Observations on Food in the Bay Area
website - On Kipling in downtown Palo Alto, this enormous Mediterranean-styled restaurant provides some pretty darn tasty family-style food and a great wine list. There's a nice selection of shareable small plates, and all the large plates are combined (eg, 1 plate of 3 servings of steak) and intended to be shared around. It's a great place to go with large parties because (a) they've certainly got enough space for you, and (b) the way they serve food is designed to handle big groups. It also gives you a chance to try lots and lots of what they have to offer.
What did we eat?
Well, lots of folks had oysters, which unfortunately I derive no pleasure from, but from what everyone else seemed to think they were quite good. At least, they ordered another whole plate, so I deemed that to be a good sign. Well, that and the fact that everyone said "These are great!"
Also got some of the little appetizers such as the chicken terrine, which was very tasty, and the hummus and eggplant caponata, both of which were merely good.
"Israeli Cigars" - tasty, with a very creamy filling not entirely unlike what you'd find in croquettes, but the crispy phyllo shell was greasier than I thought it should be.
Main courses (that I had a chance to sample)
roasted halibut with chorizo & other stuff - good. not spectacular, but good. Nice flaky consistency - well cooked. The flavor and toughness of the strips of chorizo left something to be desired.
whole roasted fish - looked very nice when it first appeared, but after it returned from a deboning, there was hardly anything left. Didn't have a chance to taste it, but was glad I had more to eat than the poor fools who got that one.
grilled hangar steak with potatos, mushrooms, red-wine reduction sauce - fantastic. Really, truly fantastic. I'd eat this 5 nights a week, and twice on Sunday. Steak was grilled just barely medium-rare, but of a perfectly melty consistency, and served sliced, so you could see just how barely cooked it was in the middle. YUM! Fantastic pepper crusted edge, as well. The wine sauce was a magnificent addition, and the mushrooms, of what type I'm not sure (something reasonably fancy), were spectactular. They'd also been lightly grilled, and had obviously been soaking up that wonderful wine sauce. Wow. Perfect counterpoint to the steak, and it all matched perfectly with the (large) selection of wine we'd brought (a very fruity pinot - 01 Sebastiani Russian River, which is truly wonderful if you can find it anywhere - a cab, syrah, and also a mourvedre).
Sides of note
polenta. 'nuff said. get it. you'll thank me. in fact, get 2.
warm chocolate cake - First, I must note that I'm quite a chocolate fan, and very picky about how chocolate cakes should be, in all their many varieties. Warm Chocolate Cake, in terms how how it truly should be - the Quintessential form, if you will - was served up best and truly perfectly by a spectacular restaurant which unfortunately didn't survive our little economic downturn, Menlo Park's Wild Hare. This was easily my favorite restaurant on the Peninsula, and could easily go toe-to-toe with many of its betters up in SF. Their Warm Chocolate Cake (which as I recall they dubbed "Oozing") defined the genre. Baked just long enough that the outside would be firm enough to contain the hot, semi-liquid inner chocolate heaven, it was rich beyond the wildest dreams of avarice. In fact, one would be tempted to say "Non! It is too rich for me - I cannot handle it!" But its brilliant creators forsaw this eventuality, and paired it flawlessly with a scoop of ice cold mint-chip ice cream in a crisp cookie container, the perfect cooling counterpoint to the nearly overpowering chocolate. This dessert was truly the stuff of which dreams were made. Culinary orgasm? You betcha. I should also note that the first time I had it, it was recommended to be paired with a York Creek port, which made an equally wonderful combination with the chocolate. Anyway, enough of my trip down memory lane (sigh) and back to the cake at hand. Zibibbo's implementation is at first glance rather tallish, which (as I'd feared) resulted in a more thoroughly cooked ensemble, leaving little of that warm, gooey center to please the palate. And the outside was nearly dry as a result. It's flavor was also not as rich as it ought to have been. Finally, there was no perfect pairing to cut the sweet of the chocolate (perhaps because it was not, in fact, so sweet as to need it? a loss, not an excuse). Disappointing, at best. But then, when matched against perfection, how could it not be?
All in all, the food was quite good, the service very attentive (especially for a party of 15), and complimenting the large wine list is a corkage fee of $15, which while not cheap, is reasonable considering how much effort they clearly put into maintaining that wine list (which does have a number of reasonably priced bottles, though not too much under $30, as I recall). We did order one nice New Zealand sauvignon blanc from the list.
Perhaps a bit pricier than it truly deserves, but if you've got a big group and you want a nice dinner, it's a good choice.