's not, it ought to be. And the service, which is friendly and warm, needs polish. The giggling, mini-skirted hostess should not be climbing on a chair to turn on the patio heaters, while hollering to a colleague over the heads of diners. When children from a neighboring restaurant run laps -- literally -- through the patio tables, it's the management that should be gently redirecting their race route. And we'd have really liked fresh plates or, at the very least, a table wipe down after the dishes were removed before dessert. We're not messy eaters. Really.
Bottom line: Small plates and cool cocktails are just what this city needs. A little more polish and focus could propel Martini Sky into the big leagues.
FOOD: * *
AMBIENCE: * * *
SERVICE: * *
WHERE: 416 Sycamore Valley Road West, Danville
HOURS: 3-10 p.m. Sundays through Wednesdays, 3 p.m.-midnight Thursdays through Saturdays
CUISINE: New American/small plates
VEGETARIAN: A few options, including truffle mac and cheese, goat cheese ravioli and salads.
BEVERAGES: Martini and cosmo variations, wines by the bottle or glass
NOISE LEVEL: Medium
PARKING: Free and plentiful parking in the Livery and Mercantile lot
KIDS: Kids would enjoy the Angus beef sliders, but this is a lounge with a grown-up vibe.
PLUSES: Cocktails and small plates in a beautiful setting, with a particularly nice patio for outdoor dining.
MINUSES: The service lacks polish, and some dishes are less successful than others.
DATE REOPENED: May
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Restaurants are rated on a scale of one to four, with four representing a truly extraordinary experience for that type of restaurant.
$ Most entrees under $10
$$ Most entrees under $20
$$$ Most entrees under $30
$$$$ Most entrees under $40