The chicken schnitzel sandwich plate at the new Wursthaus Restaurant & Bierhaus.
When is a bierhaus not just a joint to enjoy a beer and brat?
When J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is involved.
When Lopez-Alt joined forces with Adam Simpson, owner of nearby Grape & Grain craft beer and wine bar, and Tyson Mao, a Lyft project manager, they thought they’d open a low-key, no-big-deal restaurant in the city all three call home.
But Wursthall Restaurant & Bierhaus, which opens tonight, has drawn unprecedented attention far and wide.
That’s because of Lopez-Alt’s fame and following. The MIT grad is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and managing culinary director of Serious Eats, where he writes the popular “The Food Lab’’ column. His meticulously researched cooking techniques spark passion and discourse across the Internet.
All beers are on tap. None are sold in the bottle or can.
Wursthall is the first restaurant he’s partnered in. “Initially they were looking for just menu consultation,” he explains. “But I wanted to be more involved. My wife and I bought a house here a few years ago. We noticed there was no modern place geared to families in an affordable price range. I had been talking to her about getting more involved with restaurants. But this is way bigger than anything I envisioned. I’m at a point where I don’t do anything for a paycheck. I do only projects I want to put my name on and really get involved in.’’
Scallops with bacon vinaigrette at Viognier.
San Mateo’s Viognier restaurant sometimes gets forgotten about.
It’s only when someone brings up the name that you think, “Oh, yeahhhhh, I remember that place…”
After all, when it debuting in 1997, it was a big deal. It made a statement by opening on the second floor of a grocery store, of all things, albeit the uber gourmet Draeger’s. And it made an impression when it lured the illustrious Gary Danko from the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco to open the restaurant.
After Danko left to open his eponymous Michelin one-starred San Francisco establishment, Viognier went through a succession of chefs.
Executive Chef R.J. Subaba in the kitchen.
The latest one comes with impressive credentials, too. Executive Chef R.J. Subaba has cooked at the Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, Murray Circle at Cavallo Point in Sausalito, Madera at the Rose Wood Sand Hill in Menlo Park, and the Village Pub in Woodside. He’s joined in the kitchen by Executive Pastry Chef Katelyn McCulloch, formerly of the Plumed Horse in Saratoga.
When I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant in December, the restaurant offered only tasting menus. But Subaba says a la carte options will debut soon. A new wood-fired grill also was recently installed.
Pork belly buns arrive in their own little steamer at Mixx in Mountain View.
It was a shame when the short-lived Palo Alto Grill shuttered its doors earlier this year in downtown Palo Alto.
But the good news is that its Executive Chef Ryan Shelton has landed just a little farther south at the new Mixx in downtown Mountain View. The casual restaurant, which opened in September, is a much larger venue. So much so that Shelton is still amazed that he’s often doing 300 covers in one night now.
His signature seasonal New American cooking is much on display. His wife, Pastry Chef Yoomi Shelton, who worked alongside him at the Palo Alto Grill, is not in the kitchen here. But her presence is still felt, such as in the addictive homemade pretzels baked in the shape of a wheat stalk here that’s her recipe.
On a sunny afternoon, you can enjoy lunch outside.
Over lunch and dinner with two different friends, I had a chance to try quite a few dishes. Each time, we paid our tab at the end of the meal. You can make a meal from the small plates alone. But there are plenty of larger plates worth investigating, too.
Maybe it’s my Chinese heritage, but I can never resist a pork belly bao. Here, they’re billed as sliders ($12) and come three to an order. The pillowy clamshell buns are filled with big pieces of pork belly that are nicely crispy on the edges. The meat isn’t as fatty as other pork belly I’ve had, which may be a boon to some who feel guilty enough indulging in such a decadent porcine cut.
Lassen trout seafood stew at the new BFD in Menlo Park.
In the 1980s and 1990s, he elevated the Bay Area dining scene and made a name for himself as executive chef of Campton Place in San Francisco and co-founder of the Lark Creek Restaurant Group.
Since then, Chef Bradley Ogden’s attention had been focused mostly outside of the region, as he opened restaurants in Las Vegas with his son, Chef Bryan Ogden, and one in Solvang.
But now, following a move to the South Bay two years ago, Ogden is back — in a big way.
Three weeks ago after a year of construction, the James Beard Award-winning chef opened the doors to Bradley’s Fine Diner in Menlo Park. He’s also working on opening three restaurants in Houston. They’re all part of his Bradley Ogden Hospitality group, run with son Bryan, and business partner and industry veteran, Tony Angotti. The projects are being financed by investor Chris Kelly, Facebook’s first general consul, who first met Ogden when he asked the chef to cook a dinner he was hosting for then-President Bill Clinton.
Chef Bradley Ogden in the kitchen at his new restaurant.
Bradley’s Fine Diner or BFD for short is pure Ogden. Situated across from the Caltrain station, it’s an artsy roadhouse with plenty of natural wood, plus fun and funky touches like silverware chandeliers and a decorative wall with old knives stuck into it as if a knife thrower had just left the building after a practice spree.
Chocolate mousse made extra special with coffee gelee at Zola in Palo Alto.
If French writer Emile Zola was all about literary realism, then Palo Alto’s new Zola restaurant pays fitting tribute with its seasonal French cooking that keeps it real and all together soulful.
Chef-Proprietor Guillaume Bienaime opened his intimate downtown restaurant in late-September. The former fine-dining chef at Marche in Menlo Park has consulted on restaurants over the past couple of years. But Zola is his own venture and you can tell he’s poured his heart into it.
Recently, I met up with a friend for dinner there, with us paying the tab at the end of the meal. It’s a cozy space done up in denim-colored walls beside exposed brick, bare wood tables and classic cafe chairs.
The dining room is compact, but it is inviting.
It’s the kind of place where you can come in jeans, and settle in with a glass of French Rhone wine and a plate of short ribs done Bourguignon-style, and emerge feeling restored.