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Palo Alto lunch: $25/person, near Univ Ave @ 101

I'm at a law firm this summer in the University Ave complex that houses the Four Seasons. Part of the fun of being a summer associate is that there is a $25/person lunch budget for attorneys to take the summers out to lunch. So far I've had an amazing sushi lunch that was definetely over $25/person, and a lunch at St. Michael's Alley (summary: pretty good food, but really poor service (as in slow and unhelpful and with attitude), and overall not worth returning).

I realize there are various posts on the board that could be good for lunch spots, but perhaps there are hounds who work nearby who can suggest options. The closer it is, the more likely I'll be able to swing lunch there. I would love to go to Mountain View for ramen and indian, but it's probably just not feasible. Going up and down University Ave during lunch time is seriously trafficky, but likely to be necessary.

So far, I've seen promising posts for Fish Market, Cafe Brioche, Bistro Elan, Zibbibo (mixed), Ewia, Hunan Garden (old post), Krung Thai, and Pho VI Hoa.

How far is Amber India? I would *love* to go there.

Any other recs I should look into? I'd really appreciate even just a sole name of a restaurant, which I am then happy to hunt down for additional information. Thanks very much!

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  1. I spend a lot of time in Palo Alto for work. Avoiding University Ave. is going to be hard, since it is the most convenient place for you, and I find it has the most variety. I wasn't sure if you are asking for places for attorneys to take you or for you to go on your own. Here are some of the places I frequent for lunch under an hour:

    Pluto's (482 University Avenue): yes, it is a chain but the salads are pretty great, especially with grilled steak
    Gyros Gyros (498 University Avenue): Pretty good med food; great greek salad; good hummus; gyro meat is pretty good too
    Niebaum-Coppola (473 University Avenue): they have daily specials which can be a good deal; pizza is good; salads are very good
    Madison & Fifth (367 University Avenue): only went here once; the pasta was good although nothing memorable
    The Counter (369 S California Ave): good burgers; build your own, on a bun or in a bowl with salad; supposed to have good sweet potato fries, although I have never had them
    Oakville Grocery (Stanford Mall): great sandwiches and salads

    2 Replies
    1. re: meggie t

      Thanks Meggie T. I certainly welcome suggestions for places to go on my own dime and time (your recs are very helpful!), but for this post I'm particularly interested in places to be taken to lunch with the attorneys. I'm hoping to use the ~$25/person funds to the very best I can in terms of lunch chow :).

      1. re: artemis

        IIRC The Four Seasons complex is right at the on/off ramps for 101 - the easiest thing would be to get on 101 southbound - you're not that many offramps away from lots of good eats in the South end of Palo Alto, Mt. View and Los Altos. It really doesn't take that long to get down there... so Amber isn't impossible in my estimation... Or go North to the Woodside Road exit in Redwood City - take a right on Broadway and try Mandaloun or any of the almost wall-to-wall restos in that area. Mandaloun is in the price range you're talking about, has a front and back outdoor patio and an interesting menu. Hope this helps...

    2. Iberia is a Spanish restaurant in Menlo Park (near Ravenswood & El Camino) that may fit your budget. http://www.iberiarestaurant.com/

      BackAYard (Willow St/101) is worth checking out sometime, even though it is only ~$10 for lunch items. It is a tiny Caribbean place, so you probably want to get it to-go and eat back at the office at a park. http://www.backayard.net

      Amber India is on El Camino near Rengstorff. It would probably take you 10-15 minutes to get there -- lots of street lights. For lunch there is a buffet but I'm not sure if you can order from the menu instead. For dinner, the food is very good but overpriced IMO for the portions you get.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Hapa Dude

        I just ate at the buffet at Amber India today and saw others ordering off the menu. The buffet is $12.95, good, elegant, fast since you don't have to order and wait.
        Have you tried the delicious Italian food at Osteria? I love the pappardelle. fresh pasta.

        1. re: Hapa Dude


          First, I don't beliebe Iberia is open for lunch. Also, heres a recent thread on Iberia. I'm an Iberia supporter, but have to admit that the service is bad. Since you mentioned bad service in your post you might want to factor that in before going to Iberia. Better for drinks & tapas at the bar after work.

        2. Funny. I know a Palo Alto attorney who was just talking about the summer associates and the lunch subsidy.

          It's about 10-15 minutes away or more but you could try Mountain View if you can get some extra time:

          1. thanks so much for all of these great replies! please keep them coming :).

            1 Reply
            1. re: artemis

              La Strada on University is very good. And, while I've not been there, Kaygetsu in Menlo Park seems like a good place to put your lunch allowance . . . might go over budget some.

              And for lunches on your own dime, you might check out East Palo Alto. Wasn't there a Samoan or Tongan report?

            2. I really enjoyed the lunch I had at Junoon. Their lunch special easily fits into your budget.

              1. The California Avenue neighborhood is excellent for many little restaurants and less imposing for the visitor than University. (Easily accessed, exit from Oregon Expwy approaching ECR, maybe other ways too.) Already you mentioned Cafe Brioche, Bistro Elan -- I've had several meals at each, both very good, different styles, Brioche more casual. But don't miss its neighbor on the same side, the [nominally Cuban] Bodeguita del Medeo, no longer molding everything into little cylinders as it did 10 years ago, but going strong for lunch as of 2006. There's an independent, French-owned or -influenced Crêpe place a block or two towards the train station, which opened a year or two back, someone else might know the name. Other restaurants too, including on side streets -- Café Pro Bono I've seen but not tried -- word play in re many lawyers in n'hood due to the county courthouse annex nearby. There even seems to be a French-language day school nearby as once, several years ago, I wandered into the Brioche and literally everyone in the front of the house -- servers and customers -- happened to be speaking French.

                One of the notable independent Bay Area wine shops is also there, Vin-Vino-Wine (affectionately "VVW" locally, with a tasting bar characterized online 1992 as hangout of tweedy professional types -- a ridiculous exaggeration, no more than 80% of them wore tweeds, then as now.)

