This summer, when timing necessitated postponing my birthday dinner at Michelin three-starred Manresa to two months later, my husband asked me where I wanted to go instead on my actual birthday weekend. I immediately knew the spot.
It was another Michelin-recognized establishment.
One where the food would be equally unforgettable and fill me with similar contentment.
And where my husband would be especially thrilled because it turned out to be the least expensive birthday dinner he’d ever bought me.
Though she had never opened a restaurant before, Pakistani-born Zareen Khan decided to do just that when she opened the original fast-casual Zareen’s in Mountain View on 2014. It proved such a hit that two years later, she opened a second, larger Zareen’s on California Avenue in Palo Alto, which is the one we frequent. In 2020, look for a third and larger location to open in downtown Redwood City.
Tech workers who get all the free food they want on their campuses gladly flock to Zareen’s to stand in line and, yes, pay their own money, for her incredible contemporary Pakistani-Indian food. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have dined here. And Chef Anthony Secviar and Master Sommelier Dennis Kelly, the team behind Michelin-starred Protege in Palo Alto across the street from Zareen’s, have made no secret about being so addicted to Zareen’s chicken tikka masala that they eat it weekly.
Halibut with Robuchon potatoes at the new Selby’s.
You know a restaurant has got it going on when nearly all of its 48 main dining-room seats are already booked solid for the next two months and its private dining rooms already are sought after for Christmas soirees — and it hasn’t even opened its doors yet.
Such is the case of the hotly anticipated Selby’s in Redwood City on the edge of Atherton, which officially opens to the public on Tuesday, July 23 to serve dinner nightly.
The 10,000-square-foot property on El Camino Real has been various restaurants since 1938, most recently Chantilly’s. For more than a year, including four months of construction, the Bacchus Group labored to completely transform the interior into a sumptuous establishment, as I saw when I was invited in as a guest of a media preview dinner last week.
The main dining room on the first floor.
The mixed media “Golden State” art work created by Lost Art Salon proprietor Rob Delamater hangs above the fireplace.
The swank bar.
Local artist Magnus Scheven’s focal point chandelier.
Dark emerald mohair covers the walls not only to add luxury, but act as a sound dampener. I dare you to not spend at least a few moments caressing the walls (yes, really) that feel like plush velvet to the touch. Real gold leaf glitters on the back wall of the bar, as well as the ceiling of the restrooms. There’s even a secret poker room upstairs that doubles as a private dining room.
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 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.
The elegant Ambience in downtown Los Altos may have opened more than four years ago, yet it still flies relatively under the radar.
But thankfully, more people are finding out about this fine-dining gem on the Peninsula, as evidenced a few weeks ago when I was invited in for a repeat visit as a guest of the restaurant. The first time I dined there in 2015 on a weeknight, I have to admit I wondered how it managed to stay in business. I think my party of two was only one of three tables filled that night in what albeit is a small restaurant. But on the return visit, I was happy to see that about two-thirds of the restaurant was filled on a weeknight.
Cobalt water glasses.
A sip of warm almond tea to get in the mood.
A tasting menu-only restaurant can be a gamble, especially in too-impatient-to-wait-for-anything Silicon Valley. It’s one thing to devote 2 hours or more to a meal on a weekend or special occasion. But on a Wednesday night after work? For a lot of people, that’s a big ask.
Chef-Owner Morgan Song makes it worth your while, though. Song, who cooked for years in Sacramento and San Francisco, most notably at Kiss restaurant, and his wife, who manages the front of house and greets guests warmly when they arrive, have created a subdued restaurant, cloistered from the stresses and vagaries of the day with a candlelit dining room with smoky glass windows that seems to make the outside world disappear.
Tagines are the centerpiece of the menu at Porta Blu.
Driving Highway 101 on the Peninsula, you cannot miss the swank new Hotel Nia. Its 11 stories of gleaming glass make quite the statement.
Step inside the just opened hotel, and you are sure to get whiplash. That’s because the upscale yet whimsical decor by Colum McCartan of New York’s McCartan, Inc. will have you looking every which way. Everywhere you turn, there are eye-catching, fun touches such as a cart full of luggage turned into a planter and rakes leaning against doorways that are actually light fixtures. Just when you think you’ve spotted every surprise, you discover yet another one.
Somebody sure left their luggage here a long time. LOL
Don’t try using these to sweep up anything.
Just a tandem bike on the property.
The property somehow manages to feel secluded, even if it is right off always-jammed 101, and has Facebook as a neighbor.
Enter the restaurant, Porta Blu, and the unique artfulness continues. The backs of the bar stools look as if they sport an abstract squiggle design. But start at them a little longer to discover it’s actually a silhouette of two faces kissing.