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Recommendation for small group dining in Palo Alto?

Some colleagues will be in town this week, and we're planning
to get together for a group meal, most likely in Palo Alto.
I live in San Francisco, and haven't eaten more than a handful
of dinners on the peninsula. Think I ate at the Palo Alto Straits Cafe once many years ago... but that's it.

Anyway, we'll be dining as a group of 5 or 6, and I'm looking for good recommendations. Criteria is pretty broad, but I'm thinking:

- Not insanely expensive... maybe no more than $60 - $70
per person when all is done.

- Not anything too overtly trendy. Would prefer a place
with excellent food and comfortable ambiance rather than
a bustling meat market of loud voices and colorful drinks.

- Any ethnicity is fine, as long as it's good. Though I think
we should probably avoid Indian (which is eaten often for
lunch), and pure sushi (though a Japanese restaurant with
a variety of items could work well)

- Nothing super-fancy or ultra-casual.
We're aiming for pleasant ambiance,
though would prefer a notch above shorts and sandals
(e.g. something a little slicker than a brew pub).

Many thanks for any suggestions!

J.

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    1. re: Maya

      Could be good, though I'm seeing some mixed reviews. How is the
      noise level?

      Also, the last time we went out with this group, we ate
      and Brigitte's in Santa Clara (though I think that's closed now...).
      Could feel like French overload, even though technically that Brigitte's meal was many months ago.

      J.

      1. re: grubber4

        Huge second here. This place has never disappointed.

      2. I would go to Evvia for excellent greek food. Tamarine, depending on the night, can attract the trendy crowd.

        1 Reply
        1. re: KathyM

          i second both evvia and tamarine for a group dinner especially if it's with coworkers.

          you could also try st. michael's alley which would probably be quieter. http://www.stmikes.com/ it's one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants.

        2. Just booked reservations for dinner tomorrow at Tamarine.
          Any specific dishes worth trying?

          (I see the recs at http://www.chowhound.com/topics/357365 , but
          am always up for additional feedback).

          Many thanks to all!
          J.

          3 Replies
              1. re: jflesh

                Cinnamon Prawns
                Lunar Duck
                Clay Pot Cod
                were all great as of mid-December. The cod was the big hit with our group.

              2. We love The Mandarin Gourmet in Palo Alto. Consistently great. It is even an annual family tradition to go on Christmas eve. Chicken in lettuce cups, prawns and honeyed walnuts, mushoo pork ... yum.

                1. If your price range is $60 to $70 per person and Italian is an option, consider La Strada on University Ave. in Palo Alto. It's cozy, with a great atmosphere and an open kitchen. Best Northern Italian food on the Peninsula. Owner-chef is an Il Fornaio refugee from Milan. Place is almost always full, but it's not impossible to get a table.

                  1. Many thanks for the Tamarine recommendation. This worked out perfectly. We were able to trickle in and convene at the bar, and then move over to a nice large corner booth for the dinner. Dinner was praised all 'round. Crowd leaned toward the upscale, but I didn't find the environment unpleasantly
                    trendy or stuffy. Seemed to be a nice mix of young couples, professional types, and even a handful of families. Noise level was comfortable too.

                    A number of items were sampled, so hopefully I'll be able to recall most of them.

                    For appetizers, we had:
                    - Calamari. Very tastey, surprisingly tender, with a
                    crisp coating.

                    * Tuna tartar. This was _fantastic_.
                    Incredibly fresh and flavorful
                    chunks of ahi, with just a small amount of heat, served
                    in fresh coconut halves. One of the high points for all.

                    - Cinammon Prawns. I wasn't crazy about these,
                    though others at the table enjoyed them. The cinammon
                    made me feel as if I was eating the flavor of a graham
                    cracker with the texture of shrimp. Shrimp was fresh
                    and cooked well though, so this could simply be a
                    personal anti-cinammon bias here.

                    And then for the entrees, we enjoyed:

                    * Clay Pot Cod. Also stellar, per 512window's comment.
                    Delicious pepper and garlic flavors with firm fresh
                    chunks of fish.
                    - Lunar Duck. Good, but it was a little on the sweet
                    side for my taste, though I suppose I should've anticipated
                    that given the "pomegranite-citrus sauce".
                    * Hoisin Lamb Chops. Another stand out, and we ended up
                    getting a second round of these after our initial order.
                    Great meat. Kinda thought that our request for "rare"
                    came out more "medium rare", but the result was so
                    delicious no one complained.
                    - Tamarine Prawns. Only got to try a piece of one of these,
                    but it was very good. Enjoyed this more than the
                    cinnamon prawns.
                    * Grilled Eggplant. Also delicious, with a great smokiness.
                    Pieces were soft and served whole, but the flavor recalled
                    good baba ghanoush (which is my primary vehicle for
                    eggplant consumption...)
                    - Shaking Beef. Nice and tender, but this was just a bit
                    bland. Am more fond of the shaking beef at Lotus Garden
                    here in San Francisco.
                    - Long Beans. No complaints, but not a memorable item.

