Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late, Part 11
Camper, Menlo Park
It still amuses me whenever I read comments from people visiting Camper in Menlo Park for the first time, who expect, well, yes, camping-type food.
While there are S’mores on the menu (albeit a pretty gourmet version), you’re not going to find any canned pork & beans or mounds of trail mix.
Instead, the name is meant to evoke the great outdoors, as Camper takes its inspiration from the freshest, seasonal local ingredients.
That shows from the get-go even with a simple green salad ($14), consisting of an ample amount of fresh mesclun with peppery mustard greens in the mix. Pink peppercorns added pretty color, as well as a crunchy bite of floral heat. House-made Green goddess was the final flourish.
I almost never order fried rice from a restaurant because it’s so easy to make at home. But Camper’s fried rice ($20) was worth my breaking that rule. It’s a revelation on what fried rice can be. The grains are chewy in parts, and crisp in others, the texture you most covet in fried rice. What makes this fried rice so different is its air of freshness. Nearly raw, crunchy sugar snap peas and corn kernels, as well as radish sprouts are strewn over the top, adding a real vitality to the dish. A little tahini, as well as some red chili slices, add nuttiness and heat. This dish may be vegan, but it sacrifices nothing in flavor.
Camper’s chickpea panisse ($24) is also vegan yet very hearty. Chickpea flour is formed into sturdy, bite-size bricks, then fried. They emerge crisp on the outside, and custardy within. Camper tosses them with plenty of whole roasted, spiced heirloom carrots, cilantro pesto, and tahini hummus. It’s a dish that will fill you up nicely.
Having worked at Cotogna, Kuzia-Carmel takes special pride in his hand-made pastas. The durum, macaroni-shaped, supple maccheroni ($20) is the perfect vehicle for a thick, lusty 10-hour cooked pork ragu that’s rich, meaty, sweet, and tangy.
For entrees, the potato flour-dusted rock cod ($35) is a true taste of autumn. The fish is so moist, afloat in a velvety smooth sauce of pureed Web Ranch hubbard squash, with sauteed greens and purple potatoes.
Camper wins the prize, too, for the only french fries that have managed to stay impeccably crisp even by the time we’ve gotten them home. Kuzia-Carmel says he fries them the shoestring fries a little longer in order to ensure they can hold up. They come with the cheeseburger ($22). When ordering online, you can choose the doneness you prefer, too. My husband’s thick patty was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, with the interior still rosy. The burger comes with little containers of aioli and spicy Catalan ketchup — both made in-house, too.
When I ordered the house-made sourdough ($12), I was expecting a plain little loaf. But what I got was an outstanding, sizeable boule with a fanciful leaf-pattern etched on top, worthy of a fancy bakery. Enjoy its crusty exterior and a fabulous chewiness throughout.
Now, to that S’mores tart ($13). It’s a decidedly upscale version of the campfire staple with is crisp crust filled with thick, smooth, rich dark chocolate cremeux and topped with fluff of burnished meringue.
If you have room, go for the caramelized white chocolate pudding ($10), too, done up with chantilly cream and candied pecans. It’s airy like a mousse, but tastes almost like butterscotch pudding, thanks to a base of caramelized white chocolate and dulce de leche.
Pro Tip: Pick up a jar of Camper’s pickled vegetables ($11), under the list of pantry items on its web site. It’s a crunchy, perky blend of yellow beans, green beans, red Fresno chilies, cauliflower, cucumbers, and shallots. Add them to salads or enjoy alongside sandwiches or burgers cooked at home.
A new edition added to Camper during the pandemic has been a pizza oven parked in a parking spot just around the corner. Look for the restaurant to fire it up, Mondays through Wednesdays, in the coming days to turn out blistered pies sure to be worth trying.
Zareen’s, Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Redwood City
With Zareen’s opening it’s third and largest outpost earlier this month in Redwood City, now it’s easier than ever to get your fix of this soulful Pakistani-Indian fare.
Ever since owner Zareen Khan opened her first locale in Mountain View, her namesake restaurant has been a favorite of locals, including the tech sect.
As you’ve probably learned from getting takeout so often over the past few months, some dishes travel better than others. Saucy and often stew-like, Pakistani-Indian fare holds up very well. So much so, that you might want to do yourself a favor and order more so you can enjoy leftovers the next day.
Definitely get the samosas, and definitely devour them the first day. Even by the time we got them home, they were still plenty crisp. The chicken memoni samosas ($4.99) are filled with a complex and aromatic blend of ground chicken and onions. They are so good, they were recognized by the Michelin Guide. The potato samosas ($6.75) are larger, and boast a thicker crisp wrapper enfolding a creamy, spiced potato filling.
Although, you can choose assorted wraps and burgers, we went for the family-style dishes. The grilled chicken boti ($8.39) is one of my favorites here. With chunks of green pepper and onions, it’s almost like a Pakistani version of fajitas, with chunks of smoky, spicy chicken.
Definitely get some whole-grain flaky paratha ($3.79) or naan ($2.59 to $4.99) to go with it, especially since they’re made fresh for each order. I’m especially fond of the sesame naan, with its crisp-soft foundation strewn with the nutty seeds.
Zareen’s is justly famed for its chicken tikka masala ($12.37), with tender chicken pieces in a creamy, buttery gravy with moderate heat. Enjoy it with plenty of fluffy basmati rice ($4.45).
The chicken keema ($13.95) was the spiciest of the dishes we had. It’s a dense dish of ground chicken and potato cubes, almost like a less saucy sloppy joe. After a few forkfuls, you’ll definitely feel the heat rising off your scalp.
Spinach with lamb ($14.79) has the leaves cooked down into the sauce, adding an herbaceous, minerally note to the tender chunks of meat.
On the other hand, lamb curry ($14.99) with potatoes has a far different profile, scented heavenly with cinnamon.
A side of pickle salad ($3.99) refreshes the palate with its gentle tang. With garbanzos, plus diced cucumber, carrots and onion, it’s like a mini chopped salad.
Even if you don’t normally indulge in mango lassi, get the version here ($3.85). It’s got plenty of mango puree, is less sweet than many others, is creamy as a milk shake, and is the perfect way to cool off your taste buds after a lot of spicy food.
Pro Tip: Scroll toward the bottom of the online menu, and you’ll find frozen versions of Zareen’s staples. I picked up a pack of frozen Punjabi chicken burger patties (10 for $24), as well as frozen naan (4 for $7.50). The chicken patties take only about 6 minutes or so to cook in a saute pan after defrosting. They pack a punch of flavor with onion, chilies, cumin and other spices. So much so that you don’t really need any other condiments to enjoy them. With the naan, you have the makings for dinner or lunch at the ready in a flash.