                1. went to pho vi hoa tonight for dinner (511.org told me it wasn't worth driving home yet) and was disappointed. I had the bun with the grilled shrimp. the noodles were too soft and clumped together, and the portion was very small (food wasn't good, and there was so little of it! lol), especially given the $7.95 price tag. there were five nice-sized shrimp, and the restaurant was large and clean, which i guess is how you can tell you're in palo alto and not in the 'loin, but i left still very hungry and out $8 plus tax and tip. i would not go back.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: artemis


                    Pho VI Hoa
                    4546 El Camino Real Ste A12, Los Altos, CA 94022

                    1. re: artemis

                      Yeah their bun is not that great; I had to apologize profusely to a close buddy after recommending this restaurant, BUT their pho selection is phenomenal, at least among Bay Area candidates. Don't give it up yet!


                    2. Forget Amber and hit up Junnoon for the power lunch instead. While Amber is above average Indian food, there's nothing all that spectacular about it. Junnoon, meanwhile, has a very unique menu with dishes you won't likely find anywhere else, and even the dishes that seem common have an unusual spin on them. At $18 it's a great deal, especially when compared to a $13 buffet!


                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Fussy Foodie

                        this looks fantastic. thanks for the link!

                        1. re: artemis

                          Consider heading into Menlo Park instead of sticking to Palo Alto. Left Bank (French El Camino), Dal Baffo (Italian Santa Cruz Ave.), Carpaccio (Italian Crane St.), Iberia (Spanish near train station), Mike's (American Middlefield), and Gambardella's (Italian near train station) would be in your price range and be places that the attorneys would like to go. Sushi Monster has several sushi recommendations for Menlo Park.

                      2. I also wanted to add that Straits Cafe on El Camino past Page Mill has an excellent lunch sampler dish for $18. yum!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: jcarlile

                          Thanks! How would you say it compares to the one in San Francisco?

                          1. re: artemis

                            Not as tasty as the one in SF in my experience, but I still love Straits Cafe. Then again, I've only tried the Palo Alto one once or twice and I've been to the one in SF countless times.

                        2. For an Indian lunch, your best bet for food and proximity is Hyderabad House on University Ave. just a couple doors down from Borders. If they have their achari gosht special, you definitely want to try that - the best rendition of this dish I have had in the USA or UK (I've never been to India). Unlike Junoon or Amber, this is a self-service place, so it comes in way under your budget. But when the food is better and the price is lower, what's to complain about?

                          For fancier Cal/Indian food, consider Mantra at the other end of downtown Palo Alto, on Emerson next to Gordon Biersch. I have had two great dinners there. They are open for lunch Tuesday - Friday; I haven't tried it but it looks quite enticing from the web site.



                          1. Haven't been since they opened two (?) years ago, but I liked Tamarine on University. It's on the east end, too, so not too deep into the traffic melee.

                            1. on friday, i went to the empire tap room. i would go back again.

                              we sat on the patio; though the weather was really warm, we were shaded by giant canvas umbrellas, making a very comfortable experience. if we had sat inside, i don't think i would have enjoyed the meal nearly as much. i had the crab cakes ($22) and liked them. no lumps of crab anywhere in sight, just shreds, but LOTS of shreds. it was far, far more crab than binders or anything else. i think there were minced green onions and red bell peppers in it. it tasted fully of crab... yum! sat on a smooth roasted red pepper sauce that i thought was flat and too sweet. came with steamed broccoli and some roasted potatoes, which were the same sides for the steak my coworker got. the steak smelled right, with a good pan sear (or grill marks?). another coworker got fish and chips ($12), which looked pretty good. service was a little inexperienced, but earnest. overall, a positive experience.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: artemis


                                Empire Tap Room
                                651 Emerson St, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                              2. Very good question - specific enough to generate a good response.

                                First, University Ave is fine from there, as you've figured out. We've had discussion on this board before about the "awful traffic and parking", and I just have to laugh. It's a *suburb*. If you look at a map, you can find a great shortcut from that hotel - go along the creek, up Menalto, cross the creek again, and end up on Lytton. You can eat University without driving University.

                                And, Palo Alto's got the most of what you're after - expense account places.

                                Sorry, MaggieT, but I'd disagree with all your rec's, even though I eat at places like that for lunch too. Gyros Gyros isn't great, Pluto's isn't expense-account worthy. Anyone thinking of going to The Counter should read the Great Burger Wars on this list to get all the facets of the discussion, and make their own judgement.

                                Junoon - yes, yes, yes.

                                High marks for Tamerine, my personal favorite restaurant in Palo Alto right now, and very easy to get to. Not sure what they do for lunch - but How Long Bay soup, super-yum.

                                There's a new place, Mantra, that got listed in the Chronicle top-100 that I'd check out.

                                Zibbobo is in a class of restaurants that includes the Empire Tap Room, N/C, Madison & Fifth, probably F&A. These are gorgeous rooms that attract attorneys like magnets but the food is simply good, not great. I'm starting to have a suspicion that Levande might be on the better end of that category, but haven't eaten there yet. If I had a whole summer of $25 lunches, I'd try to eat my way through them all - post to us with results.

                                I don't think you can get in and out of Spagos or Il Fornio for $25. Il Fornio is certainly a good standard business lunch in PA, similarly in the "I woudn't say no" category.

                                But where should you go?

                                Ibera in Menlo Park is a real gem, and worth a trip. Read up on it - eat in the bar area (there are some 4-top tables in back) only, make sure the bar menu is available for lunch. If not, think Sangria at 5pm on Friday. I wouldn't bother with anything else in Menlo Park for your needs (don't get me wrong - I'm very fond of Menlo Park eats, and eat there frequently).

