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Palo Alto Hot Spots-What did I miss?

Greetings fellow chowhounders! Our daughter will be turning 23 and we are taking her to dinner. She is currently at school in Davis, and would like to eat at a PA "hot spot".
From the various reviews on the board these look to be the "hot spots": Tamerine Junoon Mantra Osteria Palo Alto Sol Three Seasons Evvia Y Tapas . Did I miss anything here? Are there other "hot spots?" Opinions please.

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  1. I suggest you take a look at the recent active thread on Palo Alto lunches, since what you have is a very varied list. For instance, Palo Alto Sol is the type of place you can just drop in with the kids, whereas Evvia is much more upscale. They vary in approach to food too, with some being more appealing to the less adventuresome, and some being nmore"hip". Not sure what you are looking for, but most have menus online which should give you some ideas.

    1. It kind of depends on what you mean by "hot spot". For good food, your list above is good although I don't think the tapas place has much of a following on this site & Sol is a decent Mexican restaurant, but there are lots better in Davis and Sacramento. 23 y/olds tend to hang at less foody but more lively places like Miyake, Old Pro, and Nolas downtown. A good compromise might be La Bodeguita del Medio on California Avenue ... good cuban food + a very lively atmosphere and a very cool cuban folksinger on most weekends.

      1 Reply
      1. re: doc

        even when i was younger i didn't like miyake.. TOO loud.. can't even hear... don't expect to talk.. it is a great lively crowd but with the music pumping SO loud, i would always get a headache after dinner... don't get me wrong i'm from the jj fad generation (we like the cars the cars that go boom) and i go to bars and clubs and even dinner shows, but there's something about miyake and it's loud atmospehre that i can't enjoy. the food is mediocre too... but maybe i can't enjoy it 'cause it's too freaking loud....

        nola is fun, even now, for me to go for drinks... although, i do not enjoy eating there. i had the crawfish etouffe (sp?) a while back and it was not flavorful for me. i had it with rice and it was too hard. my friend had the fried chicken and it was dry. i prefer colonel sander's original recipe... ;P

        haven't gone to the cuban restaurant, but doc's description sounds intriguing... =)

      2. Is this a quiet family dinner or more of a drunk debauchery type of festivity?

        If you are going to drink and have a good time there's no better then Miyake's - downside, food is borderline tolerable and they don't take rsvp's. it's first come first serve, it's also loud, and has a club like atmosphere - plus side : sake bombs. have you?

        Since you did not disclose a budget here are my suggestions: Zibbibo, Ewia, Marche, Tamarine, and Lavanda. There is also Mango Caribbean, Vero, and that restaurant by whole food's on emerson.

        4 Replies
        1. re: wchane

          I will disagree strongly about Miyake being the be-all-end-all of drink and debauch in PA, primarily because the food is so miserable. It's a particular kind of debauch, the kind where parents aren't invited. Nola cuts a much finer figure, with a better blend of good food (not great, but pretty-danged-tasty - more on the Zagats 23 side than 21 - Miyake being Zagats 7).

          iTapas got *one* bad review here, and my good one, and no other comments. I still eat there frequently, and have very good luck. I especially like the crispy smelts and the hamachi "ceveche" (more like a poki to me), and think they do good at the wine tasting flights.

          Back to the OP's problems - for a good combination of food, atmosphere, party you might try the new Sushi place on Lytton. Even though SushiMonster prefers Fuki, the new place has far hipper atmosphere and you're guaranteed a seat within 10 feet of the bar.

          What puzzles me is why daughter chooses PA - from Davis, you drive past Napa (arguably), the East Bay, and (arguably again) San Francisco. I can argue convincingly there's nothing in PA that is not bettered at ten places closer to Davis. So - what are you looking for again? If she wants a particular spot, tell her to speak up!

          1. re: bbulkow

            Wow, thanks for all the suggestions! She is not a "party type" of gal. She enjoys a good night out with friends for dinner and drinks. She is coming down to vist family and celebrate her birthday. She is then off to Hawaii. What is Lavanda and Vero? Will have to do a search Thanks again for all the help! It's just why I love this board.

