Protege, Palo Alto
Apologies to Chef Anthony Secviar for my plating skills — or lack thereof — on his sublime takeout food from his Protege restaurant in Palo Alto.
Because, yes, it’s possible to enjoy Michelin-starred food to-go in the comfort of your own home.
And getting takeout does offer an alluring plus: the chance to enjoy one of the restaurant’s “family meal of the week” options. I’ve had the pleasure of dining several times pre-pandemic in the lounge of the restaurant, where an a la carte menu is offered. But before, the only way to indulge in a multi-course progressive meal was to book a table in the intimate dining room for the tasting menu.
The “family meal of the week,” however, is a much less expensive variation with typically about four courses or dishes, including dessert. For instance, the one offered last week, which I got, was $75 per person.
It began with shaved Brussels sprouts salad, the crisp julienned leaves tossed with an almost equal amount of grated cheese, as well as pomegranate seeds, walnuts, and crunchy, salty, porky bits of pancetta for a dish that hit every taste bud.
The main course was composed of a Liberty duck leg, which had been confit in duck fat, rendering its flesh incredibly lush tasting and heightening the poultry’s richly pronounced dark-meat taste. The skin had been nicely crisped, too.
Two sides were packaged in their own containers but within a larger container holding the duck leg, so you knew exactly what components went with what — which is not always the case with takeout food, especially when you wind up with several sauce containers with no explanation of what goes with what. One container held braised autumn greens that were smoky and sweet, with just a touch of vinegary tanginess. The other held “Old Indian Woman” bean cassoulet. Roasted garlic butter enveloped these tender beans that were also mixed with broccoli tips.
Taken all together, the twangy greens, hearty beans and duck were like France meets the South, a wintery dish done to the nines while still inviting rustic comfort.
Dessert was the fanciest carrot cake I’ve ever seen with ribbons of whipped cream cheese over the top along with wispy curls of dehydrated carrot. Pastry Chef Eddie Lopez’s rendition uses heirloom carrots to up the sweet root veg flavor of the cake. Its texture is totally unexpected — not the usual fluffy layer cake, but a moist and quite dense crumb that’s heftier than pound cake and almost bordering on fudge. Golden raisins soaked lavishly in rum dotted the top, giving a boozy surprise when you encountered one. It may not have been conventional — and apologies to Chef Lopez if it’s not — but I actually warmed the carrot cake in the microwave for the briefest seconds and found it even more delicious that way.
Pro Tip: Protege also offers an a la carte menu to-go, so if you’re ravenous, you can add on to your family meal, as I did. I can never pass up the Parker House rolls ($6), which are so fluffy and squishy, and come with soft sea-salted butter. The lightly cured Kampachi tartare ($15) always makes a fine starter, with tiny cubes of fish cut so precisely square, you can’t help but stare in awe at least for a second or two. The fish is slicked ever so lightly with Meyer lemon kosho and topped with a few thin rings of Serrano for subtle heat and a burst of bright citrus. Thin, fragile dashi crisps accompany it.
Protege does octopus ($26) beautifully, with the tentacles so incredibly tender yet meaty. The legs are finished with a smooth, peppery romesco and a Picholine olive sauce. The dish comes complete with a few custardy chickpea panisse batons, which are ideal for dragging across the sauce, too.
Orchard City Kitchen, Campbell
During shelter-in-place, who doesn’t long for a bit more fun to shake up the monotony? Campbell’s Orchard City Kitchen offers the culinary equivalent with small plates boasting big bold flavors that can’t help but make for a joyful meal even in these rather bleak times.
Chef-Owner Jeffrey Stout offers an eclectic menu marked by global, and especially Asian flavors.
The “Triple B” ($8.75) is a triple threat of bacon, biscuits, and butter. How can that trifecta ever be bad? The bacon is meaty, smoky, sweet, and peppery. The biscuits are scored like a cut mango, creating perfect crevices for holding the butter. Our butter had melted by the time we got home — probably from the heat of the bacon in the container — but that only made it easier to drizzle on the tender biscuits.
The hamachi tartare ($12) comes arrayed on a charred avocado quarter, enlivened with truffled black pepper ponzu, ginger and jalapeno. It’s snack-sized, so just enough for two people to each have a big bite of the umami-delicious dish.
Shrimp and pork dumplings ($16.50) are plump and juicy alongside Brussels sprouts that get a showering of crisp shallots. Black vinegar and chili-garlic oil add oomph and a touch of heat.