                    Our waiter -- a doppelganger of Jeff Probst -- was very attentive, and did a fine job of suggesting various rice sides to accompany each of the dishes. Service was overall excellent.

                    Can't recall what everyone had for dessert, but I wasn't
                    especially impressed with whatever I got. Seem to recall
                    little fried hard pastry balls filled with a rich chocolate.
                    Better experience with their Vietnamese coffee: am convinced it contained at least 500mg of caffeine. Think I blinked maybe
                    twice as I drove back to San Francisco.

                    Although a couple of items were so-so, absolutely nothing disappointed, and the bulk of the meal was stellar. Think the walkout total was $480, which wasn't bad for six people, and
                    that includes bar tabs, wine, food, and a purportedly generous gratuity.

                    We'd definitely return to this place.

                    And thanks to all for the great recommendations!

                    J.

                    1. Big kudos for the Evvia recommendations. Was down on the peninsula again tonight
                      and finally got around to trying this place. Nothing short of spectacular.

                      We had reservations for 2 at 8 PM, and although the place appeared packed to the brim,
                      we were offered up seating within less than a few minutes. Noise level was medium to high, but conversation was still effortless, and we were both impressed with the ample space between the tables. So often popular restaurants try to maximize dining space by cramming the tables together -- leaving elbows prone to bump against neighboring tables -- but here the layout was just right. A crowded space, sure, but enough room between tables to allow ample breathing room and completely unselfconscious conversation.

                      Bread was brought to the table promptly, with olive oil for dipping, and a small trough of
                      fine grained salt. Both the bread and oil were top-notch.

                      We started with the taramosalata -- I'd never had this before, but loved the flavor. Creamy and smooth, with hints of onion and garlic, and a perfect salinity. The flavor of the roe was pretty subtle, but the effect was wonderful. This was accompanied by a delicious pita to
                      serve as the carrier (and the pita was thick and just a bit fluffier than I expected, almost like
                      thin slices of herbed foccacia. Really good).

                      Also had the fried calamari with anchovy aioli. These came to the table warm and crisp, and the calamari rings were super-tender. Aioli was salty and flavorful, but not too heavy (I'd worried that aioli on fried food might be overkill, but the food never felt greasy or weighted-down).

                      Followed up with the romaine and feta salad. Can't say I was floored by this one -- kinda felt like a Greekified "creamy" Caesar -- but it was still quite good, and the romaine was
                      very crisp and fresh. Dining companion had the 'salata epohis', and seemed more impressed (I only sampled one of the blood oranges there, which was tastey -- seemed to have an even deeper red than usual, so I couldn't resist a small taste).

                      Both dining companion and I opted for the half-rack of lamb chops as an entree -- yeah, we argued a bit about the sacrifice of variety, but couldn't reach a reasonable compromise. And this was fine once the plates arrived. Absolutely stellar.

                      Mine came to the table perfectly rare (as requested), with an impossible tenderness.
                      Dining companion ordered 'medium' (not my thing, but that's what he got), and proclaimed that his order may have been "some of the best lamb he'd ever had" (a strong statement for a lamb afficionado). Can't say I had much room to argue. I was thinking pretty much the same thing. Was stuffed at this point, but almost regretted not opting for
                      the full-rack. The meat was incredible, with the slightest border of fat around the edge for extra moisture. Both fat and meat were so soft they probably could've been cut with the fork's edge. And the two chops (half-rack) were plump and ample. And a pretty good deal too (just $18). Two fingerling roasted potatoes were served as the side, and were also quite good. We set aside a tiny bit of the taramosalata to smear on the potatoes, which was
                      a tastey combination.

                      Finished off with a Greek coffee (opted for "sketo", i.e. unsweetened) and the baklava w/
                      espresso ice cream. Greek coffee was essentially an espresso, although the bottom half of
                      the cup seemed to be mostly fine coffee grounds. Not sure if that was intentional. Okay otherwise though. Dessert was good too, though not amazing. I've enjoyed baklava more elsewhere, but am generally not a huge dessert fan...

                      The quality of service is also worth noting. Was VERY impressed with the pacing. We had appetizers, salad, entrees, and dessert, and never once were we rushed through a course,
                      nor did we ever wait for an unexpectedly long time between courses. The waiter politely asked during the appetizer phase how we'd like the meal to be paced, and that was honored without fault throughout the meal, despite what appeared to be a bustling and potentially confusing dining room. Truly remarkable.

                      Overall, we both agreed that this was a phenomenal dining experience in almost every respect. Am looking forward to trying the affiliated Kokkari in SF (which happens to be a lot closer to home), but will definitely be returning to Evvia.

                      Thanks again for the outstanding recommendation.

                      J.