In a valley that values the next big thing above all else, places like Birk's are rare. The Santa Clara restaurant, nestled between tech-company towers off Great America Parkway, celebrated its 25th anniversary on Thursday night with a jampacked bash that included longtime customers and former chefs and employees.
Dave Whitcomb, who became the restaurant's owner in 2006, made the rounds, greeting people in the elbow-to-elbow crowd, which included founding partner Don Durante (who went on to open Los Gatos' Cin-Cin and Mountain View's Cascal). The big missing presence, of course, was that of Birk McCandless, the founding partner who died in 2005.
"I think Birk would have enjoyed this party," Whitcomb said.
For its anniversary, lead bartender Juan Campos devised a scrumptious cocktail called the 89er, which nicely connects the restaurant's 1989 birthday and its new neighbors at nearby Levi's Stadium. It's got bourbon infused with applewood-smoked bacon, mixed with maple syrup and topped with maple foam. And Birk's is running specials all month to celebrate the milestone, including offering $25 gift certificates to diners who were born in 1989. (Check it out at www.birksrestaurant.com.)
Executive Chef Maurice Dissels and his staff were working hard Thursday providing the crowd with ample appetizers and desserts. But as good as the crab cakes and steak bites were, it's safe to say Birk's legacy goes beyond its food.
Don Blackwell, a design engineer who's been coming to the restaurant for more than a decade, chatted with me at the bar and described the classic Silicon Valley scene where new designs are sketched out on the back of a cocktail napkin. "The best designs are born in a bar," Blackwell said. "You get innovative after a beer."
Imagine what you could design after an 89er!
MUSICAL SURPRISE: The mariachi class at San Jose's Burnett Middle School were surprised Friday with the donation of 30 guitars, courtesy of the Mexican Heritage Corp. and the San Jose Unified School District (and an anonymous but generous donor).
The students have been learning voice instruction -- always an important part of any mariachi song -- but hadn't yet gotten to play on any instruments. That is, until they were presented with the guitars onstage in Burnett's auditorium Friday morning.
"The students were thrilled," said Mexican Heritage Corp. CEO Marcela Davison Aviles. "I might even say stunned."
BEYOND BOOKS: The public's invited to unleash its inner innovator Wednesday at a free event Wednesday night at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in downtown San Jose. The 6 to 9 p.m. event, similar to a mini maker's fair, is a collaboration between the library, San Jose State, TechShop and CreaTV.
It'll include hands-on music-video production, 3-D printing, engraving and even innovative dessert decorations and leather-mask making. And it should be a hoot to see a demonstration of dueling disc-tossing robots designed by a pair of student teams, Bellarmine College Prep's "Cheesy Poofs" and Notre Dame High's "Janksters."
RUN FOR A CAUSE: There's still time to get involved with the Zimbabwe Run & Fair set for March 23 at St. Joseph School in Mountain View. Ellen Clark started this tradition 15 years ago to help orphans in Zimbabwe, and this year's run will be dedicated to the Sister Batsirai Cottage, a home for eight young women who have "aged out" of the orphanage.
The event will include music, arts and crafts and a buffet -- and Clark will be reading African folk tales, too. There are 11 individual runs, grouped by age, starting at 1 p.m. The entry fee is just $5, and the longest one is a mile. How much good can that do, you wonder? Last year's event raised $34,000, so it can do a lot of good.
THE BLOSSOMS ARE BACK: Saratoga's Blossom Festival will brighten up the village's Heritage Orchard and Civic Center on Saturday. Annette Stransky, president of the Saratoga Historical Foundation, notes that the festival started as a celebration of Saratoga's agricultural life in 1900 and ran for 40 years and bringing it back to the Heritage Orchard recalls that heritage.
The free festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will open with taiko drumming and includes live music, food trucks, antique cars and an orchard walk. Three local authors also will be there to sell and autograph their books, which all center around Santa Clara Valley history: Robin Chapman ("California Apricots: The Lost Orchards of Silicon Valley"); Tim Stanley ("The Last of the Prunepickers"); and Tobin Gilman ("19th Century San Jose in a Bottle").
And this year's festival is being dedicated to the memories of farmer and conservationist Vince Garrod and Willys Peck, a local historian and longtime Mercury News copy editor. "Both were outstanding leaders in the community and contributed in many ways," Stransky said. "The Blossom Festival is a fitting tribute to both men."