            1. re: RenoRed

              then i would avoid miyake... not the place you will want to go...

              i don't even know if i would take her to nola.. i think i would check out those other fine dining places... nola is good though for drinks... and they have separate tables/rooms so you don't necessarily have to mingle with all the young professionals...

              but if you didn't want fine dining...you can take her to hukilau in palo alto for a pre-hawaii send off/birthday party... =)

              they have live music on weekends, but unfortunately they do not accept reservations especially if it's a popular band.... fried saimin not as good. but their assorted pupus are a good value and pretty tasty. i like their poke... oh and from a somewhat ex-kama'aina, hukilau does gravy fries if you just ask... YUM!!!

              make sure you steer her to the elsewhere in america board for hawaii recs =)

              hau'oli la hanau e your daughter! =) i would say keiki, but she's not young...

              1. re: kinipela

                Osteria is good traditional Italian, but not what I think of as an occasion restaurant. If someone were taking me out for birthday dinner and drinks, I would choose Evvia or Village Pub (in Woodside). Both have consistently good food and a pleasant atmosphere. The lamb at Evvia is extremely tasty. Zibbibo has a more exuberant atmosphere, but the dishes I've had haven't been as well executed. I've heard great things about Tamarine's cocktails, but know less about the food.

        2. The current "hot spots" in Palo Alto are Junnoon, Tamarine and La Bodeguita. Evvia and Village Pub are excellent but are very low key compared to the other 3. I would stay away from Miyake. It's a low quality inexpensive sushi place catering to rowdy starving students. Mango Carribean is fine for lunch but I wouldn't consider it to be a destination place.

          4 Replies
          1. re: KathyM

            Great, OP, I think we've got the picture.

            I think you'd have to add Mantra, after the Chron/Bauer review. Haven't been, myself, and the one person I talked to who had was there before the chef change.

            Interesting question about Levande - only one mention on CH, one person saying they haven't been there. I haven't either. What is it about that place, some hound-phobic coating?

            My personal go-to for excellent dining is Tamarine, but others say Junoon. For an occasion, you wouldn't go wrong with either. YSZ's recommendation of Village Pub seems reasonable, and I haven't tried Evvia.

            1. re: bbulkow

              Lavanda is the restaurant in Palo Alto. Levende is in SF and Oakland. Any search hits for Lavande are mispellings of one or the other.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                lavanda is hit or miss. has an amazing wine list, and i've had some great pasta dishes there. underseasoned fish dishes. very nice atmosphere (oldish) but extremely pricey.

                the "chic" spots are the classic tamarine, and i've heard that mantra is better, (but i heard that from a friend of the owner). i have rarely had a good meal at junoon, don't understand the fuss. maybe i'm missing the best dishes?

                but i have to agree, palo alto really doesn't have super destination dining.

              2. re: bbulkow

                Last month we ate at Evvia, Tamarine, Mantra, and Junnoon, and you can't go wrong with any of them. They all had good food, but Evvia had the liveliest atmosphere, and Junnoon was the most posh (velvet everything, it seemed).

            2. I would definitely avoid Three Season and iTapas. They are under the same ownership and I experienced similar problems at each restaurant. Sub-par service, mediocre food and overblown pricing. I've heard it's fantastic from other people, but if you are looking for a one-shot deal, I strongly recommend something with a consistent reputation for greatness, not a a track record for ups and downs.

              3 Replies
              1. re: juliunruly

                I agree: our meal at Three Seasons was marked by horribly overpriced, barely palatable food - almost as bad as our meal at PF Chang's. Our waitress was very nice, though.

                1. re: Claudette

                  Three Seasons compared to PF Chang's? You've got to be kidding me. PF Chang's has a half cup of sugar in each dish. Sugar in the garlic noodles? Insane!

                  Three Seasons has gone down hill in the past couple years, and is overpriced, but I wouldn't call it mediocre. PF Chang's I would call mediocre.

                  I Tapas was good food when we went there for the Monday Dine Downtown two Mondays ago but abysmal service. My husband and I would go there just for the food even though the service was inattentive.

                  1. re: Luthien

                    You weren't eating at our table - the food was definitely mediocre. We were all surprised at how bad it was, given how expensive it was!