                                Osteria is quite good. I don't like most of what is sold as Italian food in America, but I like Osteria. Light, bright tastes, about your price range.

                                You should carefully read The Sushi Monster report. I had a great meal at the new PA sushi place, Kampai?, a few weeks ago. Maybe that's even where you went. Nobu alum, great fish. Believe the Sushi Monster!

                                Strait's Cafe - not as good as San Francisco, give it a miss. Place has taken a turn for the worse, and I'll not be back.

                                Amber is overrated in my book. Sure, it's good, and I eat there when friends recommend it, but if you really like indian, do some research and find a night off when you can drive somewhere like Southern Spice or one of the really-darned-indian places. Look up "chicken 65" on the list, and go to one of those places. I even prefer Darbar's buffet to Amber.

                                iTapas, with the worst name on the planet, had good food and is nearly empty these days. Dunno if they do lunch.

                                Two places not yet mentioned ---

                                Try to get an invite to Cafe 150 on the Google Campus. The food is likely better than anything else mentioned here (except, maybe, Tamerine), and it's free. Yes, free. Well, you pay in social capital, which will make it even more amusing after hanging out with lawyers. Lawyers often think you can buy or settle your way out of anything for money - here's a case where the best can't be bought. Oh, wait, you probably *are* a lawyer - I'm not trying to be offensive. Some of my best friends ... Ahem. Something stuck in my throat. Look, just try to wangle an invite.

                                A hidden gem of palo alto is the Cool Cafe in the Rodin sculpture garden on the Palo Alto campus. On a warm day, sitting on the patio, the excellent sandwitches, the academic vibe, the gates of hell --- you know, the Rodin sculpture --- there's really nothing better, and you realize your life is blessed. Odds are your colleagues haven't been there (it's kind of a pain to get to, being all the way on campus in restricted parking areas - plan ahead by printing out a Sanford map with all the parking zones and delagating a navigator. You have to look for the "paid visitor parking"), and they'll talk you out of it. But find a way to do it sometime in the summer, and you'll likely become a californian for life.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: bbulkow

                                  thanks for all this great advice. and yes, it was kampai. and am not a lawyer until i pass the bar next year :).

                                  1. re: artemis

                                    kampai: not (I HOPE) to be confused with KemPaiTai. :-)

                                    Please keep up the feedback about the restaurants!

                                2. lunch today at bella luna. though overall ok, i would not go back when there are better choices. i enjoy reading waiterrant.net and one of his recent entries was "top signs the restaurant isn't worth it" or something. one of these tips was "saturday night, and it's virtually empty." well, it was lunchtime in palo alto, and it was empty except for our party of sixteen and one other pair. the restaurant was perhaps 1/3 full. for a place on university ave, this is not a good sign.

                                  we got an antipasto platter, which did have very nice red tomatoes, but they didn't really taste like anything. some overcooked rubber bands that were once calamari, a few slices of roasted zucchini and eggplant, a couple pieces of melon and proscuitto, and a few rings of pickled (?) peppers.

                                  never one to turn down housemade pasta, i ordered a "housemade" fettucine with sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and spinach in a "cream wine" sauce. well, the pasta tasted like de cecco (fine, but not homemade), and it was drowning in rich but boring sauce. there were some (not a lot of) mushrooms and tomatoes, but the tomatoes looked like the jar of oil packed tomatoes at costco. i have that jar, i love that jar, but that's not what i would expect when going out to eat. the dish failed the "i can make it better myself" test.

                                  service was not impressive. my coworker originally had a diet coke. once he finished it, the server refilled his glass with ice tea along with several other people who had actually ordered ice tea. the server also seemed obvlious to requests for additional utensils, etc until repeated several times. we had to help him put the dishes in front of the right people as well, since he couldn't recall who had ordered what.

                                  no thanks.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: artemis


                                    Bella Luna Italian Restaurant
                                    233 University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                                  2. today, caffe riace. while a better experience than bella luna the day before, i still was rather unimpressed.

                                    the outside setting is lovely, with large, sturdy shade umbrellas, a large fountain, and interesting glass tables. service was acceptable, i'd say a b or b- grade.

                                    the server offered us an antipasti platter, which had four tomatoes and slices of motzarella, four slices of roasted eggplant with feta?, some roasted red peppers, and four or five slices of bruscetta, all on a bed of salad greens. the antipasti were far superior to bella luna's. the peppers tasted like they were roasted in house (not from a jar), and the eggplant was delicious. however, when we got the bill, we discovered that this platter was over $40. it was good, but it wasn't *that* good. the table bread (sorta foccacia) was uninspired.

                                    since i do not eat mammals, and i avoid dairy (intolerant), the menu was challenging. i ordered the gnocchi with tomato sauce, basil, parm, and motzarella, assuming i could push the cheese off to the side. instead, the gnocchi were stuffed with mozarella, which was definetely not suggested by the description. the tomato sauce was good. two of my coworkers got a fusili with veal and tomatoes; though i did not try it, the fusili looked a bit overcooked, though not to the point of squishy. my other two coworkers had salads, which were generous portions of fresh looking greens.

                                    if this place was half as expensive, i think i would go back. but for over $150 for five entrees, the antipasto platter, and iced teas and coffees, it was certainly not worth it. i have been far more pleased at pasta pomodoro for far less money.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: artemis

                                      linking to site:

                                      Caffe Riace Ristorante Italian
                                      102 Sheridan Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306

                                    2. yesterday, i went to mango cafe, which serves jamaican food. there were a few tables outside in front, but we sat inside in giant rattan chairs. there's a bar with a flat screen tv over it, which at the time was on wimbledon.

                                      overall, i thought the meal was pretty good. it fell into the category of "things i don't know how to make (yet)," and so was more satisfying to eat out. prices are pretty low; all dishes are under $15. my jerk chicken was around $10. it came with chicken, a red bean and rice mound, and "sauteed vegetables."

