Something to crow about

The chef and owner, Eustacio Villarreal, wearing a chef’s hat, cooks with fresh ingredients served up in ample portions. Villarreal makes everything from scratch including his soups, sauces and salad dressings.Photo Bev Stenehjem

Foodies have something to crow about at The Happy Rooster Italian and American Restaurant, which serves up some of the highest quality, best-tasting food in the South Bay. The Happy Rooster, at 313 Third Street in San Juan Bautista, offers a fine dining experience in a casual, come-as-you-are ambiance.
The menu displays a large variety of classic options not always found at more typical restaurants. For meat lovers, there are steaks and chops. For those who crave Italian food, there is veal marsala and chicken parmesan. Rarely seen sand dabs and mussels are available for seafood lovers.
The chef and owner, Eustacio Villarreal, wearing a chef’s hat, cooks with fresh ingredients served up in ample portions. Villarreal makes everything from scratch including his soups, sauces and salad dressings.
Our meal began with a Caesar salad and minestrone soup. The salad was crisp and lightly dressed with a generous sprinkle of parmesan cheese. The minestrone was a chunky, vegetarian style soup—served piping hot.
For the main course, our party veered off our normal order of their succulent pork chops and chose two of The Happy Rooster’s most popular entrees. The veal marsala ($18.95) arrived smothered in a rich, creamy, mushroom sauce. The veal medallions, pounded thin with crispy edges, were tender on the inside—easily cut with just a fork. The side of fluffy mashed potatoes was the perfect foil for sopping up the sauce made from cream and marsala wine. The 20-ounce porterhouse steak ($28.50) eclipsed the plate beneath it. Seared over a mesquite wood fire the smoky, barbequed steak was a juicy medium-rare as ordered. Fresh, mixed vegetables, cooked al dente, rounded out the meal.
We noticed the variety of plates being served to other patrons. The chicken parmesan ($18.75) with marinara, mushroom and melted jack cheese was whisked to one couple, Ramona and Ray Hill, who said the substantial portion was enough to share. “This is good comfort food with old-time service.”
Irma Aceves and Jacob Arroyo started their dinner with a white clam chowder and ordered a cioppino-style seafood dish called Pescadero ($19) with green mussels, clams and shrimp in a red sauce. “To my liking, the chowder is on the buttery side,” said Jacob.
Regular patrons, Karen and Steve Stewart, enjoyed the sand dabs ($17.99) in a butter, caper sauce and the braised short ribs ($23). “We eat here often because it’s so wonderful. My four big pieces of sand dabs were tender and so good,” said Karen. Steve said that the meat on the short ribs fell off the bone and were “more than he could eat.”
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., The Happy Rooster does a brisk take-out business as well. Some orders are for full meals while some people dash in for a hot-chocolate to go.
Noting the challenges of keeping good restaurants in town, the locals of San Juan Bautista are hopeful that The Happy Rooster is here to stay.

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