The restaurant provides an upscale formal atmosphere but with informal elements that make diners feel relaxed and comfortable. During fine weather, diners can enjoy live music played on the elegant and spacious patio. Bridges offers a Happy Hour that runs all night long Monday through Friday, which is one of many reasons for the restaurant’s popularity.
We were impressed to learn that the restaurant is set up to provide private dining options with a warm and inviting atmosphere conducive to celebrating any special event. Event planners can choose among several elegant dining areas with a contemporary bar and lounge, and an open patio surrounded by lush greenery, plus an open-air bar and facilities for live music, if desired. The areas can be mixed and matched to accommodate up to 150 guests, and if the patio is included, 250 guests. The Bridges menu of exquisite food choices is customizable to suit the client’s taste and budget. The Bridges manager, Lisa Waldman, is prepared to assist and take the stress out of the planning.
The private dining options are particularly suited to make a wedding the important and memorable occasion it ought to be. Lisa will take the stress out of planning any wedding without sacrificing the customized details that make each celebration a unique event. Executive Chef Gin will provide a personalized wedding menu so the bride and her party can expect exquisite food, impeccable service and attention to detail when Bridges Restaurant is part of the celebration.
We spoke with Executive Chef Gin, who for more than two decades has been designing and serving the restaurant’s delicious entrées and dishes. Chef Gin characterized the Bridges cuisine as California-American, “with a little European Influence.” Chef Gin, who is ethnic Chinese, admitted that he also added some Asian fusion dishes into the mix.
We learned that the New York Steak and the Tai Red Curry Coconut Prawns, which are probably the most popular entrées, have been on the menu since the restaurant first opened for business. The restaurant has a very small refrigerator and almost no freezer at all because ingredients are organic and perfectly fresh from local top-end distributors including ABS Seafood, Greenleaf, K&J Farms, Pat Scott Gardens, and Skyhill Farms. Chef Gin said he began his career in the Culinary Industry as a graduate of the City College Restaurant Management Program. He followed his education with three years hands-on experience as an apprentice with the famous Chef Otto Somerhalder at San Francisco’s World Trade Club followed by a number of years working at several Northern California fine eating establishments, such as Sunnyvale’s Lion & Compass and Cupertino’s Sports City Café, which is owned by Atari’s famous founder, Nolan Bushnell. Chef Gin also worked at the Innsbruck Golf Club and at Pleasanton’s Bamboo Island. In 2000, he became corporate chef for the Mitoushi Japanese chain and for six years taught in the DVC Culinary Department.
Chef Gin recalls the Bridges claim to fame event that took place in 1992, and really put the restaurant on the map. A Hollywood set director visited the restaurant, liked what he saw, and negotiated with the owners for the right to use the restaurant as a set in a Hollywood movie. The production company took over the restaurant for six weeks while they brought in Robin Williams and Sally Fields to film scenes that were to appear in the movie, Mrs. Doubtfire.
Chef Gin said that they recreated the restaurant’s bathroom in a Hollywood back lot, but the rest of that part of the movie was actually shot on location at Bridges. Some of the cooks and a couple of the wait staff were used as extras. Other restaurant staff did things like moving signs around and handling props. The action was to take place at night and the nighttime effect was achieved by covering the entire restaurant with tarps. Filmmakers spent nearly two weeks in town and extras were often on set for 10 to 12 hours a day. Legend has it that, even though it took five hours to get Robin Williams into costume, he could nevertheless often be seen trudging up and down Hartz Avenue in his Mrs. Doubtfire persona, joking with people on the street and signing autographs for anyone who wanted one.
We also spoke with Lisa Waldman, who has been the Bridges general manager since November 2004. Lisa has been in food service since she was 15 years old working in a Machias, Maine restaurant. She said that she started as a dishwasher but was preparing dishes and entreés before her 17th birthday. Lisa’s grandpa was a lobster fisherman; her family had a wholesale and retail fish business.
Lisa said that she is having a wonderful time attending to customers in “the front of the house” listening to the enthusiastic comments of the usually happy and often delighted diners. Lisa said that a number of the patrons have become her long-time friends. “It’s like having a big dinner party in my dining room every night,” Lisa said. Part of Bridges’ happy spirit is due to the staff that is made up of a team of warm and friendly people. They give diners a sense that they actually enjoy the challenge of helping them to have a good time.
Of course, tasty food is a main reason for the restaurant’s success. “Chef Gin’s sauces are unbelievably good,” Lisa told us. We sampled several of the restaurant’s entrées including Line Caught Swordfish cooked with Sage Brown Butter, pea tendril, shaved fennel, red quinoa, and lemon oil. Maple Leaf Duck Breast Paillard was served with a mango salsa, Ponzu spinach, sesame rice cake, and Indonesian soy. It was one of our favorites; the taste was incredible! We were also delighted by the Furikake Seared Rare Ahi Tuna, served on a bed of romaine, baby arugula, watermelon, goat cheese, and red onions with orange-beet vinaigrette.
The restaurant offers separate lunch, brunch, and dinner menus, with a wide variety of selections including everything from Small Plates featuring such items as Truffled Frites, Japanese Soy Beans, and Barbecue Chicken, Avocado, & Grilled Polenta. Large Plate delicacies include such things as Seafood Cioppino, Pan Roasted Flat Iron Steak, and Braised Colorado Lamb Shank with Rosemary Crema, wild mushroom, leeks, and Parmesan cheese polenta.
The menu offered a number of fascinating items. I have some favorites, but plan to try new choices when seasonal changes appear.
Bridges proved to be everything that fine dining should be. I plan to go back soon and to go back often.