                                      caveat: i don't know anything about jamaican food. this meal may have been exemplary of the style; i have no idea.

                                      the chicken was somewhat dry, but it pulled apart easily, and was thoroughly covered in a spice rub. though promised to be "spicy," it was more of a subtle tingle. interesting flavors, but my taste buds may have been skewed after a week of italian. the red beans and rice smelled and tasted a bit of coconut milk, which i thought was interesting. the beans were a bit crumbly in texture (as opposed to soft and smooth), mixed in with the rice. the sauteed veggies were not good. vastly overcooked, dripping in oil, and possibly of frozen veggie medley origin. a few slices of carrot, some zucchini, and some broccoli.

                                      my coworker got the "small" salad, at $6.5 instead of $10 for the "large," but the small was substantial. my other coworker got two orders of their version of chicken drumettes appetizer as a meal, and they smelled a lot spicier and more interesting than my chicken. he also ordered some roti to share. i'd never had roti, but it tasted pretty much like a quality store-bought tortilla and about that interesting.

                                      all three of us got $4 smoothies. i had a guarabana pineapple coconut, i think. it was obviously made fresh, since it took a while and chunks of fruit kept getting caught in my straw. too sweet for my taste (about jamba sweet), but maybe it's supposed to be like that.

                                      service was friendly and competent. first time in about two weeks that we haven't had to tell the server who ordered what.

                                      i would go back, but next time i think i'd order something else.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: artemis

                                        Mango CAfe has not been good for several years but for the smoothies. Once u have a chance to try Back A Yard, you will not look back.

                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                          And unless things have changed, their dishes are way too hot/spicy even for people that can usually stand "medium" here in California.


                                        2. re: artemis

                                          adding the link:

                                          Mango Caribbean Cafe
                                          435 Hamilton Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                                        3. today, junnoon. i would go back, but would order differently.

                                          we sat in a lovely patio area outside, that was somewhat shaded by an arbor-type construction. papadums and a coconutty somewhat spice-y spread came with the table. i thought it was very tasty, but i'm a sucker for anything coconut.

                                          junnoon offers a $18 "tiffin" meal, which is what i got. i ordered the halibut. the tiffin comes with two dips, something yogurt-ish and something mint-ish, a salad with a pleasantly light but entirely unindian dressing, and a few slices of halibut (if i pushed them all together, maybe the size a deck of cards and a small bit to spare). the other tiffins had similarly sized portions of protein. the fish tasted pretty good, but it was not strongly enough flavored for my taste, more of a gentle spicing. it was not overcooked at all, so points for that. i think it was previously frozen, given its not fully flaking texture. i probably wouldn't get it again. it was a pretty small portion of actual food (i.e. not salad) for $18.

                                          the coworker next to me did it the right way, ordering all four sides on the menu. eggplant, chickpeas, mashed potatoes, and lentils at around $5 each. the eggplant was fabulous. rich and spicy and slightly smoky, i would have licked the bowl. it was flecked with peas and peppers and was smooth and so delicious. i'd go back just for that and the pratha (is that the flaky layered flatbread?), which came warm and very flaky and delicious. the garbanzos were in a curry sauce of some kind, gave pleasantly to the bite, and had a full, round flavor. these were also winners. i didn't get to try the lentils, but that was because there was none left (totally consumed). i wasn't too impressed with the mashed potatoes; bright yellow, flecked with cardamom (i think), and not terribly interesting.... pass the eggplant!!! the man who ordered the sides pronounced them very good. he grew up in london, so i would say he knows indian food pretty well, especially since he thinks every other indian place he's tried has been "disappointing" (no, he hasn't hit mountain view or south).

                                          we also got a goat cheese naan, which was ok but kind of weird.

                                          i would go back. i'd get the pratha, the eggplant, lentils, and the garbazos, and have a great meal along with the complimentary papadums and spreads. i hope this place sticks around; apparently that location has had quite a turnover of restaurants.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: artemis

                                            and adding the link:

                                            150 University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                                          2. i finally got to choose where to eat yesterday, and based on hound recs (thanks melanie), i took my secretary to la bodeguita and it was just great. i think my standards have been skewed by weeks of palo alto italian, so if i had been eating in the city for the past five weeks, i would have found it only good, but as things were, i was extremely happy.

                                            we arrived at 12:15 and were immediately seated. there were maybe 2 more 2-tops and 1 more 4-top available. maybe since it's a holiday week, business was a bit slower. i think we'd need to get there by 12 next time.

                                            the restaurant is a bit loud, i must say. not sf loud, but definitely loud for palo alto. and a bit dark for a lunch venue, but that may have helped keep it pleasantly cool inside.

                                            first, we ordered the fried potato-cheese balls. they were ok. they were fried very nicely (not greasy) and arrived hot, but i didn't think the contents were all that interesting. smooth potato with cheese mixed in. it needed more texture? or herbs? or maybe that's the way it's supposed to be. it was served with a weird tomato sauce that was somewhat sweet and a carrot slaw, also on the sweet side. i wouldn't get this again, but it was ok.

                                            i got the fish tacos as my entree, and liked it a lot. as previously noted, i think i'm skewed because of weeks of italian, so i was pretty excited to not have pasta again. the tortillas tasted housemade, the fish (rough cubes of salmon and a white fish... halibut?) was delicious and juicy, with nice searing and spices, with some red cabbage (but not too much), and some kind of herbal green sauce dabbed on top. came with a mango salsa that was a bit too sweet, but the mangos were juicy and ripe. the combination was very tasty. black beans and rice on the side, which were fine but unremarkable. my dish was around $11. my companion got the grilled chicken breast sandwich ($10), but requested the avocado pesto listed in another dish instead of the aioli (she hates mayo). the waiter was gracious and accomodating about the request.

                                            our water glasses were never more than half empty. service was friendly and efficient, and without a trace of chagrin at our election to drink only water, which i have encountered multiple times in palo alto.

