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Peek inside Saratoga’s new Hero Ranch Kitchen

Let’s start with a reality check for those of us who like to be somewhat impromptu when it comes to venturing out for a new dining experience. Not at Saratoga’s Hero Ranch Kitchen, you don’t. It’s too new, too inviting, too popular.

Housed in the former Sent Sovi digs, Hero Ranch is the latest restaurant from Angelo Heropoulos, whose Almaden Valley ranch supplies much of the produce and some of the wine. He is best known for the Opa! brand, with six Bay Area locations.

It was 5 p.m. when we arrived reservation-less, mere moments after the new farm-to-fork restaurant opened. When we mentioned to the host that we’d like to have dinner, the reaction suggested we might need a hero of our own to nab us a table. Somehow we managed.

THE VIBE: The open dining room boasts eclectic French/California country décor, with paneling that suggests reclaimed wood, a tufted leather sofa and a large mirror with distressed metal trim. Plus plenty of seating on the quiet patio just steps from the sidewalk.

THE FOOD: A small plates emphasis encourages guests to bounce around the menu and search for flavors, colors and textures that connect with them. The menu is divided into dishes meant for sharing ($8-$20), salads ($12-$18) and large plates that offer everything from a $15 burger to a $52 wagyu steak with shaved black truffles and parmesan frites. Most of the vegetarian dishes can be tweaked for vegans.

You can embrace minimalism here, as we did with perfectly grilled asparagus ($11) with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice; or showy-ism – a tower of fried zucchini and eggplant chips ($12) assembled with garlic potato puree.

The menu also includes ahi tartare, Hamachi carpaccio, pancetta-wrapped Mexican prawns, truffle frites and jicama-guacamole dumplings with micro cilantro. We didn’t order the apricot garlic and ginger glazed pork chop ($33), but we couldn’t help but notice it at the table next to us. Extra thick and absolutely glistening in the patio lights, the bone-in pork chop was served with mashed potatoes and tri-color potato chips assembled with architectural flair on, yes, a slab of tree trunk.

The vegetarian skillet special was described as a potato and plant-based cheese dish with mushrooms. It turned out to be a fresh take on poutine, the horrifying/amazing French-Canadian truck-stop dish turned American bistro favorite. Here, fingerling potatoes supplanted the fries, although the dish was a little bland and much too nutritious to qualify as an homage.

There’s a small, nicely curated wine list, a ridiculously tiny beer list, cocktails and coffee — although why they would serve burned, bitter Illy coffee in the land of Verve and Blue Bottle is a mystery.

DON’T MISS: The mixed sorbets, one of four dessert options ($12), were a thing of beauty. The flavors — lemon, blackberry and raspberry — lively on the palate without being overly filling. If you are looking to end your meal by slipping into a food coma, try the Ultimate Bread Pudding – brioche infused with orange curacao, chocolate chips and caramel.

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