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One Traveler's Opinion: San Jose and the Fairmont Hotel

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One Traveler's Opinion: San Jose and the Fairmont Hotel

Old Jul 16th, 1999, 05:16 AM
  #1  
Neal Sanders
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One Traveler's Opinion: San Jose and the Fairmont Hotel

I have just returned from a trip that took me to San Jose, California. Herewith, a report:

When my company's travel agent informed me a few weeks ago that I had been booked into the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, I had one of those little premonitions of disaster that send a tingle down your spine. The Fairmont is fine old hotel name that graces one of the two grand dames atop Nob Hill in San Francisco. Fine hotels are sometimes wont to lend their name in order to lend cachet to lesser properties, usually because money has changed hands. When that name is lent to a property in a second-tier city, the results are usually unhappy, and San Jose, for all its bustle, fits the definition of a second-tier city.

As it turned out, my premonitions were entirely unwarranted. My three nights at the Fairmont were as first-class as a hotel can be. The Plaza in New York could take lessons, except that I learned to my surprise that the Plaza is one of seven properties owned or managed by Fairmont.

The Fairmont sits squarely in the center of San Jose, about which I'll say more. There's a pleasant, lively park (the Plaza de Cesar Chavez) across the street with fountains and flowering trees. The hotel is probably less than five years old, and at 20 stories and 600 rooms, is about as large as a property can get without being classified as a "convention" hotel. My room (527) was spacious, done in earth tones, with marble used lavishly in the bathroom and on desk and dresser surfaces. The bath had a separate shower stall with a high-volume, needle-jet spray that took away each day's aches and pains. The evening turn-down services included the laying out of a very comfortable robe and nice little stack of Belgian chocolates.

The hotel's public spaces are exceedingly pleasant. There is no effort to mimic what someone elsewhere in this forum accurately characterized as the "bordello look" of the San Francisco Fairmont. Instead, the San Jose property is decorated in something of a mission style, if a mission had a marble quarry nearby. There's a large and functional lobby seating area that is perfect for business conversations by day, yet which turns convivial, appealingly festive and loud by night. The Grill, the informal breakfast and luncheon restaurant, offers friendly and attentive service. All in all, the Fairmont in San Jose is an excellent hotel although, at $199 per night, pricey for a second-tier city.

Which brings me to San Jose. I've been writing these "One Traveler's Opinion" things for about two years, and I have always been pleasantly surprised when someone added their two cents worth about a restaurant or an attraction I had missed. In the case of San Jose, I am begging someone who knows the area to come up with a couple of good downtown restaurants, especially dinner restaurants. I, for one, do not consider Johnny Rocket's a proper venue for evening dining. Casa Castillo on First Street served a decent mole poblano, but diners should have a choice. I had dinner one evening with an old friend who insisted the best thing about San Jose was that, with a little luck on the 101, you could sit down to a decent dinner in San Francisco in an hour.

Zagats has never heard of San Jose and I refuse to give credence to reviews appearing in tourist guides that encourage visitors to spend the day at the "Old Winchester Mystery House." So, rather than bad-mouthing a city because I failed to find a good restaurant in easy walking distance of my hotel, would a kindly San Josean please offer a couple of suggestions for the next person who heads in that direction?
 
Old Jul 16th, 1999, 07:03 AM
  #2  
SanJose
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I live in Los Gatos which is in the San Jose metro area. It is true that San Jose does not offer much in the way of world class dining. There are many good restaurants in the metro area especially in Los Gatos. I know of none in the downtown area. We rarely venture to downtown San Jose except for special events. "Original Joes" used to be pretty good. Haven't been there for several years.

I am more intrerested in your classification of San Jose as a 2nd tier city. That may be true as far as tourism goes. San Jose is the capital of Silicon valley which in turn is the capital of the high tech world. A tourist destination it is not but it certainly ranks up with the top as a business destination. Prices for hotels are very high during the week but often drop as much as 50% or more during the weekend. San Jose is not only larger in population than San Francisco, it is now just as expensive if not more so. The price of your room at the Fairmont is not at all expensive assuming you stayed during the week. Very often it is impossible to get accomodations in the San Jose area during midweek.