                                            overall, great prices, good food, good service. i plan on returning soon.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: artemis

                                              and here's the link:

                                              La Bodeguita Del Medio
                                              463 S California Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306

                                            2. yesterday, tamarine. it was fantastic and i'm already trying to figure out how soon i can get back there.

                                              appetizers: salt and pepper calamari: fairly large (1" square) pieces with a light batter, cooked perfectly and not at all chewy, with a very liquidy and bright-tasting cilantro sauce. i think i ate a half dozen pieces and could be quite content to make an order of this and the asparagus a meal. veggie spring rolls: standard filling, fell apart, unremarkable, i'd skip. ginger chicken salad: shredded cabbage with some shredded chicken and fried shallots on top. this wasn't nearly as interesting as i thought it would be (i guess i was expecting something like the burmese ginger salad?), but it was nice to have something light in between the calamari. roti: i adore roti, and this rendition was pretty good, though junoon's is better by far. came with a very runny and vaguely curry coconut sauce, and a much thicker bean sauce. i had several pieces, and they were good, but please pass the calamari. we also ordered beef skewers, which i did not try, but they disappeared quickly.

                                              entrees: family style cod claypot, pad see eiu in vietnamese, lemongrass bass, shaking beef, crab and garlic noodles. the claypot was fantastic, with firm but tender fish in a rich, deep sauce. we were all scraping the pot to get the last drops of the caramel juice to put over our coconut rice (which was fragrant and subtly flavored, i prefer it to burma super star's). the lemongrass bass was pretty good, with a sort of rub on the outside, served with an uncreative but still tasty mango and glass noodle salad. i'm often peeved by underripe mangoes in dishes, but that was not an issue here. the fish was cooked perfectly, still juicy, and would have shone more if it were not for the fabulous clay pot. the crab noodles were not what i was expecting. the crab was shredded in the noodles (small lumps), the noodles were glass, and there was a lot of black pepper throughout. i think i was expecting chewy egg noodles. this was my least favorite dish, but it was still good. the pepper was too strong, and the dish seemed a bit dry. my coworkers were all over the shaking beef, even eating the greens the beef came on top of because they had absorbed some of the juices. the pad see eiu (it's called something else, but it's rice noodles, beef, egg, chinese broccoli -->pad see eiu) was so popular that we had to order more of it.

                                              veggies: long beans and asparagus. the long beans were squishy from cooking, drowning in a flat sweet tasting sauce. they pale in comparison to how chinese restaurants serve long beans. i'm a big veggie eater and i hardly ate these. the asparagus, on the other hand, was great. fresh and not at all fibrous, with a lovely crisp bite and nice wok char. these i would get again.

                                              the meal was fantastic. next time, calamari, claypot, and coconut rice will make me a very, very happy camper.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: artemis

                                                Thanks for the update on Tamarine. I ate there four or so times when it was newly opened and preferred the cooking to the Slanted Door's. Glad to hear that it still shines even after starting up Bong Su in SF.

                                                This has been a great series. I'm especially enjoying reading about these places through the eyes of single eater. Many thanks for the survey and posting these reports.

                                                Tamarine Restaurant
                                                546 University Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301

                                                  1. re: artemis

                                                    link again:

                                                    Tamarine Restaurant
                                                    546 University Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301

                                                  2. friday was cafe rosso y bianco, on university. it was good, and i wouldn't be disappointed if i was taken there again, but again with the "i can make it myself" issue. service was friendly and prompt, which i appreciated. the place has interesting decor, with wine bottles and tile and movie posters. the front of the restaurant is made of windows that can be folded totally away, so while we were sitting inside the restaurant, we were able to enjoy the fresh air. it was not noisy, so this could be a good place to take people you have to talk to, like a client.

                                                    the menu states that the pasta entrees take 20 minutes because they cook it to order. i found that a little odd because they could keep a giant pot of water boiling, but ok. i got the penne with shrimp and scallops. the shrimp were large, and not overcooked, but there were only two. and two scallops, cut in half. this paucity of seafood would have been a major disappointment, except that the very liquidy sauce had lots of fresh tomato and basil, and there was saffron involved somehow. it was very tasty, especially since i love saffron. i was quite content with my saffron-tomato penne. the pasta was cooked appropriately al dente. i think the dish was around $16. other prices were about that much.

                                                    my coworkers got the buccatini with mussels, clams, and pancetta. i didn't try it but she seemed to like it (but wasn't raving). another coworker got a pizza, which was very large. i think it could be a split light lunch for two, especially if paired with a salad. i got a piece of the crust (which i stuck in my tomato-saffron liquid), and it was pleasantly chewy.

                                                    best things about this place were the service and the semi-outdoor seating. the food was perfectly fine, but definitely not a destination restaurant.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: artemis

                                                      I sure hope you can get your co-workers to choose non-Italian places so you can get more Junoon and Tamarine quality experiences in there. As you have seen, Italian restaurants in this area are really mediocre. You have to head north to San Francisco or Oakland to get the great Italian places. Nearly any other cuisine is a better choice in Palo Alto. I hope you do get to Hyderabad House, especially if they have the achari gosht special available.


                                                      1. re: mdg

                                                        I think La Strada can hold its own against most of the Italian places in SF and Oakland... I prefer their salumi platter to Oliveto's, and I love all of their long-cooked meat sauces. And the sausage ravioli fried in butter and sage.

                                                        La Strada
                                                        335 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                                                    2. palo alto sol on tuesday. the restaurant is a bit dark inside, partially because of the dark wood and the only natural light coming through the two storefront windows. service was friendly and acceptably competent. the menu is hard to read; it is written in cursive over the logo of the restaurant, with all the entrees close together (not spaced). in the dim lighting, i had a bit of trouble.

                                                      chips served with three kinds of salsa. the chips did not taste housemade, and i didn't try the salsas. looked to be a red one, a green one, and a brown one (chipotle? mole? unclear).

