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LV Mar — A Latin Party in Downtown Redwood City

Friday, 17. October 2014 5:26

A party on the plate -- and in the dining room -- at LV Mar.

A party on the plate — and in the dining room — at LV Mar.


Most nights, LV Mar in downtown Redwood City, offers up a taste of modern pan-Latin cuisine in small and large plates.

But once a month, Chef Manuel Martinez throws a veritable party — offering a prix fixe dinner themed to a different Latin cuisine, complete with a band, dancers and singers.

A couple weeks ago, I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant to experience October’s showcase on the Caribbean.

Martinez, who has cooked at Left Bank and One Market restaurants, also owns the more casual La Viga in Redwood City. LV Mar is his newer restaurant, which opened in November 2013. He’s been throwing these themed-dinners almost from the get-go.

Chef Manuel Martinez adorned for the occasion.

Chef Manuel Martinez adorned for the occasion.

When you check in at the hostess stand, you’re welcomed with Mardi Gras-like beaded necklaces to wear. All the tables are strewn with colorful star confetti to put you even more in the mood.


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Palo Alto Grill Grows Into Its Own

Wednesday, 2. July 2014 5:25

Mango cheesecake at the Palo Alto Grill.

Mango cheesecake at the Palo Alto Grill.


The Palo Alto Grill in downtown Palo Alto has undergone some tweaks.

When it first opened last year, it was decidedly much more of a steakhouse with a dedicated section of the menu devoted to various beefy cuts. That has been jettisoned, leaving just one steak on the menu.

For a time earlier this year, it also featured a separate menu of Croatian specialties in homage to co-owner Luka Dvornik’s heritage. That, too, has now been abandoned.

In its place now are dishes that lean more toward Modern American that highlight plenty of local, seasonal California products, sometimes with an Asian sensibility. The whimsy also has been turned up, as evident in the plating of several of the dishes.

Husband-and-wife team Chef Ryan Shelton and Pastry Chef Yoomi Shelton helm the kitchen with a fine eye for detail. Their previous experience includes stints at Baume in Palo Alto, and Randall Grahm’s former Le Cigar Volante in Santa Cruz.

Recently, I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant for a return visit to try out the new menu.

The bread basket you can't stop eating.

The bread basket you can’t stop eating.

A cocktail made with fresh blackberries.

A cocktail made with fresh blackberries.

You could easily fill up on the bread basket alone, as the offerings are superb. Shelton bakes them all in-house every hour, including airy brioche, fragrant walnut bread and a fantastic salted pretzel shaped like a wheat stalk. Alongside is a Dijon-parmesan sauce for slathering on.


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Madera with a View

Friday, 13. June 2014 5:25

Hamachi crudo with strawberries at Madera in Menlo Park.

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.

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

Chilled wine awaits.

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.


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Portola Valley Welcomes the Portola Kitchen

Friday, 31. August 2012 6:00

How about a decadent Belgium waffle for dessert? At Portola Kitchen, you can so indulge.

You gotta love a restaurant that offers you a perfectly crisp and light Belgium waffle with Nutella sauce — at the end of dinner.

That’s one of the joys of the new Portola Kitchen, which opened last month up in the tree-lined hills of Portola Valley.

It’s in the old Mike’s Cafe building in the Ladera Shopping Center, a little oasis of eating and shopping, where you’ll also find the wonderful Bianchi’s Market, an Old Port Lobster Shack, and the well-stocked Ladera Garden Center.

The restaurant space has been given a total redo with a rustic, warm vibe. Banquette dividers are constructed of unfinished wood. The bare wood tables, fashioned from old barn siding, still have grooves and knots in them to add character. Even the soaring beamed ceiling is reminiscent of an old barn. There’s a long bar with TVs, an open kitchen, and seating outside to take advantage of the temperate summer evenings.

Chef Guillaume Bienaime is the latest in a long line of fine-dining chefs to go more casual these days. He last headed the kitchen at the well-regarded, white-tablecloth Marche in Menlo Park.

Chef-Owner Guillaume Bienaime in the open kitchen.

Gotta have a snazzy meat slicer, right?

A plate of food ready to be served. The bar is in the background.

At Portola Kitchen, he creates a menu friendly on the pocket and a variety of appetites. All the pastas are made in-house, as is the sausage. The wine list is half Californian and half Italian. There also are wines on tap to enjoy by the glass.


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