Camper Stakes Its Claim In 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).
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.