REVIEW: Wild Hare, Menlo Park
Wild Hare opened in 1999 along the El Camino strip in Menlo Park near Draeger's, our favorite supermarket. It features wild game on the menu, and other exotic dishes along with the standard Cali-French fusion fare. Wells and I paid them a visit one night for dinner.
The decor is very trendy, with a predominance of medium-dark woods, exposed, arched beams and subdued lighting from Art Nouveau lamps. It displays a style I like to think of as 'Retro-Medieval 90s', taking cues from the past in the form of wrought iron and hanging velvet banners here and there but keeping everything cool and modernist. The tables are small, but nicely laid out on white linen. Wells was wearing one of his traditional tropical shirts and I was wearing a red T-shirt, but our dress was not at all an obstacle, as this was a casual establishment.
We arrived early, around 6:30 pm, and the place was nearly deserted. We were seated quickly and brought drinks almost immediately. Our waiter was friendly and recommended the bison steak or the venison, but both of us were in the mood for a slightly lighter meal. Wells ordered the free-range chicken and I ordered the trio of rabbit, in keeping with the name of the place.
After an excellent bread basket with an array of artisanal breads and an eggplant tampenade, our appetizers arrived. I enjoyed the heirloom tomato salad with avocado, painted lightly with splatters of creamy basil-based dressing. Heirloom tomatoes are brightly colored, and the thin slices of yellow, green and purple were delicious. Wells's appetizer was the clam chowder, with small lardons of bacon within. He quite liked the texture, but found himself having to add salt - which really shouldn't be necessary.
When we were finished the appetizers it was a fairly lengthy wait until our main courses arrived. Wells's chicken was pan roasted, with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, corn and peas underneath. The skin was crispy and slightly caramelized, but fundamentally it was just a decent chicken dish, not really worth the $22 charged for it. My trio of rabbit consisted of pan-roasted loin with a mustard and tarragon sauce, braised leg, and 'strudel of rabbit confit' which to all intents and purposes was a spring roll filled with rabbit meat. This was served on a bed of hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, spinach and pearl onions. The rabbit leg was the largest piece by far, the loin was three tiny little pieces and the 'strudel' was two bites worth of food. Unfortunately the leg was also the weakest of the trio, a little dry and with no real sauce to speak of. My vegetables were very well done, I love hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and it's rare to get a chance to have them. The flavor of the mustard-tarragon loin and the 'strudel' was also good, it's too bad there wasn't much of those two members of the trio. The main courses were successful, on the whole. Our only complaint was the pricing being a tad on the high side for what we got, but it was dessert that would tip this place into return-visit category or make this our only trip here.
Alas, dessert is where Wild Hare really fell down on the job. Their pastry chef must have been asleep, because my chocolate-praline mousse cake with raspberry sorbet was a failure. It had absolutely no praline flavor and very little chocolate flavor. The mousse was gummy and heavy, layered between what tasted like Duncan Hines chocolate cake. The sorbet was probably made in-house but incompetently, as it was heavily frosted and didn't have much raspberry flavor - it was just ground ice. Wells's dessert was the unappetizingly-named 'Chocolate Oozing Cake', and that's just what it did - oozed. It was a fairly standard molten-center chocolate bomb that has become common in restaurants of this type. It did have a pretty good chocolate flavor, but the texture was stickier than it had a right to be. While not a total failure, we have definitely seen better-executed molten chocolate cakes than this version.
After tax, tip and valet the total bill for our meal at Wild Hare came to $130. For $65 a person we have definitely had better meals. For an extra $10 or $15 a person we could have eaten at Spago Palo Alto and had a wonderful meal. For $10 or $15 less we could have eaten at Pot au Feu, just down the street from Wild Hare, and had a wonderful meal. With options like that, it is unlikely that Wells and myself will return to Wild Hare. Pity, too, as elements of the meal were quite good, the prices were out of justification.
1029 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, CA
Chef/Owner: Joey Altman
A Burke and Wells review
Here's a link to my post from last fall on Wild Hare. I agree with you that the dessert we shared for dinner was not up to the standard of the rest of the meal. This week I was chatting with a friend who eats there fairly often and he said that Joey Altman is spending more time on site to be sure that things are humming to ensure survival during the Valley's economic downturn.
If you like rabbit, you owe it to yourself to try the rabbit 3-ways from The Farmhouse in Forestville (Russian River Valley).
re: Melanie Wong
Wow, Melanie, you've been doing some exploring indeed!
We have a backlog of reviews (many yet to be written) covering whole acres of the South Bay and bits of San Francisco and the East Bay and the wine country. Thanks for giving us links to older discussions, that helps us prioritize what and when we should post.
We wanted to like Wild Hare, as Gary's review noted, and they could have had us had dessert been up to snuff, but alas, we've better choices on either end of the price spectrum, so we'll probably not return.
I'm beginning to wonder if you review restaurants for a living!
re: Burke and Wells
Your review did make me reconsider whether my opinion of Wild Hare was more upbeat due to the dinner company. Something made me take that silly dessert in stride.
No, I do not review restaurants for a living. But like all chowhounds, what goes into my mouth takes a lot of deliberation and restaurant staff pick up on that.
I'd love to hear more about your South Bay dining finds especially. That's an area that hasn't been covered as well on this board. Wonki needs to give us an update on eating at every restaurant on Castro St. in Mountain View. There's been nothing in depth on either Spago or Pot au Feu which you mentioned in this thread. If the meals were more not recent, please try to give a sense of the date, as things can change rapidly on the dining scene.
You can be your own resesarch librarian by going to the main Chowhound page. There's a search engine box in the upper right hand corner. Put in your search terms and "francisco" for San Franciso Bay Area messages, and click on CHEW.