JZ Cool Eatery and Wine Bar in Menlo Park -- recommend?
This restaurant just started opening for dinner, we went last Fri, not realizing it was opening night...chaotic, especially the service. But the food was good, creamy polenta appetizer was so good I almost licked my plate. Short ribs were also wonderful, lamb meatloaf good, desserts were only okay.
We had dinner at JZ Cool Eatery and Wine Bar this week. After years of enjoying Jessie Cool's sensibilities at the JZ Cool formerly in this spot, at the cafe in Stanford's Cantor art center, and at Flea St Cafe in Menlo Park, I was pretty disappointed.
It's not a terrible place, but it is also not a good one.
Our dinner was four small plates, each $8 or so. Stuffed and fried zucchini blossoms were mostly light, simple cheese filling and batter, if pretty, with a nondescript sweet dipping liquid. Braised little lamb ribs were probably the only laudable dish, in a very rich and sweet chutney, served in a little pot, tasting strongly of cinnamon and of the lamb. We were served mixed vegetables fried (rather than the grilled vegetables that we had ordered), but we ate the fritto misto because we were short on time. Good vegetables, but certainly not a special treatment. The chipotle aioli alongside tasted neither distinctly of garlic nor of chipotles. And we had a plate some of the dullest gravlax I've had -- completely edible, but also completely free of pizazz or chutzpah.
I had a glass of unexciting sangiovese. The place will give you a big glass at 6 oz or a little glass at 3, and all the wines are the same price, and they'll give you a flight of wine. This is a smart way for an informal restaurant to deal with a range of local wines.
The ingredients were up to Cool's standards: mostly local and well selected. The preparation was distinctly underwhelming. The service was in that region underneath lackluster -- our waiter came back at one point to ask us to refresh her memory on an order, and we still didn't get what we had ordered; it took a long time to flag someone down, even though we were sitting at the bar.
For those of us who spent years liking the shared tables, big selection, and informal character of Cool's older deli-style restaurant, this new place is a real blow in the gut. I'm not going to bring my young child, and the tab was thrice what it would have been for a filling and delicious sandwich or meal in the old place.
Culinarily, this trend-driven place is really the last thing that Sta Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park needed: we've already got swish mediocrity (or, often, worse) at Vida, a good upscale grill in Yuban, the surprisingly acceptable chain bistro in Left Bank, a coffee shop, one of the better chain taquerias (¡Una Mas!), and the culinarily troubled but atmospheric Tokyo Subway.
I really, really wanted to like the new Cool, but I couldn't. It filled me with some pretty forgettable food and a sense of loss.
JZ Cool Eatery and Wine Bar
827 Sta Cruz Av, Menlo Park
(650) 325 3665
Good concept, flawed execution
The wine bar concept is working for them. All the bottles have the same price: 3 tastes for $12, 1/2 glass for 5, full glass for 9, mix and match. The list is short and sweet - about 15 bottles on a given night. There was enough on the list to keep me occupied, although far less than competing joints (like iTapas, who has flights).
The food menu is perhaps a little less than you'd hope for, given the price, but pretty darn tasty. The cheese plate is good cheeses, and a very nice chutney accompanying the blue, but with only three little slices of bread we had to call for more (gracefully provided). The sliders are excellent, with their strange biscut-y bun, although I'd prefer more condiment action. The sideline "pea cake" was amusing. The surf and turf special - sliced steak and lobster was decent - the lobster was very flavorful, although the steak could have had more oomph.
An amusing dish that didn't quite work was the lamb ribs - attempted in a slow-cook tangine style. The prep was good, but there was so little meat on the bones that the dish didn't hang together.
Friday night there was a jazz combo. Rather like the food, it was uneven - poor drummer, good keys, one good sax, average bass player. The friday jazz at Cafe Borrone is always far superior - and dinner there is $30.
How much you like this place will depend on your value proposition. For two, we paid about $120 out the door, because we ended up ordering about 7 dishes, 2.5 glasses of wine, no desert, tip - is in the league of the higher end places on University Ave. What you're getting is a commitment to local food, what you're giving up is some food quality and a lot of server quality. The amature hour feel was charming.
The owner was there last night, and the place was fairly full. Jessie clearly likes all the attention, and seems like a really nice guy, too nice a guy to fire his jazz combo and get a better one.
I will likely be back from time to time, but greatly prefer iTapas when I'm in the mood for small plates.
Regarding David Sloo's sense of loss, I never really liked the old place. I thought the salads and sandwiches were uninspired, and after stopping in twice, didn't come back.