Camper Stakes Its Claim In Menlo Park

Beautiful yellowtail crudo at Camper in downtown Menlo Park.

Beautiful yellowtail crudo at Camper in downtown Menlo Park.

 

On a rainy, dreary Friday afternoon in Menlo Park, Camper was full of — yes — happy campers.

The restaurant, which pitched its home in the former LB Steak locale last year, was buzzing and completely full at lunch time, as I found when I met a friend and colleague there, with both of us paying the tab at the end.

Roland Passot, owner of La Folie in San Francisco and former owner of LB Steak, partnered with Chef Greg Kuzia-Carmel, who cooked at New York’s Per Se and San Francisco’s Cotogna, and Logan Levant, who owned Buttercake Bakery in Los Angeles, to open this smart spot built around hand-made pastas and elevated classics with global influences such as Crispy Fried Chicken “Milanese” ($14) and Overnight Yucatan-Style Braised Pork ($18).

The bar.

The bar.

The airy dining room.

The airy dining room.

It’s a handsome restaurant done up with light wood, plenty of windows, a long back-lighted bar, and a dough room just off the entrance, where you can watch the pasta being made.

We started with the Baja Yellowtail with Salted Kumquats and Shiso ($19) — or should I say “Kuquats,” which is how it was spelled on the menu? Camper might want to turn on a flashlight to peer more closely at its menu, because there are a few misspellings, including “Marmelade,” “Brussel” sprouts, and “Chrispy” garlic.

Regardless, the crudo was lively and bright with the kumquat slices adding a great dash of sweetness, tang and saltiness to the fish.

With a name like Camper, there's got to be some artwork that brings the outdoors in, right?

With a name like Camper, there’s got to be some artwork that brings the outdoors in, right?

As for the Brussels sprouts? A side order ($8) of fried ones brings a generous bowl that’s large enough for four to share. The exterior leaves get crisp like potato chips. There’s a ramekin of garlic butter, too. You may want to exercise restraint if you need to go back to your office to work afterward, because it’s pretty pungent.

A bowl laden with fried Brussels sprouts.

A bowl laden with fried Brussels sprouts.

Of course, if a chef has worked at a place famed for its pasta (Cotogna), you’ve got to try some here. The Paprika Bucatini ($21) is a saucy, spicy affair with supple noodles that get tossed with an abundance of pepper soffrito and ‘nduja. On a cold afternoon, it will definitely warm you up from the inside out.

Twirl a fork into this spicy bucatini.

Twirl a fork into this spicy bucatini.

India meets France in this panisse dish.

India meets France in this panisse dish.

“Palak Panisse” ($19) is not only gluten-free, but vegan. It’s also delicious. Chickpea flour is formed into little cubes that get sauteed and slightly crisp in a pan with Spigarello broccoli, spinach, stinging nettle pesto, and coconut milk. It has the flavor profile of an Indian dish with the panisse standing in for what might otherwise be paneer. The panisse has more presence, though, with a toasty, nutty character.

Honey panna cotta dressed up with bee pollen.

Honey panna cotta dressed up with bee pollen.

For dessert, we shared an ultra-creamy Marshall’s Farm honey panna cotta ($6) that was garnished with bee pollen that looked like colorful confetti, had a slightly chewy texture, and tasted almost fruity.

It definitely beats a tin of pork and beans warmed over a campfire any day.

The restaurant's theme even carries over into the bathrooms.

The restaurant’s theme even carries over into the bathrooms.

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