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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June Food Excursion: Palo Alto Eateries Where New Meets Old

Stacie Tamaki enjoys her very first full cup of coffee – A mocha at Calafia

As much time as I've spent in Palo Alto I normally hit all of the many great spots for socializing instead of seeking out the culinary treats. This time my foodie friend, Stacie, and I set out strictly to taste during our June food journey. My opening photo here is rare on two counts. First, Stacie is super camera shy and normally ducks whenever you point a lens at her. Secondly, she avoids coffee like she does mushrooms so I had to catch this rare instance and pose she made with her very first cup of milky Joe at our last stop, Calafia.

So backing up our day in Palo Alto started off on a seriously good note at the special LYFE Kitchen Forklifting event on Hamilton Avenue. For the full story on that cool event see my post or Stacie's story on The Flirty Guide. Our line up for the rest of the day included a large variety of eateries all over town.

Shokolaat – 516 University Avenue (Downtown near Cowper)  650-289-0719
Fuki Sushi – 4119 El Camino Real 650-494-9383 (near Charleston)
Mediterranean Wraps – 322 California Avenue  650-321-8189
Cool Cafe – Lomita Drive and Museum Way (Stanford Campus)  650-725-4758
Calafia – 855 El Camino Real (Town & Country Village)  650-322-9200

Everything about Shokolaat spells appetizing. They took over a huge space which was previously an art gallery and you walk into an inviting semi-open air lounge area before you even get to the huge inside dining area and bar. One of the reasons we started with Shokolaat is they begin each day as a patisserie with freshly made sweets during the breakfast hour. Stacie chose an Opera Cake which was super rich layers of Jaconde Sponge, Coffee and Praline Mouseline, Chocolate Ganache and Expresso Sirop. It was garnished with an edible gold leaf. It felt both extravagant and decadent to eat but was only $4.99. Shokolaat evolves as the day progresses offering full lunch, dinner and lounge options with an impressive wine vault and full bar.

Opera Cake at Shokolaat

Our next stop took us south on El Camino back towards the Palo Alto/Los Altos border to the legendary Fuki-Sushi Japanese restaurant. It claims to be the first sushi restaurant on The Peninsula and I recall going there myself over thirty years ago.

Fuki-Sushi deserves high very marks for atmosphere and ambiance. You cannot help but relax from your first step onto their patio even before entering the front door. The peaceful gardens, rich colored woodwork, art and overall decor is very traditional Japanese.

Soothing fountain and Japanese gardens welcome you to Fuki-Sushi restaurant

After being seated our server brought us their complimentary bean sprout salad. It had a very nice marinade with a little spicy kick to it. It was a tiny portion with big flavor and a great starter to get our palates warmed up.

Bean Sprout Salad

Their menu is extensive but we both had vegetable appetizers on the brain so we order a pair of them. The first one shown here was my favorite bite of our entire trip, Vegetable Tempura Roll for $8.00. It was simply tempura carrots and and green beans wrapped with avocado, nori seaweed and lettuce in a reverse sushi roll where the rice is on the outside. It was superb. Stacie explained that the subtle touch of seasoning the rice is what really adds to the flavor profile. I could make a whole meal out of these.

Simple Vegetable Tempura is deceivingly deliscious

We also ordered a Konsai Age appetizer that was a beautiful array of colors and shapes. It included Kobacha tempura, Renken lotus root, Bamboo Shoots and Gobo root. The lotus root really reminded me of the texture of jicama. I think my favorite on the whole plate were the Bamboo Shoots. They were much thicker than the canned variety you find in the Asian aisle of the stores.

Even the green Shiso Leaf was edible garnish finished in a nice tempura batter

Our next stop was my choice because it is a long time favorite spot for me whenever I am cruising Palo Alto. I seldom miss an opportunity to eat a falafel so I have tasted more than my share. Mediterranean Wraps takes falafels to the next level with their Falafel Deluxe Wrap for $6.95 by adding eggplant and crispy "steak fries" type potato wedges. They pack all this goodness into a huge burrito size bundle. It was so large that we split only one-half of it and I got to take the other half home with me. :-)

Deluxe Falafel Wrap with eggplant and potatoes

We had to do some searching for our next stop but it was so-oo worth it. I am no stranger to the name, Jesse Cool. I have been a huge fan of her popular Flea St. Cafe for years and made many trips to Menlo Park especially for brunch there. My good friend, Chef Nikki Boyles-Frias, who is the Culinary Coordinator at the Sur la Table Los Gatos has worked at many of Jesse's restaurants. Jesse's motto is "local...organic...seasonal...sustainable...ultimately delicious" which is exactly what we found to be the case at her Cool Cafe. The only challenge was actually finding the place itself. It is cleverly tucked inside the beautiful Cantor Arts Center on the Stanford University Campus. How does this stack up for a front entrance? Needless to say our anticipation and expectations were as high as the pillars.