We do have some excellent restaurants but I will not list them as they are not the sort of places that tourists in search of that "dining experience" would want to go. They are just simple places with excellent food. One is barbeque and the others are Mexican.
 
Old Jul 16th, 1999, 07:07 AM
  #3  
San Jose
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BTW, I forgot to mention that San Jose also has the distinction of being the safest large city ( > 300,000 ) in the country. It's crime rate is the lowest according to the FBI figures. There is no area that my wife or I would be afraid to go night or d
 
Old Jul 16th, 1999, 08:41 AM
  #4  
Monica Richards
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Good restaurants in downtown San Jose:

Speido and A.P. Stumps, both on Santa Clara Street. Gordon Biersch (San Fernando) and the Tied House (in San Pedro square, on the same block where Speido is), downtown breweries that have great beer and good food. Gordon Biersch probably has the best food of the two. Eulipia, Palermo, Picasso (Spanish food) all within walking distance. I used to like Bella Mia on Second, but had a pretty bad meal there the last time I went. Could be just that one time, or maybe they changed cooks. These are pretty darn good places, maybe not in the category of Gautreaux's in New Orleans, but good just the same. Did you ask at the Fairmont and they couldn't tell you where to go, or did you try to wing it? As you probably realized, downtown San Jose is somewhat lacking in a core. You kinda need to know where you are heading to find anything.

I agree, San Jose is a sad place to be if you are a tourist, but there is the Tech Museum which is quite interesting. Mostly it's a business destination. As you discovered, everything in San Jose is expensive. Right now it's one of the most expensive places to live in the country, surpassing San Francisco. In addition, it can be tough to get anything like hotel reservations or restaurant reservations because of the huge number of people who live here.
 
Old Jul 16th, 1999, 08:34 PM
  #5  
kam
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Hi NEAL, I have agreed with you so many times on this forum that it unusual for me to say no, I disagree. San Jose is the capital of the Silicon Valley and is thriving during the day. At night, however, it still hasn't quite come up to speed. You've gotten good recommendations in above posts for restaurants in SJ, but to say you have to go an hour up on 101 to SF to get a good meal ---what about Saratoga, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Palo Alto???? Give me a break!!! There are a lot of restaurants here in the "north" Silicon Valley that can rival the best of them. Sorry you missed them, Neal. And, a lot of people do because they just don't understand the geography.
 
Old Jul 16th, 1999, 08:54 PM
  #6  
Al
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Neal, as usual, calls the shots the way he sees them. I am so old I can remember when San Jose happily deemed itself the prune capital of the world. So, Neal, keep on calling those shots. I especially liked your take on Cincinnati. But I will have to take a pass on your description of the San Francisco Fairmont as having "a bordello look" -- because once again you may know more about such things than I do.
 
Old Jul 19th, 1999, 05:22 AM
  #7  
Neal Sanders
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If this Fodors' site had a user manual customized for me, the instructions would be a succinct, 1) open mouth, 2) insert foot.

Let me be more thorough in my explanation. I love the Bay area; I think San Francisco is one of the two or three most enjoyable cities in North America. And I like San Jose. Back in the late Devonian period when I got out of college, I tried my damnest to land a job in San Jose, and the company hired me -- but asked me to first spend a year elsewhere. One year turned to two and I never got the chance to move to San Jose. I hope that establishes my credentials as an admirer of San Jose.

But not every city can be San Francisco or New York or Chicago. Most cities live in the shadow of other cities, and I call these "second tier" which is not the same as "second class" or "second rate." It just means that it ain't San Francisco.

