Location: Menlo Park
Favorite Restaurant: Flea Street Cafe
Reviewed Flea Street Cafe: Friday, February 12, 2010
How lucky am I to have one of the best restaurants in California within a block of my home? Jesse Ziff Cool has changed the way that I approach eating and buying food. Using local ingredients from suppliers that use sustainable practices, Flea Street Café delivers a mouthful of delectable delights. Although considered “high end,” it is really comfort food. I like to order several things from the appetizer menu with a glass of wine from the extensive list. It is the combination of flavors and textures that delivers an unforgettable experience. The staff and service give this bistro a very homey atmosphere. The fact that the charming Jesse Cool can most often be found in the restaurant on any given night is a bonus.
The last time I visited the restaurant, I had the perfect dinner companion in my seven-year-old daughter. I allowed her to choose what we would eat. She discussed her choices carefully with the waiter, and the verdict was filet mignon. Although my lips were prepared to kiss those halibut cheeks in Meyer lemon butter, I was game to try something new. The waiter was aware that we would be sharing the dish. The chef chose a piece of meat that allowed him to cook the outsides medium well, and the inside a juicy medium that satisfied us both. I owe a debt of gratitude to my carnivorous, chocoholic 2nd grader, who led me to a heavenly prepared piece of meat and two decadent desserts.
Flea Street is comfortable and feels more like a home than a restaurant. The staff is friendly and very knowledgeable about the food and wines. Given that the restaurant is in the heart of Silicon Valley, near Stanford University, and close to the venture capital center of the country, it is not unusual to eavesdrop on the latest new thing in medicine or technology. With that said, it is a place to loosen your tie and feel relaxed. It is also perfect for special occasions, whether with a group or for a bit of romance. The area has many activities to offer and dinner can easily be combined with a sightseeing trip. All this does come at a price. At about $50.00 per person for a full meal with wine, it may not be an “everyday” eatery. If you love innovative food (aka foodie), care about where your food comes from, and would like a complete dining experience, then Flea Street Café is for you.
Occupation: Deputy Sheriff
Favorite Restaurant: Souls Restaurant
Reviewed Flea Street Cafe: Tuesday, February 16, 2010
We had a reservation for Tuesday night at 7:30 pm. We had a little trouble finding the restaurant. GPS information told us to look for Alpine Road off of Sand Hill Road, when actually Santa Cruz Avenue worked better. The restaurant is tucked in at the edge of a residential community between homes and apartments, and you wouldn’t really notice it if you weren’t looking for it. I liked the idea of the outside seating and could see eating there on a nice day or night. It looked like it was a smoker’s area, which would not work for me. The bartender greeted and seated us. The interior reminded me of home with lots of windows, mirrors, and open space. The noise level was a little loud. There were approximately 10-12 tables with patrons. The tables were candlelit and were far enough apart to give us privacy. It would probably feel crowded and be noisy on a busy night.
Our server introduced and welcomed us to the restaurant. Water was brought immediately to the table. We placed our orders for cocktails. Vivian ordered a Bloody Mary, and I ordered an apple martini. The server came back to us and informed me they did not have the apple Pucker mix to make the martini. He asked if I would like to try the bartender’s version of an apple martini, I agreed to try one. The martini was great! It was nice and light with a slice of apple.
After serving our cocktails, our server began explaining the night’s dinner entrée specials. I felt a little excluded. He spoke more to my friend Vivian than to me. I felt like he would remember me as an afterthought, and then he would look at me to make sure I understood what he was explaining. Almost condescending to me. I have to admit that by the end of the night, he warmed up and then he seemed more comfortable addressing me. Otherwise, the service was excellent. Our water glasses were filled without asking, clean silverware replaced dirty, and dishes were removed promptly. Our server, or one of his associates, would explain each dish as it was presented and then checked back to ensure our satisfaction.
Dungeness Crab and Sweet Potato Cake: There was one crab cake per order. This was an excellent crab cake. It tasted like it had just come from the sea. It was light and flaky, yet crispy on the outside. It was presented with arugula on top, roasted cauliflower on the bottom, and a nice sauce with capers.
Fried Sardines: Vivian did her homework and suggested the fried sardines. It was my first time tasting these, and I was impressed. They were fresh, nicely seasoned, and not dredged in flour, so you could actually see and taste the meat. It was served with Meyer lemon slices and spicy seaweed salt. There were six sardines, and they were wonderful.
Moroccan Beet Salad: The salad was served on a double-sided plate. One side had gold/yellow beets with feta cheese and walnuts. The other side had pink-colored beets with feta cheese and walnuts. They were very nice and tasted fresh from the garden.