                                                      i got the cilantro shrimp, which i think was around $13. there were at least eight, maybe ten shrimp of the "normal" medium size. it was more than enough for three corn tortilla soft tacos. the tortillas are not homemade, tasted like the kind you buy at the supermarket, but they did arrive warm, maybe six. the dish came with beans that i found a bit too smooth; i prefer my refried beans to have more whole beans in them. still, tasty. also, a mound of rice that looked nice, had a good texture, but was so salty as to be inedible, and i like salt. however, soft tacos with shrimp, beans, and lettuce from the salad i otherwise ignored made for a very fine lunch. my coworkers each got two chicken soft tacos; they ate it but i think my dish was better. the cilantro presence was a mound of cilantro onion garlic finely chopped on top of the shrimp. it was very strong on its own, but a sparse sprinkle in the tacos was good. the shrimp were juicy and not overcooked. i would get this dish again, or maybe another shrimp dish.

                                                      i would go back.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: artemis

                                                        link to place:

                                                        Palo Alto Sol Restaurant
                                                        408 S California Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306

                                                      2. overdue post for three seasons, la strada, four seasons, fuki sushi, and madison & fifth.

                                                        three seasons: we sat on in the patio area, which was nice. ordered the scorpion rolls (ok but not too exciting. structural integrity was good though. "spicy vinaigrette" was not spicy), veggie spring rolls (what you'd expect), shrimp potstickers (tasty, but no nice crust on the bottom, wrappers too doughy), carmelized shrimp (not overcooked, but way too sweet and sticky), steamed sea bass (came in clay pot, poached in brown liquid. i thought it was mushy and bland, but my coworker liked it), long beans (a little spicy, crisp but tender, and very tasty), and seafood fried rice (too much soy sauce, but interesting). overall, it was a "B+" grade lunch. waitstaff was ok, but not great. i would go back over the many italian places i've been to this summer, but it would not be my first choice.

                                                        la strada. unimpressive waitstaff, who were not able to explain to us the unnecessary foreign words in the menu (example: "pasta with treccione and eggplant." us: what's treccione? answer: eggplant.). started with a chartucerie (sp) platter i did not try, but it did look nice. also fried eggplant balls, which tasted mushy and boring (needed a fresh herb in the gray, smooth filling), though nicely fried and not greasy. i got the seafood risotto, which ended up having a hint of saffron. the saffron flavor was nice, but the risotto wasn't that impressive overall. the consistency and creaminess of the rice was about right, but the shellfish (2 mussels, 2 clams) was somewhat overcooked and pushing the rubbery stage. the presentation was very pretty, with two shrimp heads complete with feelers. it was ok, but i remember not being too impressed. my coworkers got the salmon, two others got the lamb pasta, and another the aforementioned treccione ravioli. my coworkers weren't too impressed either, overall. service was slow and at times unhelpful. they also pushed dessert a bit too hard, i think. "B" grade. http://www.lastradapaloalto.com/Menus...

                                                        foru seasons twice last week. once i got the fish and chips, the second a fish special. service is always attentive at the four seasons (though it should be at these prices!). on "fish and chips order" day, they served us the bread, and we discovered that it was quite stale. before we alerted the staff, one waiter came over, replaced bowl bread bowls and silently took the other bread away, without explanation. while it's great that they noticed it, i thought it odd that a)it would have been put out to begin with and b)no apology or anything, just silent (but efficient and graceful) service. in fairness, the take-away-bread waiter was different than the busboy (busperson?) who put it there to begin with. the fish and chips was pretty good. the batter was too heavy for me, but that's a personal thing. the fish tasted fresh and was perfectly cooked. came with good fries from unskinned potatoes (a plus in my book), and cole slaw that had way too much mayo sauce on it and perhaps had been sitting around a while. the chips come in a bown lined with a faux london newspaper, which i thought was a bit cute. day two of four seasons was the fish special. my memory of it is now hazy, but i remember thinking it was good and that the fish had a nice pan sear to it. they never overcook fish here, which i appreciate.

                                                        fuki sushi was last friday http://www.fukisushi.com/, and i liked it a *lot*. the semi-traditional room setup is very appealing, with the low tables so it looks like you're sitting on the floor, though after about five minutes i noticed that there was a well underneath the table so your feet could dangle. (there is also regular table seating in the restaurant).we got a lot of sushi, which was beautifully presented in a giant bamboo boat. standouts were the spicy hamachi-green onion roll (wow! what a winner) and the amaebi. the loser was the spider roll had the fried soft shell crab outside, but did not seem to have any actual meat in it. the eel-avo, rainbow, and various nigiri were all good. we also got a special salmon sashimi at $15 which was incredible... smooth and fresh, with some kind of light soy-citrus sauce (but not ponzu). i also liked that the plate came garnished with real seaweed. we also ordered a broiled eggplant with miso which was fantastic. creamy smooth interior, slightly crisp peel, and a salty miso sauce. the agedashi tofu, both regular and spicy, were also both good. the waitress was friendly (but in a japanese way, if that makes sense) and dressed in a yukata. i'll need to examine sushi monster's rankings to see his take on fuki, but i would readily return (on an expense account). i would at least go back for the spicy hamachi roll and the eggplant, which wouldn't be too expensive. "A" grade.