The KFC ($9.50) is a signature, and so good that you might want two orders. Twice-fried boneless chicken pieces are super crunchy, and hold up well even by the time you get home. They get doused in a gochujang glaze that’s sticky, sweet, spicy and just addictive.
For more heat, the grilled “Creative King Salmon” ($16), is finished with a concentrated coconut green curry that carries a big kick. The Thai basil-scented sauce was so good that we didn’t want to waste what was left in the container, so we poured it over plain rice the next night.
The mini lobster rolls ($19) are as cute as they are delicious. Two can share. Or it’s enough for one person to enjoy as a small entree. The lobster flesh is shredded and piled into little toasted brioche buns. Yuzu mayo is the winning touch. Even if you’ve had a million lobster rolls before, you’ll find yourself wondering why they didn’t all come with the intense floral citrus note of this incredible mayo riff.
To get your vegetable quotient, there are grilled trumpet mushrooms ($12.50), redolent of smoke and earth, that get garnished with a garlicky turnip puree and playful fried farro grains; charred broccolini ($12.50) atop a smoky Aleppo pepper and poblano sauce made extra zingy with a lot of lime juice; and big florets of roasted cauliflower ($10.50) that were al dente but tender and coated in a spicy jerk sauce, as well as a creamy, rich Aji Amarillo-cheese sauce.
The burger ($18), done up with sweet, sticky onion jam, and melted cheese features a coarsely ground substantial patty that was cooked perfectly medium rare. It had a great char to it, as well. The accompanying hand-cut fries were impressive in how well they stayed crisp, too.
Short rib ($39.50) is served in big tender chunks off the bone — but with the he-man-sized bone included to gnaw on, if you like. And my husband did, of course. It’s a substantial dish lightened by a flourish of pickled radishes and green papaya over the top.
For dessert, there’s a playful warm chocolate tart ($12) with a torched, ooey-gooey marshmallow top. Caramelized bananas, along with a few butterscotch and chocolate chips evoked memories of trail mix alongside this campfire-like dessert.
Pro Tip: Orchard City Kitchen is known for its well-stocked bar. However, it offers only one cocktail to-go. It’s a doozy, though — it’s “OG Milk Punch” ($65 for a 750 ml bottle). It takes three days to make this cocktail that’s made with milk, but clarified like consomme, leaving behind a clear, pale elixir that’s refreshing and subtly fruity. It might just be the perfect sip for holidays at home.
Pastelaria Adega, San Jose
If you haven’t yet tried Pastry Chef Jessica Carreira’s pastel de nata or Portuguese custard tart, you haven’t lived.
Get them at her bakery, Pastelaria Adega, which opened in downtown San Jose just before Thanksgiving last year. It joins her renowned upscale Portuguese restaurant Adega in San Jose, which she opened with her parents, and partner Chef David Costa, but that’s currently closed during the pandemic.
The bakery is only open Wednesday through Sunday. But you can order online, choosing the date and time you want to pick up, and your items will be ready for you when you arrive.
Spoil yourself by ordering the assortment ($27) of a dozen tarts that comes in a nifty gold foil-lined box. You get three each of the original egg flavor, strawberry, blueberry, and passion fruit. It’s so nicely packaged that it makes for a great gift, too.
But of course, you’ll want at least one box for yourself. These little tarts boast a shattering crust, as crisp as the best kouign-amanns out there. There is an audible crunch when you bite into one. The filling is as smooth and creamy as it gets. The original is vanilla scented, the blueberry has a jammy center, the strawberry a big slice of berry, and the passion fruit provides a subtle sharpness that balances out the sweetness nicely.
While there, you can also pick up a box of six assorted bolas de berlim or malasadas ($21). You get two each of egg cream, chocolate and hazelnut, and strawberry.
The puffy, yeasty, substantial donuts are a delight. The egg cream filling is a thick, rich vanilla custard; the chocolate-hazelnut just like your favorite Nutella; and the strawberry jelly actually tastes of strawberries unlike so many run-of-the-mill jelly donuts that are filled with saccharine red goo.
Pro Tip: Not everything at Pastelaria Adega is sweet. In fact, there’s an assortment of savory items ($22) that’s like a Portuguese version of a pupu platter. It comes with two mini chicken pot pies made with very flaky pastry; two meat croquettes that are all shredded meat inside; two codfish cakes that are akin to crab cakes; and two crunchy shrimp turnovers.
Like any pupu platter, all it begs for is a fun cocktail or a nice glass of wine alongside to make it complete.