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Madera with a View

Hamachi crudo with strawberries at Madera in Menlo Park.


Majestic is the word all right for Madera restaurant in the Rosewood Sand Hill resort in Menlo Park.

It’s got to be one of the most breathtaking dining rooms in the Bay Area, what with its floor-to-ceiling windows and wide terrace with a panoramic view of the Santa Cruz mountains. It’s easy to forget you’re in the thick of the hustle-bustle of Silicon Valley and not on vacation instead.

Over the past five years, with its proximity to all the venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road, it’s turned into a hot spot for business wheeling and dealing, as evidenced in my recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle. Even if it’s well known among the VC and CEO set, it’s still rather under the radar for the rank-and-file tech employees, says Chef Peter Rudolph, who is always surprised when he does corporate events at how few people have even heard of Madera.

That’s a shame because it’s such a lovely oasis. And we sure need more of those, don’t we?

Madera boasts a lofty feel with floor-to-ceiling windows.

Chilled wine awaits.

I ate at Madera when it first opened. Although I liked the food, I found many of the dishes had just too much going on.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I was invited in to dine as a guest of the restaurant. The dishes are still far from simple, but they felt more reined in than previously.

Dinner is not inexpensive — starters are $15 to $20, and mains are $33 to $41. But to put it in perspective, this is also a place where tech folks are known to celebrate by ordering premium scotch for $500 a shot (again, see my link to my Chronicle story above). There’s also an impressive 2,000 wines to choose from.

The luxurious experience begins with an amuse of velvety salmon mousse on a silver spoon.

That’s followed by a bread basket filled with focaccia and curry-scented Parker House rolls that are pretty hard to tear yourself away from. It’s accompanied by a cube of butter with a divot on top that holds extra virgin olive oil. How clever is that?

The evening’s amuse bouche.

The impressive bread basket.

Hamachi crudo is beautifully arranged around the perimeter of a plate with hearts of palm, celery, pine nuts and aged balsamic. Fresh strawberries add just the right amount of fruity sweetness and vibrancy. Even with all the accompaniments the fish never gets lost in this dish.

Tender tortolloni are filled with a mixture of ground chicken, pistachios and mushrooms, then served in a delicate broth with smoked olive oil, truffle and pickled ramp. It’s the kind of dish that’s both comforting yet sophisticated.

Tortolloni with smoked olive oil.

Beef strip loin with short rib croquette.

Duck to die for.

My friend’s beef strip loin was oak-grilled and juicy as can be. Alongside was a croquette of braised short ribs that had a delightful crispy exterior, as well as squash blossoms and artichokes that had been compressed and roasted.

The Sonoma Liberty duck was one of the best preparations I’ve had of that fowl in recent memory. The leg meat was layered and pressed to create almost a rillette-like patty. The skin on the breast was truly crispy with almost all of the fat underneath nicely rendered out. The flesh was succulent, not livery, which can happen if it’s overcooked. Nor was it slimy, which can happen when it’s undercooked. Spring cherries and sweet cabbage rounded out this memorable dish.

Then, came a parade of desserts by Pastry Chef Melissa Root, formerly of Per Se in New York and Francois Payard’s Patisserie in Las Vegas.

First, a goblet layered with moist banana cake, brown sugar gelato, buttermilk panna cotta, and whipped banana with a crisp banana tuille. It was creamy and rich, lifted by just a touch of lime in tiny pate de fruit  underneath it all.

A creamy concoction that celebrates all things banana.

Next, a dark chocolate and anise seed mousse that tasted earthy and licorice-like. A praline crust added crunch, ginger beer citron sorbet added a spicy note, and house-made Pop Rocks hidden underneath provided a surprise for the mouth.

Lilikoi cheesecake had an impossibly light and airy texture. Habanero sorbet had a real kick to it, more than you’d expect in a dessert.Fresh berries helped douse the fire.

Passion fruit cheesecake with habanero sorbet.

Dark chocolate-anise mousse.

Lastly, a selection of molded chocolate truffles on a long plate decorated with a tiny origami paper crane. It was an appropriate accent for the truffles, which were Japanese-inspired: green tea, black sesame, Shishito pepper, red miso-shiso, wasabi-ginger-nori, and yuzu caramel. A couple passing by our table remarked they would have ordered the truffles but were too intimidated by the flavors. They shouldn’t have been. The flavors might be unusual, but none were out over-powering in any way. After all, dark chocolate’s bitter edge often plays well with savory notes.

Chocolate truffles with Japanese-inspired fillings.

Even if you don’t have a VC’s expense account, you owe it to yourself  to take in this fabulous setting even if it’s just with a drink and an appetizer or two.

After all, you’re worth it.

More Hotel Restaurants Worth Checking Out: Parallel 37 in San Francisco

And: Aubergine in Carmel

And: Madrona Manor in Healdsburg

And: Farmstead Inn in Sonoma County

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