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University

The Cool Cafe is a perfect partner to the art and gift shop at this prestigious museum. It is a clean and modern decor with just enough warmth to wet your appetite. We had arrived well after the lunch hour so the crowds had dwindled. The "chalkboard" menu gives you that really homey/handmade feel.

Everything about the Cool Cafe is cool.

Another first for us was Stacie trying an Arnold Palmer drink. I was surprised when she said that it was her first ever. I am a golfer and mixing iced tea with lemonade has been an after game routine for as long as I can remember. It is an especially refreshing beverage and a great alternative when alcoholic drinks don't work at the 19th hole. This photo shows the separation between the lemonade on the bottom and iced tea on top before she mixed it. These two beverages really compliment each other's sweet and sour flavors when blended. It's named after the golfing legend who loves the combination.

Arnold Palmer The Drink

We were knocked out by the flavors in our Balsamic Beet and Goat Cheese Salad ($9.50). The organic greens were perfectly dressed and the balsamic kicked up the intensity of the beets. A generous helping of spicy walnuts brought it all together with crunch and kick. This salad was a complete entree and one of the best bites of the day.

Organic Field Greens, Balsamic Beets, Goat Cheese and Spicy Walnut Salad

Since we opted for a healthy choice in the salad we treated ourselves to dessert too. The Warm Berry Cobbler ($5.00) was a difficult choice because they had so many tempting desserts. I also had my eye on the butterscotch pudding so I will just have for next time to try it. The cobbler did not disappoint at all. The topping was incredibly light and the berries were sweet with just a slight tartness too perfectly balance it all. This dessert would make me happy anytime and it didn't even need any whipped cream, ice cream or creme fraiche on top at all.

Cool Cafe Cobbler Comfort

Our final stop on the Palo Alto Food Excursion was Stacie's choice called Calafia in the Town and Country Village Shopping Center. The shopping center itself is really old school and one of the few like it still in existence. Calafia, however, is a hip new eatery concept and the brain child of owner and Chef Charlie Ayers. Chef Ayers is most widely known as the former executive chef for Google, Inc. His culinary point of view is "fine food for the fast crowd" and he brings that vision into Calafia. Stacie has not stopped talking about their Burrata and Potato Pizza ($13.00) she had there recently so I knew it was time to try it. I love fresh mozzella anything so I was what we call a "friendly crowd" in the entertainment business. My first photo is an aerial shot as I was about to dive in.

And then I just had to zoom in so you can see all the layers of creamy cheese, perfectly roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and thin slices of Zucchini. Oh My Goodness! This pie is heavenly.

Calafia won me over very early when I saw a menu with equal parts carnivore and vegetarian. One whole side of their menu is called "Vegetable Menu" and the other side is called "Meat Eaters Menu." Sheer brilliance on Charlie's part and a refreshing more-than-just-a-nod to vegetarians. At a place so veggie friendly I could not resist trying the Vegetable Soy Lentil Burger ($13.00). The patty itself was made of veggies, tofu, lentils, brown rice, quinoa and spices. The absolute highlight for me was the citrus beet relish and it was finished off with smashed avocado. I opted for the side salad. It was delicious although I might have preferred it open faced as the multi-grain bun was a bit thick to eat both the top and bottom.

Vegetable Soy Lentil Quinoa Burger with pickles and side salad

I could not resist showing you this cut away shot of the colorful stack.

This wide room shot shows one very impressive open kitchen. The vibe here is quick service for the fast crowd but at the same time it is so inviting that you yearn to hang out if you've got the time.

Chef Ayers is covering one more very important base during these times of face paced lifestyles with his Market A•Go•Go. Adjacent to the restaurant this market features an organic salad bar and a host of grab-n-go times like sushi, wraps, sandwiches, salads and drinks. Made-to-order items, custom party platters and pre-cooked meals completely round out the take out menu. It really is great food and one-stop shopping for busy foodies or just food lovers alike.

Market A•Go•Go means quality on the run for hungry but busy Palo Altans

There is something for everyone on the Palo Alto food scene. I especially enjoyed how new and old seem to thrive side-by-side. There are many distinct neighborhoods here with their own identities and eateries so we will return for more. To see Stacie Tamaki's version of our Palo Alto food experience click here.

More Food Adventures:

January - The Eats of San Francisco:
February - A Tasty Tour of Santa Cruz
March - The Cowgirl Creamery
April - Confessions of a Sushi Virgin
May - Best of the East Bay
June - Palo Alto Eateries
July - Cheap Eats & Secret Menus


  1. See THIS is what I'm talking about! I really want to have this kind of experience and who better to do this with than you, Carl. You are the Foodie MASTER! I HAVE to squeeze this in when I come out!

  2. David,
    When you come to California the only thing limiting our food experiences will be time constraints. It will certainly not be limited by the choices or our imaginations. Start putting together a wish list as I am already getting hungry just thinking about it.