What was once a senior care facility in downtown Palo Alto has morphed into a splashy new boutique hotel and restaurant.
The eight-story Epiphany Hotel, a Joie de Vivre property, opened at the end of March after a year of demolition that took the structure down to the studs, followed by nearly two years of construction.
The six-story mosaic of El Palo Alto, the 1,000-year-old coastal redwood for which the city is named, was kept on the outside of the building. Moreover, throughout the structure there are nods to both that tree and to the city’s prominent place in Silicon Valley history. For instance, binary code is used as lighted artwork in the lobby. Historic maps of Palo Alto adorn hallways. Room rugs are woven with tree images. Cocoon-like “hoodie” chairs on the mezzanine not only have built-in outlets but were designed to be noise-cancelling. And perhaps in the ultimate oxymoron, the desks for all those hustle-bustle guests who never met an electronic device they didn’t like were made by the Amish.
Now, I’m not in the habit of snapping pictures of urinals in the men’s room. But this one was too good not to memorialize after being escorted in by the general manager. Yes, in the men’s room of a hotel just a stone’s throw from Stanford University, you will find this unique urinal, a deprecating symbol of the Big Game rivalry between the two institutions.
Joie de Vivre Founder Chip Conley is a Stanford grad. Apparently, its sister urinal, a Stanford-embossed one, can be found inside the men’s room of the Hotel Durant in Berkeley, originally a Joie de Vivre property. It puts a whole new spin on bathroom humor, doesn’t it?
Of course, every hip hotel needs a happening restaurant. And The Ephiphany has it in Lure + Till, headed by Chef Patrick Kelly, formerly of Gitane in San Francisco and Angele in Napa, who is making his debut on the Peninsula.
The day before it officially opened to the public, I had a chance to join a group of food and travel writers as guests at a preview dinner. The 80-seat restaurant is fronted by floor-to-ceiling windows that slide open completely to bring the indoors out and the outdoors in.
Bar star Carlos Yturria, who also worked at San Francisco’s Gitane, Rye, Absinthe Brasserie and A16, likes plenty of acidity in his cocktails, all the better to pair with food. The Peninsula Punch combines pineapple, basil and pisco in a tropical flourish. Our favorite of the night was the Bright Idea. It’s a girly looking drink that possesses a manly appeal. Made with mescal, prickly pear and absinthe, it is fruity, smokey and almost meaty tasting. It would be phenomenal alongside a platter of cured meats.
As the name Lure + Till implies, the food is about clean flavors that let the local ingredients shine through in all their purity. First of the season halibut was cured with kombu for 45 minutes before sliced crudo-style and arranged with chopped yellow beets, pretty chive blossoms and puffed rice that lent a wonderful toasty, nuttiness to the dish. Another raw fish presentation of hamachi was equally satisfying with a drizzle of smoked olive oil, bits of fresh chili and Cara Cara supremes.
Wild greens salad brought a tangle of pristine leaves hiding spoonable strachino cheese. Spring salad was a beautiful composition arranged in a circular pattern with asparagus tips, artichoke hearts, and crunchy sprouting beans and heirloom grains.
Some found the wedges of flatbread too crisp, although I liked their pita cracker-like texture. Alongside were three spreads: romesco, fire-roasted eggplant and a swoosh of fennel-dill that needed a little more oomph.
Pastas are made in-house and are worth the carb attack. Supple tagliarini strands nested around a slow-cooked egg. Break the yolk and mix everything together for a luxurious taste.
Squid-ink chitarra boasted a requisite briny flavor enhanced by dried cherry tomatoes, Calabrian chiles, peppery arugula, a shaving of bottarga and chunks of sweet, plump lobster.
Thick blocks of black kingfish were meaty yet moist with a spritely Meyer lemon confit and puddles of silky cauliflower puree.
Lure + Till plans on offering 28-day aged beef, including a New York strip that was minerally and juicy tasting. Braised oxtail heightened the beefiness, along with whipped bone marrow that I found difficult to detect.
For dessert, simple squares of carrot cake ice cream sandwiches adorned with dehydrated curls of carrots were brought out on platters to end the night.
A last bite of root veg? How appropriate for a place called Lure + Till.
More Downtown Palo Alto Restaurants to Explore: Palo Alto Grill
And: Lyfe Kitchen
And: Amber Dhara