With festive pine cones adorning simple plywood tables, string lights festooning sidewalk trees, and blankets as soft as cashmere at the ready, Cotogna’s parklet has got to be one of the nicest around.
That’s what I found when my husband, two friends, and I dined outside last weekend when it hovered around 48 degrees. The popular Jackson Square Italian restaurant has tables outside right on the sidewalk, as well as a sizeable parklet. The latter is where you want to sit if possible because it has a canopy overhead, so if it rains, you’ll probably be fine unless the wind kicks up mightily.
Indeed, with both an overhead and tall standing heater at each table, we were as comfortable as can be. In fact, halfway through dinner, two of us even shed our coats because we were that warm.
With our server’s charming Italian accent, we almost felt like we had taken a trip to Italy during the holidays, too.
It’s a good bet that Guillermo Soto Torres is one of the few — if not only — pastry chefs in the Bay Area with a degree in telematics, the interdisciplinary field that combines telecommunications, vehicular technologies, electrical engineering, and computer science.
He had hardly stepped foot into that scientific career, though, when he made a major pivot to use his knack for precision in a whole different way. He started working in a chocolate shop in his native Mexico, then began studying baking books. It wasn’t long before he jumped full bore into pastry making about 15 years ago.
That led to stints at Four Seasons hotels in Costa Rica and Florida, before coming two years ago to the Four Seasons Silicon Valley in East Palo Alto to become head pastry chef.
Earlier this week, the 36-year-old chef invited me and two other media colleagues into his hotel kitchen to watch and learn as he made what will be the stunning centerpiece dessert for Christmas Eve dinner and the Christmas Day buffet — the buche de Noel.
His version of the classic French yule log cake is comprised of a flourless chocolate cake on a base of crispy hazelnut feuilletine (crunchy crepe shards) that’s rolled around chestnut cream and an anise-flavored orange compote before it’s all enrobed in shiny white chocolate glaze and holiday garnishes. To serve all the expected guests on those two days, he will make 100 of them.
He talked about his favorite ingredient to work with, the one that’s he’s allergic to, the one dessert he could eat every single day, and the rather ill-fated day that he began working at the Silicon Valley hotel.
It’s said that all good things must come to an end.
So apparently, must all great things, too.
When Chef-Owner David Kinch announced that he would be closing his Michelin three-starred Manresa in Los Gatos at the end of this year, it was a seismic jolt felt ’round the culinary world.
But after a glittering 20-year run, including the last three rocked by the turmoil of a global pandemic, he felt the time had come.
Although he will continue with his more casual concepts of Manresa Bread, the Bywater, and Mentone, come 2023 the South Bay will no longer boast a Michelin three-starred establishment. The property is up for sale. While Kinch says he has a few projects in mind to consider next, it’s a good bet that it will be a long time — if ever — that a restaurant exists in these parts that will draw discerning diners from all over the world in numbers like this one has.
I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy several superlative meals at Manresa over the past two decades. While I’ve mostly dined outdoors since the pandemic hit in 2020, I couldn’t pass up the chance to dine indoors there one final time.
When Rooh opened in downtown Palo Alto in January 2020, it announced itself with live-fire, modern Indian fare in splashy surroundings. Thankfully, it not only survived the global calamity that hit a mere two months later, but continues to take Indian cuisine to new heights now.
It even added a parklet for outdoor dining. That’s where I dined recently when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant on a chilly weeknight. With plenty of heaters, though, as well as thoughtful floral decorations, the parklet was plenty comfortable. Even on a Wednesday, it was filled with diners, as was the dining room.
Husband and wife, Vikram and Anu Bhambri, who got their start in the tech industry, opened their first Rooh in San Francisco in 2016. It, too, is still going strong, along with locations in Columbus, OH, and New Delhi.
Executive Chef Sujan Sarkar oversees all the Rooh locations (except the Chicago one), with Chef Apurva Panchal in charge of the Palo Alto locale.
It’s rare that a restaurant invites me in as a guest twice in less than three months. And even rarer that I find a reason to accept a second invitation like that.
In August, I dined outside at JiuBa, the bar-lounge that’s part of the opulent iChina restaurant that opened last year Westfield Valley Fair. Executive Chef Eddie Lam, former corporate executive chef at Straits Management Group, oversaw the expansive high-end Chinese menu at the restaurant and the much smaller menu at the bar-lounge.
However, a month later, he departed and a new culinary team took over: Chef Zhineng Chen, former North America corporate chef for the Hakkasan Group, whose forte is Cantonese cuisine; Chef Xia An He, who specializes in dim sum; and consulting Pastry Chef Graham Hornigold, who has worked at the Mandarin Oriental and the Lanesborough hotels in London.
Now, there’s a brand new menu. And it’s the same one whether you dine at iChina or at JiuBa. So, last week, I again dined outside at JiuBa, but on dishes that were all new for the most part.
With the evenings turning chilly now, just note that the outdoor dining area is not equipped with heaters. So, you’ll definitely want to dress in warm layers. There are lights on the building that shine down on the outside tables, so you won’t be dining in the dark. The tables are quite small, though, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself balancing a dish or two on the planter wall, as we resorted to at times.