Observations on Food in the Bay Area
review - nearly hidden in a piazza at 206 Sheridan in the California Ave-centered 'other' downtown Palo Alto, this almost entirely outdoor Italian restaurant is a great find. A bunch of tables with umbrellas centered around a wacky bit of fountain art of a woman holding a washing machine pouring out water, it's got nice ambiance, especially on warm evenings (and they've got heat lamps for those cooler peninsula nights).
The wine list is reasonably large, though perhaps not revised terrifically often, as a number of the bottles (including some I would have liked to have) were marked as sold out. Prices range from a low of about $30/bottle to as high as you'd expect for a nice restaurant in yuppie Palo Alto. We had a nice Chianti Riserva for $45. Fruity and vibrant, with a hint of a spicy finish, it paired well with our meals.
First, a brief complaint. The focaccia and olive oil that's brought out needs some work. The oil, which is most often mixed with some balsamic vinegar and spices, comes mixed with ground up dark red olives. While I do appreciate olives on their own, unfortunately the pungent flavor of the olives entirely overwhelmed the light fruitiness of the olive oil, which was quite a disappointment. Why have the oil at all if you can't taste it? And I for one think few things are as good as some nice bread dipped in light, flavorful olive oil.
Our shared tomato salad, which was thick, juicy slices of tomato along with some red onions and herbs, was quite good, and the tomato had good, fresh flavor. Personally, I far prefer the taste of hierloom tomatos to the more ordinary variety, but for ordinary tomatos they were quite good.
For dinner I had Ceppo Riace - a truly wonderful dish of house-made Sicilian sausage, field mushrooms, peas, and thick, ropey pasta with a dash of tomato sauce and a thorough dusting of ricotta cheese. The mild sausage blended perfectly with the cheese and sauce into a marvelously smooth, cohesive whole. Truly a simple dish - what you might expect Sicilians to eat at home on any given night, but perfectly prepared, the pasta at just the right firmness without being overly chewy, and intensely flavorful.
My girlfriend had the Penne Seciliana - also with the house-made sausage, fresh tomato, garlic, and penne pasta. She described it as 'yummy.' It was lighter than the Ceppo Riace, and I found it to be not as fascinatingly flavorful. She loved it though.
The dishes were all enormous, and unfortunately we had no room left for dessert, and had a full meal each left over in the doggie bag.
The wait staff are very friendly and attentive, and quite willing to be helpful when one can't decide on a dish from the expansive selection of regular and daily specials on the menu.
One note of warning: I believe there's only one restroom, so don't wait until the last minute!
A real hole-in-the-wall (or in this case, hidden-behind-the-bushes) find, Riace is definately worth returning to.