Palo Alto notes - Oct 2015

  1. Union Local is reasonably packed most nights.

  2. Something’s up with Siam Orchid. Driving by the last two nights, the space has been dark, and there’s a sign on the door. I’ve always liked the food there but it’s a little out of the way, a little expensive, and we get our thai elsewhere.

  3. Maxine’s has expanded. Had two dishes there. The place is empty compared to all the other “regular places” like Coupa Cafe next door. The wine selection is small but tasty enough ( very generous pour + large carafe of something drinkable in Palo Alto for $9? ). The food is only average - crepes, panini. The french onion soup is a bit of a disappointment compared to Gravity ( which has rich broth, well cut bread, more seared cheese ). If they upped their game in the menu department ( more like Coupa next door, which has both light but also burgers and fries and arepas ) they could make a real push. Still, finding a pleasant place to hang out with your laptop and get a reasonable glass of wine is not to be sniffed at.

  4. The two burmese places are still doing land office business. The food’s only OK, assuming you order reasonably ( stay away from anything that looks goopy, order spicy, don’t expect overmuch ).

Sushi Tomo is turning into another sushi joint. Taxi’s is still up for grabs. Haven’t seen any motion at Taxim’s space. The building that had Chocolate & House of Bagles is fully under construction. Hit Tacolicious, it’s still the same ( overpriced but at least honestly just a bar ). Nothing else to report.

There are change of ownership papers posted on Siam orchid’s windows to “thyme” - also now stenciled on the windows, but they haven’t removed larger signage. I didn’t notice any info posted on opening dates.

Could never figure out how that place stayed in business anyway.

An important point — there’s a new “contemporary” restaurant in Palo Alto, BirdDog ( State Bird plus Trick Dog ? ) — old Mandrin Gourmet location. Claims to bring a touch of modern cosmopolitan eating to this sleepy backward burg. Tall order.

Also, the Su Hong Menlo Park space in Menlo Park has a new sign up, it’s chinese but I forgot what it said. Work continues at the old Tokyo Subway.

Su Hong Menlo is now chef Kwan, with a similar Chinese American menu : http://www.chefkwans.com

Ah, it’s a little more complicated. Chef Kwan’s is Su Hong To Go on Menlo Ave.

Su Hong, the sit down place, is owned by Kwan also but sign above the door says Yum Cha Palace, and Palo Alto Online reports it may become Dim Sum. We’ll see.

It looks like the area around Stanford is becoming pizza central. There’s already Howie’s and Terun. Pieology just opened up near Cal Ave and Fire Oak & Barley, a wood-fired place also opened not too long ago on Cal Ave.

There is only so much pizza a neighborhood can absorb…

You forgot Delfina and, to a lesser extent, Strada on University ( they do have a wood oven ). Further afield, Howies has invaded RWC which already had Vesta, and MV has Doppio Zero and Napolitano Pizzera.

It’s popular in my house because the portions are actually smaller ( one standard pizza for two adults with a salad or some meatballs ), and I can get out for $50 or 60 with two glasses of wine. Not that we have a tight budget but spending $120 for 2 every day gets old.

Very interested in checking out BirdDog for a special occasion dinner . . . will report back if that happens soon!

Fire Oak & Barley is a nice lunch spot – we’ve gone a couple times after hitting the farmers’ market on Sundays. The salmon sandwich is very good and crave-worthy. Looking forward to trying the pizzas as well.

We went to Spice Kit recently as well, which is a good deal for a generous, well-seasoned bowl of food. Sort of the Pan-Asian equivalent of Chipotle?

Sancho’s Taqueria on Middlefield – fast service, lots of indoor and outdoor seating, and very much enjoyed the grilled fish tacos. Generous portions here too.

Yikes, I had some some bizarre General’s Chicken at Chef Kwan tonight. Their version uses cubes of soft-breaded chicken and there was no visible sauce, green onion, or whole dried chilies. Tasted like a microwaved Weaver chicken patty. The woman at the front said it’s their most popular item— for the love of god, I hope that’s not true.

I drove past again last night, saw Chef Kwan ( old Su Hong To Go ) looks like the same, beloved low quality Chinese. Thanks for taking one for the team.

