Category Archives: Restaurants

A Visit to Wild Onion in Palo Alto

Fried chicken at Wild Onion in the Hotel Citrine in Palo Alto.
Fried chicken at Wild Onion in the Hotel Citrine in Palo Alto.

In Silicon Valley, corporate tech campuses proliferate.

But now, there’s also an unusual hotel version of that.

Last year, Palo Alto welcomed the Hotel Citrine and the AC Hotel, both T2 Hospitality properties under the Marriott umbrella, and both located on the same San Antonio Road property.

In fact, the side-by-side hotels share a common driveway and valet parking service.

A communal bar table at Wild Onion.
A communal bar table at Wild Onion.

Though it may seem like a head-scratcher at first, it was designed to offer two different experiences on the same footprint. The AC Hotel is done up in a moody, sophisticated neutral palette, while the Hotel Citrine is all bold colors with a carefree California vibe.

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The Art of Being Earnest at Ernest

Chilled asparagus spears with furikake potato chip crumble and chunky Jidori egg salad -- at Ernest.
Chilled asparagus spears with furikake potato chip crumble and chunky Jidori egg salad — at Ernest.

Ask Chef Brandon Rice how long he toiled to open his first restaurant, Ernest, in San Francisco, and he’ll tell you the short answer is three years, but the long answer is his entire life.

No matter how you cut it, the endeavor took untold blood, sweat, and tears, plus enduring the standstill of a global health crisis. Named after his grandfather, a Virginia butcher, Ernest, finally opened in March 2021 to widespread acclaim, making it a tough reservation to land almost from the get-go.

After being invited in as a guest of the restaurant last week, it’s easy to see why. Rice is the former chef de cuisine of Rich Table in San Francisco. If you’ve enjoyed the playful, creative fare there, you’re guaranteed to relish it here, too, with its similar whimsy and daring confidence.

While Ernest offered some outdoor dining tables last year, it’s unlikely to do so this year, even when the weather warms. San Francisco weather being what it is, it proved too unpredictable to count on.

Chef Brandon Rice in the open kitchen at Ernest, the first restaurant that's his own.
Chef Brandon Rice in the open kitchen at Ernest, the first restaurant that’s his own.

However, the restaurant’s interior boasts 16- to 20-foot high ceilings, a bonus for air circulation. The soaring, light-filled space, done up with ash wood tables, actually used to be the shipping dock and warehouse for Best Foods mayonnaise, Rice says.

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Dining Outside at Howie’s Artisan Pizza

House-made pastas like this fettuccine bolgonese star at Howie's Artisan Pizza.
House-made pastas like this fettuccine bolgonese star at Howie’s Artisan Pizza.

One of Town & Country Village’s most enduring restaurants is Howie’s Artisan Pizza. But now this popular 13-year-old Palo Alto pizzeria has added handmade pastas to its lineup, too.

Chef-Owner Howard Bulka had plans pre-pandemic to expand the compact kitchen ever so much to accommodate a pasta-making station. Of course, those plans got pushed back with the advent of Covid. But now, his plans have come to fruition.

Not only can you enjoy the new pastas served in the dining room, but also on the pergola-covered outdoor dining area just in front of the restaurant. What’s more, you can even buy fresh pasta ($9), sauces ($9.50 per pint), and even frozen baked ziti ($22), manicotti ($13.95), and lasagna bolognese ($23) to take home.

A meatball, mushroom and broccoli pizza.
A meatball, mushroom and broccoli pizza.

My husband and I chose to enjoy our meal outside on a breezy evening, starting with the chopped salad ($15.25), a crunchy mix of romaine tossed with cubes of salami, Swiss cheese, cucumber, chopped egg, and green onion. With the ranch dressing on the side, you can add as little or as much as you want, controlling just how super-leaded you want your chopped salad to be.

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In Tribute to Sally Schmitt: Portuguese Duck and Sausage in Rice

A Portuguese-inspired dish of roasted duck legs, andouille sausage and sun-dried tomato rice, all garnished with duck cracklings.
A Portuguese-inspired dish of roasted duck legs, andouille sausage and sun-dried tomato rice, all garnished with duck cracklings.

Before it was Thomas Keller’s Michelin three-starred French Laundry, the old stone building in Yountville was variously a bar, laundry, brothel, and rooming house, that languished in decrepit condition for years.

It took Sally and Don Schmitt to see its potential, and to pour heart, soul, and untold hard work into transforming it into the original French Laundry in 1978, a cozy, one-menu per night restaurant. Sally did all the cooking, while husband Don greeted guests and poured the wines. It was a beloved institution that drew such acclaim that it attracted the likes of Robert Mondavi, Marion Cunningham, and Julia Child to dine.

When it came time for the Schmitts to retire from the taxing grind of restaurant life, they put the French Laundry up for sale in 1990. It took three years to sell it, as chef after chef deemed it too small or the area too rural. That is, until a down-on-his-luck chef named Keller came by, took one look, and fell hard for the place. The Schmitts generously gave him 18 months to raise the money necessary, because in their hearts they somehow knew Keller was the perfect successor.

As Sally Schmitt once deadpanned in an interview with me years ago about choosing Keller, “That worked out pretty well, didn’t it?”

Last month, Sally Schmitt passed away at age 90 — following her husband who died in 2017 — and just one month before the debut of her cookbook, “Six California Kitchens” (Chronicle Books), of which I received a review copy.

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Dining Outside at Pomet

Smoked Half Moon Bay black cod at Pomet.
Smoked Half Moon Bay black cod at Pomet.

Second-generation farmer Aomboon Deasy admits she never harbored fantasies about owning a restaurant.

After all, being a part of a family-run farm, K&J Orchards in Winters and Yuba City, was work enough. But when the owners of Homestead restaurant in Oakland — longtime buyers of the farm’s produce — approached her about taking over the space, she thought it over for a few weeks, then decided to dive in whole-heartedly.

“It was another challenge, another chapter,” she told me.

And one she obviously couldn’t resist.

The result is Pomet on Piedmont Avenue, which I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant to try last weekend. The cozy establishment takes its name from the Romanian word for “orchard,” a fitting choice for the farm, founded by her parents, whose pristine fruit can be found at farmers markets around the Bay Area, as well as incorporated into dishes at some of the region’s most respected restaurants.

Chef Alan Hsu and Proprietor Aomboon Deasy.
Chef Alan Hsu and Proprietor Aomboon Deasy.

Pomet represents farm-to-table cooking — beyond.

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