Being the hub of the world's information technology industry is all well and good, but where are the places in downtown San Jose where someone can eat at a good restaurant at night? Monica Richards named several, and for that may she hold tonight's winning lottery number. "San Jose" said he/she knows of several, but appears unwilling to share their names with mere travelers.

Kam, my problem was that I was car-less (the Fairmont is a short stroll from the McNearny Convention Center), and so a restaurant in Saratoga or Palo Alto might as well have been in Boston. I thought I had be specific in my request for names and descriptions of downtown restaurants. And is wasn't me who said you had to go to San Francisco for a good meal; it was my old friend whom I was quoting.

And Al, you old rascal, I confess I only know the inside of a bordello from westerns; but red flocked wall paper just sends that certain message...

So, if anyone out there knows the name of one or more good downtown San Jose restaurants, please share them!
 
Old Jul 19th, 1999, 08:50 AM
  #8  
Monica Richards
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Neal:

Got many more for you (I live in Downtown San Jose, so I spent this weekend with my eyes open).

71 St. Peter, very good cuisine, in San Pedro Square (near Speido, AP Stumps, and the Tied House). I also had the opportunity to eat at Gordon Biersch--I must confess, usually I just drink there but last night I had dinner--quite nice, and a good view of the Fairmont through the window. Too bad you didn't stumble across that place. There's also Il Fornaio in that restored hotel across from the Convention center, and La Pastaia in the De Anza. Then there's the Shark and the Rose also in San Pedro square. I'm sure I'm still forgetting some (there are a ton of Thai, Vietnamese, etc. restaurants for sure), but there is a citysearch for San Jose now, and they list them all. Again, it's a shame nobody at the Fairmont could direct you--there are a lot of places to choose from downtown.
 
Old Jul 20th, 1999, 04:28 PM
  #9  
Linda Lipsius
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Being one of the few native San Joseans left in this city, I'll chime in. I work in downtown San Jose (yes, there is a downtown!). The best restaurants seem to be the Italian ones, Il Fornaio at The Hotel St. Claire and La Pastaia at the Hotel De Anza. Stratta's is just down from Gordon Biersch and Bella Mia is also good. Try one of their martinis! I also like Scott's San Jose Seafood on Park Avenue near the Convention Center. If you are adventurous and like a good grilled steak or chicken, you can walk over to Julian St. to Henry's Hi Life. The neighborhood is not the best but the place is a landmark in San Jose. All the Sharks fans hang out there before or after the home games. It's my favorite dive!! If you're looking for pizza, try Pizz'a Chicago on San Fernando St. about 2 blocks from The Fairmont. Happy eating.
 
Old Jul 21st, 1999, 08:04 PM
  #10  
kam
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Neal, didn't realize you were car-less in San Jose! (not a good thing to be!!) But, you've gotten some good suggestions from the above posts. There's also a very nice steak house in the middle of S.J. I guess it was the "second tier" description that put us off. S.J. is not, in my opinion, second tier--it's just a young city, used to be a farm market and is now coming into its own as the capital of the Silicon Valley. Look at what has happened to its airport! The restaurants are coming, just be patience. Next time, hopefully, you'll have a car. Then check out the northern Silicon Valley!
 
Old Jul 22nd, 1999, 09:58 AM
  #11  
Monica Richards
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The steak house would be Blake's, also in San Pedro square. It's owned by the same people who own Eulipia, and considering they live behind me you think I would remember to recommend their restaurant. Shame on me!
 
Old Sep 27th, 1999, 08:17 PM
  #12  
Barbara
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Neal, Another great restaurant downtown that has not been mentioned yet is Emile's. It is French/continental on S. Second Street about 3-4 blocks from the Fairmont. Pricey but excellent, innovative French/Swiss food. I also enjoy La Pastaia (Northern Italian) at the De Anza Hotel, Il Fornaio, Bella Mia, especially at brunch and Scott's Seafood restaurant. The Agenda is supposed to be good, but I haven't tried it yet.
 

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