The interior of 3-month-old Voya restaurant in Mountain View appears to meld the artistic whimsy of a Google Doodler, the attention of the most discerning interior designer and the sophistication of an elegant tea parlor.
Plates take Dali-esque abstract shapes. Water glasses are royal blue goblets. There are mirrors everywhere, handsome modernist paintings, chandeliers and white tablecloths. The exceedingly comfortable, plush leather banquette and its kaleidoscope of colored pillows are nothing short of chic (not to mention tempting for a post-meal siesta).
All of this cosmopolitan glitz is for a restaurant on Shoreline Boulevard in Mountain View's North Bayshore office-park land. Its neighbors are 7-Eleven and Starbucks; the Century 16 movie theater is across the street and the Googleplex just a few blocks away.
Voya took over a former Quizno's fast-food chain in the same mini-mall as its older sibling, Cucina Venti. While the latter is Italian-centric and spacious, Voya covers much of Latin America with an emphasis on seafood. The restaurant is a tiny jewel box holding 30 seats inside, with tables and counter seats overlooking the equally small kitchen. A small front patio and larger rear patio facing Shoreline Boulevard almost double Voya's capacity.
When it comes to appetizers, Chef Armando Ramirez's menu leans toward Mexico for excellent, smooth guacamole and brings together Japan, Holland and the southwestern states via kobe beef sliders with Gouda cheese and chipotle mayonnaise ($18.75 for three). The sliders burst with the expected meaty juice, but the beef itself had a strange, off-putting taste.
Among the highlights of the seafood offerings are the ceviches, which can be spread on plantain chips. The sweet "Cabo" ($16.75) with mahi mahi and mango is the leader of the category, closely followed by the "Ahuachile," in which lime juice-soaked prawns and avocado get a nice zip from pico de gallo salsa. The octopus and calamari skillet "stew" ($16.50) boasts a broth with enough saffron to fuel an entire paella restaurant in Valencia -- you'll smell like saffron a day later, and that's a good thing. Sadly, half the octopus tentacles and calamari rings were rubbery, showing inconsistent execution. The house-made garlic bread promised on the menu was a no-show.
Tacos range from superb grilled chicken with more of that delicious guacamole and pico de gallo to blackened mahi mahi overwhelmed by tartar sauce. In the middle of the taco spectrum is the cochinita pibil, a traditional Mexican slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatan Peninsula. Voya's version lacked the smoky profile and fall-apart consistency (the result of ample steaming in a banana leaf) that the traditional Yucatan recipe calls for. Still, it was perfectly fine braised pork with a habanero kick, orange segments and pickled onions.
For all the tacos, the corn tortillas could have been warmer. On a positive note, ceviches and tacos can be ordered as "trios," which provide an array of flavors.
For entrees, spring first for the boneless Peruvian-style chicken ($18.95). I was told it was roasted, but clearly it was grilled and just a shade too dry. The accompanying thick habanero sauce and salsa verde were the perfect remedy. A whole grilled branzino over saffron rice is the primary fish option.
The steakhouse set gets a nod to Argentina with a chimichurri sauce for grilled hangar steak. For vegetarians, the chile relleno ($16.75) is a solid choice. Rather than the requisite poblano chile being encased in a fried batter, it is coated in a tomato-oregano sauce and stuffed with rice, corn, arugula and not quite enough mozzarella, invoking a decent risotto filling.
It's easy to pass on desserts: ricotta beignets or a tiny, indifferent chocolate cake with a molten center that tasted of brownie mix. Voya also offers breakfast and weekend brunch with more traditional American morning dishes, homemade pastries and Illy espresso drinks.
Service is efficient and helpful, though not too attentive. More than once I sat several minutes with an empty water goblet. The wine list is simply unacceptable for a restaurant as good and ambitious as Voya. There is one red wine bottle under $50. There are five red blends listed, with none under $50 by the glass or $200 per bottle. Not everyone wants Opus One with dinner. And the big-name, generic California and Italy labels the restaurant has could use a strategy lift from K&L Wine Merchants or Calave Wine Bar in Palo Alto. White and red sangria are the wise drink choices.
During my only lunchtime visit, the restaurant was entirely empty. Dinner brings more energy, but the crowds will be tough to lure with little-to-no foot traffic on Shoreline Boulevard. With all the companies in the surrounding area, catering and restaurant buy-outs -- when a client rents an entire restaurant for an event -- are a big part of Cucina Venti's business. That's part of why Voya was created: so that regular customers always had an open option. Yet Voya itself advertises private dining services prominently on its website, resulting in mixed signals.
Voya is promising, and I can imagine how much fun this gorgeous space could be when everything clicks. Yet for each star like the ceviches and saffron broth, there are still too many miscues and head-scratchers, both online and on the plate.
1390 Pear Ave., Suite B, Mountain View