Warm Spinach Salad:The salad was served in a medium-sized bowl. Besides the spinach, there were shiitake mushrooms, feta cheese, caramelized leeks, and balsamic dressing. It was very good.
I ordered the Wild Wild Pasta. In the menu, it stated this dish was back, so I had to try it. It came in a nice sized bowl, and the serving was large and filling. The pasta was house made fettuccine, wild rice, house-dried tomato, feta cheese, garlic, and chilies. It was very good. The sauce was not too thick and it was seasoned nicely. Unfortunately, it did not wake my taste buds up. I thought it needed grilled salmon or chicken.
Vivian ordered the short ribs. They were excellent. They were arranged in a row on the plate, starting with scalloped potatoes, and then sautéed turnips, another short rib, and collard greens. The only thing that would have made this dish better is a larger serving size. Admittedly, we were full by the time we finished our entrees, but we wouldn’t have minded one more bite of everything. The oven-roasted short ribs were so tender they broke apart easily. The sauce/gravy was sweet and tasted like there was gingerbread in it. I also tasted cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger…excellent. The greens were nice and tender, not greasy or over cooked. The turnips were just right, a little crunchy but tender. The scalloped potatoes were juicy, not sloppy, and just right with the cheese topping.
There were two types of bread served: soda bread biscuits and whole grain slices of bread. The biscuits were just like my Grandmom would make. Very good. Nice and soft and hot. Both breads were excellent, but it would be nice to have a little more butter in the butter holder.
Chocolate Dirt Dessert: This dessert consisted of a chocolate cookie tarted up with a scoop of espresso chip gelato and chocolate and caramel sauces, and surrounded with toffee bits and small slivers of almonds. It was worth every calorie.
I had an espresso, and Vivian had a latte. They were both excellent. I also took home a single serving of lemon tart made with Meyer lemons. I was too full to try it that night. We did dip our forks into the custard, and it was excellent. The lemon taste just burst out at you. When I finally ate the tart, it was excellent.
The food was great, and the service was excellent. I would return to this restaurant for a special occasion or a nice getaway. Very relaxing when not too busy.
Occupation: Antique Dealer
Favorite Restaurant: Memo’s Mexican Cuisine House of Pipian
Reviewed Flea Street Cafe: Friday, February 5, 2010
The first thing I thought when we arrived at Flea Street Café in recession-proof Menlo Park, was, “I hope whoever picked this place appreciates simpler, well-prepared Mexican Food.” I was afraid the fan of Flea Street Café would find my choice simple and do the opposite I had hoped for, which was to give my restaurant choice a boost.
There didn’t seem to be much of an actual reception area and, although we had made a reservation, we felt we were treated a bit like unexpected guests and given a card table in the middle of the room. Ours was the only table floating in a room of wall-side spots, and we felt a little bit like we were on stage. To be fair, it was a busy Friday night, but we had made our reservations well ahead of time.
The waiter Michael, however, was excellent. He presented the detailed specials like he had actual knowledge of the dishes instead of it being a chore. We interacted well with him, and he did not feel like he needed to be the highlight of our dinner as some wait staff occasionally do. His timing, as well as the kitchen’s, was spot-on.
The organic roots of this twenty-five-year-old restaurant were apparent in the wide-ranging choices and clever pairings of dishes. I had a wonderful, perfectly tossed salad with endive, radicchio, parsley, and parsnip fritters to start. The vinaigrette had just the right zing to highlight the greens. (I also enjoyed some of my wife’s parsnip and leek soup with Meyer lemon cream, which was amazing.) I followed the salad with crisp, yet tender, full-flavored halibut cheeks with arugula-pecan pesto, butternut squash, faro, and Meyer lemon butter. It was well presented and delicious. A Luli Chardonnay was the perfect counterfoil to this great fish dish.
Our “card table” rocked a bit, which I always find a bit annoying, but the décor was subtle and the layering of several dining areas kept the noise level buzzing, but not intrusive. I finished with a caramelized pear upside-down cake with crème fraîche ice cream. I doubted the ice cream would really ring of a true crème fraîche flavor, but to my surprise, it did. And it was great with the tarte Tatin-like pear cake.
Menlo Park is an hour and a half from our home, so it is unlikely we would drive back just to eat there, but if I was going to be in the area and I could get someone else to foot the bill, I would definitely return. Flea Street Café is a smartly appointed local star that deserves its apparent reputation as a showcase for seasonal organic dishes.