Few restaurants anywhere reach a 40-year milestone.
That such a momentous achievement happened during the height of the pandemic last year for Menlo Park’s Flea Street might have put a slight damper on the festivities that had to be held over Zoom.
But it’s a testament to this restaurant, whose doctrine of organic and sustainable has been woven into its fabric since the beginning, that after the unprecedented challenges of a pandemic it’s come roaring back.
When I dined there last week as a guest of the restaurant, every outdoor table was full of smiling patrons, clinking glasses of festive cocktails, and chatting with Chef-Owner Jesse Cool as the made the rounds. The indoor dining room is undergoing a refresh, complete with a new ventilation system, and should be ready to welcome back diners soon. Executive Chef Bryan Thuerk, all of 23 years old, couldn’t be happier to be cooking for diners in-person again, after months of doing takeout, which the restaurant had never done before.
The outdoor dining has the air of a celebratory backyard get-together with bales of hay topped with cushions for bar-service only, and wood-slatted fencing in the dining area.
Indulge in a cocktail by bartender Eloy Martinez, who’s been with the restaurant for more than 15 years. The Apricot & Sage is a blend of brandy, apricot, sage, Contreau, bitters and lemon juice that get garnished with a fresh apricot half and sage leaf. It’s fruity with a nice bitter edge and a touch of menthol.
Chef-Owner Jeffrey Stout weathered not only three years of permit approvals and construction, but a worldwide pandemic, to finally open his splashy new Be.Steak.A.
For diners, it was more than worth the wait.
The fine-dining Italian-influenced steakhouse playfully named for the classic Italian steak known as bistecca Fiorentina, initially was limited to only takeout during the pandemic. But now, with both indoor and outdoor seating available, it can be enjoyed in its full glory.
Whereas his Orchard City Kitchen, just steps away in the same Pruneyard complex, presents a casual and eclectic array of global small plates, Be.Steak.A is pure luxe. It’s where 5 ounces of Hokkaido Snow Beef (aka A5 strip loin) with a “snow” of cacio e pepe will set you back $288. And no, that’s not a typo. It’s where food is presented on famed Italian blue and white ceramics by Richard Ginori. But it’s also a restaurant that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s not stuffy in the least, not when deeply bronzed beef fat popovers ($9) with smoky deviled ham butter (like the most elevated version ever of Underwood Deviled Ham) and pickled cucumbers is served under a cloche shaped like a lounging pig.
When you check in at the host stand, you’re presented with a soothing cup of warm bone broth. As you’re escorted to your table, you pass a huge long window that affords a direct view into the kitchen, all done up in stainless steel with accents of lipstick-red all around. If you happen to time it just right, you might even get to see cooks making pasta by hand at a massive table in front of the window.
Last week, I drove to the Napa Valley, which may not seem remarkable in and of itself until you realize it was my first trip there in 16 months.
Visiting Wine Country has always felt as soothing as a vacation — even when I was there for work. Now, after being cooped up for days on end during a pandemic, it seems even more exhilarating.
It was also my first time in as long dining at a fine-dining restaurant — albeit outdoors. I couldn’t have picked a better place than Press, where I had been invited in as a guest to check out the new offerings by an impressive new team now in place at this venerable dining destination owned by the influential Rudd family.
Executive Chef Philip Tessier oversaw a kitchen remodel and transitioned the restaurant away from a steakhouse to more nuanced modern American fare with lighter, brighter, seasonal flair. If his name is familiar, it’s likely from his time in the kitchens at The French Laundry in Yountville and Per Se in New York, as well as for his headline-making turn as the first American chef to reach the podium at the Bocuse d’Or international competition, garnering a silver medal.
Tessier has recruited two fellow Thomas Keller restaurant alums: Chef de Cuisine Darryl Bell, former executive sous chef at Bouchon Bistro in Yountville, who also has his own line of barbecue sauces and rubs at Stateline Road BBQ; and Master Sommelier Vincent Morrow, whose impressive experience stretches from The French Laundry to Gary Danko, Benu, and One65, all in San Francisco. The front of the house is manned by General Manager Cole Mathers, formerly of Gary Danko restaurant.
If you need any affirmation that people are flocking to Wine Country again, consider the fact that during the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, Press served more than 350 diners.