Had two excellent dinners at Canteen, sister restaurant to Camper. I am almost loath to mention.
The space is a bit unusual for what you’d consider a restaurant. It’s more like a sitting area for a hotel or lobby for an office building, which is what it is. It’s one of the new mixed-use buildings where they built a small wine bar and kitchen into the entry space, and populated it with an excellent chef. Over time, it’ll all get cost reduced, but often there’s a pull to get a destination in the first few years to get the tenancy high - now’s the time. The location is across from the train stations / farmhouse thai (where the foster’s freeze and feed store used to be). There is fairly limited seating, with a handful of tables spaced apart, and some couch pit areas, and a few seats at the bar, maybe 7. We sat at the bar both times. There is a discreet TV screen on the wall above the pass thru to the kitchen, but in the main area it’s more serene. It’s unclear if they really have an outdoor space. There are a few tables, but they’re pretty far from the bar / kitchen area, and only duces. Looks like they’re meant for having a coffee during the day if you are a tenant of the building (train station business is still better served by barrone, st franks, and the (hated) Philz. (still angry at the barrone people for ending their later service, but it’s good business and I understand, it was just super pleasant)
Nicely, they are open on mondays, but they aren’t open particularly late, which is why it’s made our “early in the week” list.
The menu is much closer to actual spanish food than I’ve gotten at any of the newer spanish restaurants nearby, notably Joya which has always been more hybrid, the new place down on Castro St, even telerific barcelona which feels like “tourist spanish”. In particular, the menu at Camper is really large, a refreshing change from the cost reductions and kitchen simplifications of the covid and post covid era. Here’s the first page of the menu, you can find the second page on google maps, with the larger dishes.
The first night, the chef was hanging around. He’s a big guy, a bit of a belly, redhed. I can’t remember what I asked him to make conversation, but he told me some things I already know in a slightly condescending fashion, but I said “you know, we never go to camper because the portions are too large and meat”, and he said “YEAH, I wanted this place to be the exact opposite”, so the focus on smaller dishes. The kitchen also seems really small (we didn’t get a tour, we were just sitting by the passthru), so I’m impressed they’ve packed this much into the menu. Again, the space feels like a lobby, but then you see the menu, and it’s pretty serious.
The prices are on the high side, I’m not sure we got out (with drinks) for much less than $100/pp. I was OK with it due to quality.
The bar is very solid. Both nights there was a guy who seemed spanish (instead of central american). An older guy, not the youngesters you usually see, he reeled off a set of bars he’s run, and how he got talked out of semi-retirement to run the bar - apparently he lives in my neighborhood of menlo park, so it’s close to home. He’s pretty casual, will mix whatever you like, don’t need to stick to the menu but there’s some good stuff there, too. He was chatty and warm the first night, but rather preoccupied and brusque the second night, which I actually found charming - didn’t have to turn on the charm all the time. The drinks menu has a bit less of the intensity of Zola, but are well structured and innovative. You’ll see the bar isn’t super long on spirits, but has a deep set of amaros, always a good sign. You don’t really need more than 4 vodkas, but you really do need all the amaros. The wine list is also interesting, I think last time I got two different granache blends, one from california one from spain.
I even took a picture of the food this time.
Left is a merguez on some kind of tasty squash thing, right is a maitake mushroom with … things… on it. Both were what you really want out of each dish: the merguez had that tang and a great roast exterior then you could eat a little spoon of the mash; the mushrooms also highlighted the quality of the main ingredient and kicked it up with the “things”. Even better was the first dish, which they listed as a “socorrat”, crispy rice dish with some sliced peas and bacon. I was thinking of “socca”, which I get wherever I see it, but that’s the crispy chickpea pancake. Crispy rice (eg, korean style, eg, paella done crispy) is a little underappreciated, and was a great blend of textures and flavors, so I’m finding the chef rather thoughtful and playful. I’m sure that two nearby restaurants (sharing sourcing and possibly staff) with different approaches is pleasing to him.
I hope the place doesn’t get crowded. It’s not really built for a crowd.
Other eats this week were Kemuri, which is still great (menu keeps changing in a good way, atmosphere is still too cold, alcohol program too dangerous, best on a warm day and sitting outside); and Ettan, which is hard to “sneak” into at the bar, but did finally on the early side, and Left Bank, which won our sunday night business due to the plentiful outdoor seating as the sun came out after a bit of a wet weekend and decent selection of both wine and beer (there are better wine places, there are better beer places, but for wine and beer outside, not a bad choice [a few other choices are on our no-fly list, like Union Local, like Flea St, after getting substandard service, oh the grudges]). I def. liked Canteen more than Ettan, and Ettan has all the buzz, although there was some kind of sesame leaf dish at Ettan that I’m still thinking about, very solid.