                                                        today, madison and fifth, resulting in a "B-" grade. the restaurant has interesting decor, with comfortable padded booths and lots of mirrors. service was amateurish. there were large piles of clean folded napkins on the bar, ready to be served, and next to them, a clear plastic bag likely from the laundry with more clean napkins. while none of them were dirty, it certainly didn't give the impression that the restaurant was open and ready for business. staff looked vaguely disappointed when half of us ordered ice water. despite "fish specials" being mentioned on the menu, we were never told of them. it took a little while to put our order in. i got the (allegedly) housemade squid ink pasta with calimari in an (allegedly) spicy tomato sauce. i was warned by the waiter about the spiciness of the sauce, like he wasn't sure i could handle it. well, the (very black) pasta was a little past al dente, the calamari was a little rubbery, and the sauce wasn't even remotely spicy. not even a little bit of a lip tingle. the dish wasn't very flavorful, even when i added a bit of salt and pepper. right after we were served, the waiter (in a suit) came by and informed us with no grace that the chocolate soufflees take 15 minutes, so if we wanted them, we should put in our orders now. he looked vaguely disappointed/annoyed when we said we wouldn't be having dessert. overall, he came off pushy and condescending. i wouldn't go back.

                                                        La Strada
                                                        335 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                                                        Three Seasons
                                                        518 Bryant Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                                                        4119 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94306

                                                        Madison & Fifth
                                                        367 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: artemis

                                                          sushi monster 3.0 puts fuki at #4. i hope i can get back there in the next two weeks!

                                                          1. re: artemis

                                                            "us: what's treccione? answer: eggplant"

                                                            Bad waitstaff, that's wrong. Treccione is a kind of cheese, often smoked. I've not been to La Strada at lunch time, hope the dinner service hasn't sunk to this level.

                                                          2. You've done a great job of covering Palo Alto ... I've lived here for 25 years & can't think of a lot of places you have missed. Since you seem to be stretching boundaries abit and since you are right near 101, you are about a 10 minute drive from the Old Port Lobster Shack in Redwood City. They serve authentic Maine food ... all flown in from the east coast -- Ipswich Clams, Lobster Rolls, Real Chowdah, etc ... Might be a nice change from all the ethnic meals: $25/person is just about right: http://www.oplobster.com/

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: doc

                                                              i love opls, but i don't think i can get people out that far, unfortunately!

                                                              1. re: artemis

                                                                OK ... let me try again. There was one mention of Osteria on Hamilton Ave downtown earlier in the thread, but upon quick glance, it doesn't appear that you have been there for lunch. It is far & away my favorite Italian restaurant on the Peninsula and far better than Bella Luna, Riacce, Spalti, etc in my view. I'm with you on La Strada -- it seems to be a board favorite, but I just don't get it. I've had amateurish service the 2 or 3 times I have been there, and maybe it's just me, but I find the menu incredibly limited, i.e. instead of trying to decide between 2 or 3 interesting dishes, I find myself struggling to find one that I like. Osteria is abit more "old school", but the pasta dishes are good, and they have a Calamari steak at lunchtime that is terrific. A bit of advice -- the tables are ridiculously close together, but there are some comfortable larger tables in the back of the room. They don't appear to have a website, but here's an article that should give you a flavor for it:

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                thanks robert, that looks great! i'll put in a request.

                                                              2. i realized i should elaborate as best i can on st. michael's alley. i went with a large party (around 12 people), so i would have thought we would receive great service given the large bill and number of customers who could spread a good word. instead, it was utter amateur (two and a half) hours. The waitress couldn't have been over 22 (I'm 26, so it's not like I've got the "kids these days" mindset) and was nothing but attitude and slow service. She actually scolded me for using the bread plate on the incorrect side, which was not my fault because the attorney next to me had used "mine," not to mention how wildly inappropriate it is to correct a guest's table manners. And service was incredibly slow, thanks to our uncharming waitress. It took nearly 30 minutes to get our appetizers, another 20 to put in the bill request, and another 30 to get the bill back. I do not exaggerate. We originally ordered desserts after the entrees were cleared, but after waiting 20 minutes, we requested to have the desserts cancelled because we had to get back to work. Our waitress informed us that it was not possible to cancel the order. She did not offer to have them boxed up, but then reluctantly agreed to it after we pressed.

                                                                The table they sat us at was too small for the party size. If they weren't able to accomodate our size, they should have said so. As it was, there was virtually no room to put four appetizer plates down to share. I remember liking the bruscetta and thinking the spring rolls were fine. I ordered the pasta shells with rock shrimp, hold the pancetta. The pasta was cooked appropriately, but the sauce was totally liquid and the rock shrimp had obviously been both previously frozen and defrosted ungently. Overall, the dish tasted good (sun dried tomatoes forgive much). I ended up with a profiterole with melted pistacio ice cream (boxed dessert didn't travel well). I couldn't really evaluate the dessert, but the dark chocolate sauce on top was delicious. my coworkers really liked their ravioli and gnocchi.

                                                                overall, food gets a B/B+, service a D.

                                                                St Michael's Alley
                                                                806 Emerson St, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                                                                1. one of the first lunches i went to was at kampai, where we ordered a great deal of sushi. the sushi was presented nicely in a laquered wood platter. it was very tasty, particularly the amaebi and sake. the fried heads of the amaebi arrived hot and crisp, which was nice. the tamago was cold and unimpressive. service was friendly, though we had to wait for quite some time for hot tea. overall, a B+/A-. However, Fuki beats Kanpai hands down.

                                                                  330 Lytton Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                                                                  1. last week, a revist of empire tap room, tamarine, and three seasons. though the first time i went, tamarine was far superior to three seasons, last week, three seasons was the winner.

                                                                    at empire tap room, i again got the crab cakes. they were not as good as they were before, tasting less "crabby" and more "bindery," though visually it seemed to be just as much crab. i don't think the pan was hot enough; there bottom and top were not lovely and crisp to contrast the soft interior. the cakes didn't taste as "bright" as they did before. the roasted potatoes were the same. the red pepper sauce was the same, sweet and flat; some heat would have been good but if there's one thing i've learned in ten weeks, it's that palo alto restaurants think their customers are afraid of any kind of heat. the veggies this time were green beans, and they were better than the broccoli from last time. good lemonade, not too sweet. though the meal wasn't memorable, the patio is still lovely, with the high, ivy-covered walls. i also liked the service again, which was friendly but unobtrusive. another thing i've learned these ten weeks is that good and friendly service is harder to find in palo alto than one would expect, so major points to etr for that.