Kwan’s new place - actual Su Hong Menlo Park - had the back door open and the light on in the kitchen. I expect he’ll be serving “actual” chinese food in that restaurant.

On a final note, I ended up at Left Bank. They’ve changed their menu significantly, with a shorter, more “specials” oriented menu. I miss some of the french standards, but appreciate the improved focus. The mussels were absolutely divine, and I like me a good dish of moules frites.

Their new menu reads like a combo of French and American? How do you compare the new Left Bank with Zola?

IMHO, left bank and zola are not even in the same category.

LB used to be much more french bistro. Now it’s kept a few french bistro standards, but added the monthly specials which are cal-french and OK but not great dining. LB has the great benefit of usually having a seat for us at the bar, excellent fries, and decent drinks / beer / cocktail. Lots of people there just get a burger, I often just get the steak frite myself. If I was to guess, the slimmer menu either simply cuts costs, or also deals with turnover in kitchen personnel ( fewer dishes to learn / maintain, especially some of the older french ones ).

Zola is more like an actual french restaurant. Each dish is more interesting. The menu is short but with complex dishes. The wine list is also more interesting, although I expect it’s a bit shorter too.

That makes me fear for Silicon Valley restaurants that attempt to be true to the cuisine. If Left Bank has to trim their French offering and add a bunch of American dishes to survive, it is not an encouraging sign that the area can support culinary diversity.

Yes, it’s concerning. I see the same thing at NOLA in PA, which used to have a real, honest cajun kitchen, and recently became massively dumbed down. Same thing - smaller menu - although they took out crowd pleasers like the Clover Burger - which, I’m sure, were dragging down average check size.

If you look at that section of Menlo Park, you see family oriented, lots of money, but very few interesting places. Look at Fey. The Atherton-ites want a place like Left Bank to be a bit more familiar. I remember when LB went through being very proud of their absinthe collection and prominently exposing a vintage absinthe fountain. Didn’t last long.

Is the problem rising rents? Is the problem the dining population?

The mid-peninsula / silicon valley has a few hotspots because new places keep opening ( Kemuri in RWC ! ), but there’s strain. Lots of strain.

I don’t know — but Koi Palace opened in Milpitas, there’s some fresh blood in RWC, and I have a list of restaurants in Fremont as long as my arm to try. I just have to wait until 8pm when the freeway traffic dies down.

Fremont/ Cupertino/ Milpitas/ Sunnyvale is rather different in the population makeup vs the peninsula though. The engineer immigrant crowd can always support Chinese/ Indian regional specialties in the South Bay. Perhaps fewer immigrants live in the peninsula so less appetite for the unfamiliar?

I think rent has something to do with it as well. Its easier for a family to start up a restaurant serving food from home, versus expensive locales where you need investors as backers. With more on the line, there is probably less incentive to experiment. “Restaurant gentrification”?

This is why I love, e.g. Tenderloin as a location to eat. Cheap rent. Nothing fancy, but so many varieties from many countries.

The mid-peninsula has cities like Atherton and Portola Valley which take a lot of land, have low density, and very rich people. Regardless of whether these people are immigrants, they are probably not recent immigrants.

There’s quite a few of us who live in that area and enjoy Da Sichuan, or drive to Newark and Sunnyvale.

Tried bird dog. Pleasant design. Crudo was nice. Strong attention to veg. Cocktails very well done. But… the “tastes” weren’t that big, huge, and tasty. Other reviewers seem to say the same thing — good design, food doesn’t match the prices ( typical palo alto ). Will try again before writing them up / writing them off.

I went back to LB today- my first visit for years when I wanted something kinda French for lunch. I got the Croque Monsieur, Left Bank Tartine, Alsacienne Tart and the Mussels. I liked the mussels too, the others didn’t quite stand out.

I forgot to mention, Pastis’ owner opened up a new French restaurant on Cal Ave- Le Homme late last year.

The Tap Room on University will soft-open next week. Crawfish Fusion replaced Taxim.

The new Stanford art building next to Cantor- McMurtry will be hosting rotating quarterly food popups. The first vendor is Ike’s Press (basically Ike’s prepaid sandwiches, for grab and go) will be around until end of summer. I am curious who else they will be lining up.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold