Zola, Palo Alto
On first reflection, you might not think that beef bourguignon and chicken with egg noodles in a lavish cream sauce would be what you really want to dig into on a warm summer evening.
But these French classics, done so right at Zola in downtown Palo Alto, end up not necessarily feeling heavy and rich, but downright as comforting as a hug. And in this time of upheaval, who wouldn’t want to be enveloped in that kind of contentment?
Zola only offers its to-go food on Fridays and Saturdays. The week’s menu is usually posted on Wednesday (sometimes on Tuesday), so you can start reserving your picks then. The earlier the better, too, because some items sell out fast.
While most other restaurants provide the food warm with instructions to reheat a few seconds in the microwave when you get home, Zola actually goes the heat-and-eat route, meaning everything is refrigerated, and you need to heat it to enjoy it.
Chef-Owner Guillaume Bienaime provides a sheet instructing how many minutes to heat everything in the oven at 400 degrees. Yes, the oven. I know, it’s a longer step that involves heating up your kitchen a bit, but it’s worth it. A microwave is not going to crisp up the bread crumb-strewn top of the shingled fennel-zucchini-onion gratin ($16) nor the similar top of the creamy, nutty-tasting gratin de macaroni ($14) made with Gruyere. And believe me, you really want to eat both those dishes with the textural contrast of a crunchy top and soft layers below.
Each entree is made to serve two. That beef bourguignon ($40)? Fork-tender, with fingerling potatoes, carrots and melty onions. That Poulet Grand Mere ($36)? Pure delight with juicy chicken thighs and egg noodles in a creamy yet light white wine sauce laden with mushrooms, bits of bacon, and tiny pearl onions.
Zola has partnered with Pastry Chef extraordinaire John Shelsta, aka Love for Butter, to offer baguettes ($5), and sweets, including a seasonal fruit crumble ($24). Recently, it was an apricot one. The aluminum pan was full of sweet, tangy apricots crowned with a crunchy, buttery streusel-like crumble. It could serve six easily. You’ll want to warm this up in the oven, too. If you happen to have some vanilla ice cream in the freezer, embellish each serving with a small scoop for the ultimate treat.
Pro Tip: Because Bienaime is part-owner of Vin Vino Wine store in Palo Alto, the bottles of wines he’s now selling at Zola are definitely good buys because they go for about retail price. I purchased a half-bottle of 2018 Domaine Terrebrune Rose ($22), redolent of grapefruit with crisp acidity and plenty of minerality. It even came already chilled — a very thoughtful touch — so that I could enjoy it right when I got home. If you’re a fan of Shelsta’s magnificent kouign-amanns and croissants, be sure to sign up for his newsletter, so you get notified when he begins doing regular pastry pop-ups at Zola in the near future.
The Bywater, Los Gatos
While many restaurants only offer fried chicken occasionally, David Kinch’s The Bywater smartly has it on the menu all the time.
When you’re craving classic, crisp, battered chicken — as my husband so often does — this is the place to find it. Order ahead online, pull into a designated parking space behind the restaurant, call the restaurant, and a server will bring it right to your car to deposit in your trunk. It’s as easy as that.
The Bywater offers a handy-dandy Fried Chicken Meal for Two ($60) with fixings. There’s only one issue with it: It comes with three pieces of chicken. Yes, three pieces for two people. So, you either have to be willing to cut one piece in half to share — or arm-wrestle your dining companion for it.
And this is chicken worth fighting over. Golden, juicy, and satiating. It comes with a sizeable mixed green salad with red wine vinaigrette, spicy Creole fries, an extremely porky gumbo, and the best red beans and rice I’ve ever had. The Bywater calls its version of the latter, “Rich Man’s Red Beans & Rice.” That’s because it is loaded with shards of smoked pork. The creamy beans get enveloped in sweet porcine flavor. It’s so good that I’m tempted to get an extra order the next time I get to-go food there.
I just might do a double-order of the buttermilk biscuits with honey butter ($7 for two) next time, too. Wow, they are impressive — nearly the size of my palm and just over 2 inches high. They are crisp on the outside, and soft and fluffy within. Any leftovers make for a great breakfast, smeared with that honey butter and some jam. Or split them to make your own strawberry shortcakes.
Likewise crisp on the outside and soft and airy inside, the bread encompassing the Shrimp Po’ Boy ($19) is just what you want in this sandwich that’s loaded with fried shrimp and slaw. Drizzle on the remoulade and go to town on it lustily.
For a nice counterpoint to all that rich food, a side of pickles ($3) — carrots, turnips and okra — hits the spot.
Pro Tip: If you’re feeding a big family, Sundays are a great day to order to-go food here. That’s because it’s the only day of the week that you can get a six-piece bucket of fried chicken ($25); or the Smokehouse Sampler ($90) with enough pulled pork, smoked brisket, spicy barbecue sauce, coleslaw, and white bread to serve four.
The Table, San Jose
At The Table, the ever-popular spot in San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood, you can dine outside on the patio, walk up to a host stand to pick up your to-go order, or have it delivered to you curbside in your car when you pull into a designated parking space next to the restaurant.
Owned by veteran chef-restaurateur Jim Stump, The Table offers both its well-known brunch and dinner menus to-go, too. The latter is what we went with, getting our fill of satisfying California-inspired fare.
The Salad of Late Spring Peas ($13) is actually composed of four types of peas: sugar snap peas, snow peas, pea tendrils, and English peas out of the pod. This spring bounty is tossed with a perky Dijon dressing with a touch of honey that brings out even more sweetness in the peas. Feta cheese adds just the right touch of creaminess and brininess. I could eat this salad every week very happily.
The Roasted Street Corn Salad ($6) is indeed a salad — with the corn kernels off the cob, and mixed with Japanese kewpie mayo, cotija cheese, and peppery Tajin spice. The corn is charred, too, adding a nice layer of smokiness.
The Fried Catfish ($22) gets battered in cornmeal, substantial enough so that its crispiness stands up to the car-ride home. I thought the catfish could use a touch more salt in the seasoning, but once you dunked it into the remoulade and accompanying hot sauce, it was just right. Coleslaw, dressed just enough, and golden hush puppies completed the dish.
The Pan-Roasted Ling Cod ($24) was incredibly moist and accented by a light cream sauce with pearl onions, snow peas and morels.
A wedge of buttery apricot cake ($8) comes with a compote of plump blueberries and a fluff of whipped cream for the ultimate homey dessert.
Pro Tip: My husband and I joke that we don’t think we’ve ever had an Old Fashioned at a bar or restaurant. OK, so we’re more Negroni people. But you won’t want to miss the Old Fashioned at The Table. This version, crafted by bartender Jimmy Rose, has won acclaim far and wide. It’s all in the details. Rose makes his own bitters, as well as his own simple syrup of brown sugar rather than granulated white sugar for more complex sweetness.
The bourbon-based drink can be packed up in a plastic bottle for two ($20), complete with garnishes of orange peel and Luxardo Maraschino cherries (deep burgundy colored, not unnaturally lipstick-red ones), which is the way we went. Or for a crowd, choose the Old Fashioned Home Kit ($70), which comes with an entire 750ml bottle of Private Label Larceny Bourbon. Either way, you’ll enjoy a very smooth, balanced cocktail with deep smoky and vanilla notes, and that bitter orange edge I so adore.