                                                                    for tamarine, we again had the clay pot, ginger chicken salad, asparagus, shaking beef, calamari, veggie spring rolls, and then the bass. rice selections were coconut, lemongrass, brown, and empress. the clay pot was good, but not utterly amazing like it was last time. i can't really articulate what was missing beyond "oommmph." the calamari was great again, same description as last time. the asparagus lacked some wok char but was still good, though i don't like the ginko nut texture. i find the ginger chicken salad unremarkable. the coconut rice was less coconutty than last time (but still no globbiness as at burma superstar). the major revelation was the empress rice, which was sticky and had a fried egg on top with a soft yolk that you broke and mixed in. it was delicious and rich. i really wish that tamarine would somehow indicate on the rice bowls which kind of rice is inside. the rice comes in a little woven bowl, wrapped in a banana (?) leaf, so it looks very pretty, but makes it very difficult to tell what is inside without sticking your nose in it, which isn't terribly attractive. they also don't offer a serving implement for the rice, so someone must sacrifice a fork or flip their chopsticks around. the limeade was very good, not too sweet, but a very small glass for what surely was at least $3. there were also service problems. our waitress, who had bright red (or was it green?) plastic glasses was pushy with apps, beverages, and dessert, but kept disappearing. our entrees arrived about 6 minutes before our rice did, which is odd considering that most rice likely doesn't have to be made to order.

                                                                    three seasons proved to be better than tamarine that week. in particular, the eggplant dish was fantastic, with good knife work. we also had the shrimp spring rolls (same as last time), duck spring rolls (interesting, but the hoisin sauce totally overwhelmed the herbs and veggies in the roll), the seafood fried rice (not quite as good as last time, too salty, but still tasty), the scallops (insufficiently pan seared, but not overcooked at all, with a soupy but good curry sacue), garlic noodles (had parmesan on them... weird... oily... not worth the calories), lemongrass chicken (better than last time, interesting spices), shaking beef (didn't try), and ginger chicken salad (eh, ok). we sat upstairs, which was nice because it was airy-er and less noisy, but it also seemed like the waitstaff forgot about us initially. it took a while to find someone get our drink and app orders in, but once everything got rolling, the staff was good about checking back and filling water, etc. if my experience with tamarine and three seasons was only based on that week, i'd say three seasons was the better of the two.

                                                                    1. I love Kan Zamman. Jordanian food and such on University.
                                                                      Avoid Fish Market, in 7 years I never had a good meal there.
                                                                      La Bodagita Del Medio (cuban) on California and Cafe Riacci (italian)are both excellent and have a pleasant lunch atmosphere.
                                                                      Amber India is good but if you are time limited Junta has a very tasty lunch buffett. Not as nice location and service wise as Amber but very good food.
                                                                      Straits Cafe on El Camino (Pacific Rim)
                                                                      Left Bank in Menlo Park (french) or Vida (french and just down the block from LB)

                                                                      These are just a few of my area favorites that have lunch for under $25 per person and all are less than 15 min from your office location.

                                                                      There is also a good BBQ place on Willow but I don't remember the name.

                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                      1. re: bubblet4me

                                                                        thanks for your response. i really enjoyed boguedita del medio (see above) but was unimpressed with cafe riacci (see above). how would you say straits cafe in pa compares to the one in sf?

                                                                        1. re: artemis

                                                                          I have not been to Straits in SF but I have been to the one in Santana Row (San Jose)
                                                                          SR is much noisier and is more of a place to see and be seen, the bar seems to be the focus there. PA is more about the food and is much more condusive to conversation. I would ask to be seated on the patio, just a personal preference.

                                                                        2. re: bubblet4me

                                                                          That BBQ place would be The BBQ Man, and I'm fond of his Q (although I do not wish to start a Q flame war). The BBQ Man is not exactly the kind of place I'd consider for a business lunch in Palo Alto.

                                                                          However, given the Italian bent, what about Osteria!?!?

                                                                        3. May I make a suggestion for those days when you're not on an expense account? Anybody been to the Cheese House in Town & Country Village and tried the regular roast beef sandwich? I've been going there since 1965 (if being in the womb counts) and it's unbelievable. I dream of this sandwich. It is the best sandwich I've ever had. They make it on three pieces of extra-thin white bread, with some kind of special sauce made from mustard and mayo, with pickles on it and nothing else. Mind you, I would not normally ever order anything like this (I like cheese and vegs) but it's beyond. The place is hard to find, in the farthermost corner of the shopping center, and it's only open during the day time M-Sat.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: KateC.

                                                                            I love the Village Cheese House . I'm with you -- for my money, I think it consistently serves the best cold sandwiches on the peninsula. I like the turkey -- as with everything else, it's freshly cut for your sandwich. Somehow they also always seem to have very fresh sandwich rolls -- which cannot be said for some of the more popular sandwich options like Piazzas. The store is fun as well, and they do a remarkable job of choosing good inexpensive wines to sell. Only drawback is that they have no system for people waiting to order; I've never understood why they just don't put in a number machine. When it's crowded, ordering can be an ordeal. I'd also like to see them get more adventurous with their cheeses; 10-15 years ago, they had a monopoly on some of the more unusual cheeses. Now any grocery store in the area covers everything they sell, and places like the Milk Pail and Ferry Bldg have a much, much wider selection. Great sandwiches though in huge portions.

                                                                          2. You should try Ming's for dim sum. It's not the best in the Bay Area but it's pretty good and service is above average.

                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                            1. re: KathyM

                                                                              I like any Chinese restaurant where you can order margaritas.

                                                                              1. re: KathyM

                                                                                Ming's dim sum is really inconsistent. It's never excellent but sometimes during the week it's okay, but I've been burned too many times by really bad and expensive dim sum there.