              2. I was at Evvia for the first time a couple of days ago, and I am looking forward to going back! The fried calamari, grilled octopus, crisp smelts, and fried squash blossoms were excellent appetizers. Three of us had the grilled whole seabass, very simply but very well executed. DH had the lamb shank and he allowed me a litlle nibble. It was good enough to make a normally generous man reluctant to share. The flavors in all the dishes were nicely balanced. Of the three desserts we had, the galaktoboureko (custard rolled in phyllo, then fried) was the best, though the homemade yoghurt and baklava were not bad, either. With 2 bottles of Aligote, and a bottle of Evvia Zinfandel, dinner for our party of 6 came to $70 per person, tax and tip included.

                1. Don't forget The upscale non-fusion Chinese restaurant Peking Duck on El Camino, with Peking Duck (of course), spinach and crab meat thick soup, and salted fish & chicken fried rice as my all-time favorite dishes there. Bring your wine there, and most of the time they won't even charge you corkage.

                  Interesting how in Palo Alto, only Junnoon and Mantra, both upscale fusion Indian restaurants, made it to Bauer's Top 100 this year eh?


                  10 Replies
                  1. re: vincentlo

                    Vincent - why do you call Peking Duck "upscale"? Is it a white table restaurant? Is the service good? I'm curious because the first and last time I was there, 16 yrs ago, it was pretty shabby in most respects. (If it's as good as you say, I'll chance taking my picky, hyper-critical, loud, unfiltered Chinese mom there.) TIA!

                    1. re: Claudette

                      Yeah I understand what you mean. I ate at Jade Palace the past two nights, oh by the way this really is the best Cantonese or Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto now, and owner Jenny Tang asked me if Peking Duck was that restaurant with a really shabby old outside.

                      The only other upscale Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto is Ming's, and food there is really so-so, especially if you're looking for authentic dishes. I first ate at Peking Duck maybe 14 years ago, and it definitely wasn't shabby then. But now with recent remodeling, I think it's pretty upscale with a few amazing dishes. Just keep in mind that it's a small restaurant, unlike Ming's or Jade Palace, and so there won't be that many signature dishes.

                      For Peking Duck, try Peking duck, salted fish & chicken fried rice, sauteed pea shoots with garlic, and thick spinach soup with tofu.

                      For Jade Palace, try steak cubes, house special prawns with shells, claypot catfish (live from tanks), and a simple steamed tofu dish with eggwhite, fish paste, and little bits of Chinese sausage.


                      1. re: vincentlo

                        Thanks for the recs.

                        Have you tried Tai Pan?

                        Jade Palace
                        151 S California Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306

                        Peking Duck
                        151 S California Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306

                        560 Waverley St, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                        Ming's of Palo Alto
                        1700 Embarcadero Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94303

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Quickly scanning my memory of all the big guns in the Chinese cuisine scene in the Bay Area...Tai Pan in downtown Palo Alto is indeed the most beautiful Chinese restaurant--almost stunning. It caters to those with very deep pockets. Unfortunately when I went there last year to sample a wide variety of dishes, the most memorable dish was the mango pudding at the end served in a Champagne flute. Almost all dishes tended to be bland, and I felt the chefs' skills were really not up to par for these authentic difficult-to-make Chinese dishes in their menu. Michael Bauer was probably distracted by their elegant decor and attentive service. He mentioned that every table ordered flounder done two ways, and when my party ordered that...wow the bones were deep-fried in such thick batter it was so gross to even just imagine eating the crispy bones. I won't go back to Tai Pan unless I hear some really positive comments.


                          1. re: vincentlo

                            Vincent, I took my family there after reading Michael Bauer's review, and we had the same experience you did. The best thing I could say about the food is that it wasn't excessively greasy, but everything was bland. The service was nice, and the decor beautiful, but in the end, it's about the food, so we never went back.

                        2. re: vincentlo

                          Thanks for the tips on PD and JP, Vincentlo!

                          1. re: Claudette

                            My 2 cents...Jade Palace is way better than Peking Duck on all avenues!

                              1. re: hungryrudy

                                Hey why don't you tell us about all the great dishes you had at Jade Palace? =)

                                Jenny is constantly complaining of poor business at her restaurant. Were there some crowds during your visit?


                                1. re: vincentlo

                                  I like Jade Palace a lot, but as you can see by the complaints in this thread, that waiter is turning off the few customers who come through the door, and the menu needs to be tweaked.

                      2. Your list is very good. I eat out in Palo Alto about 10 times per month, and of the places you mention, I think Junoon and Evvia are the best. Tamerine gets great reviews, but I think Three Seasons is just as good. You might also think about Cafe Riace, Bistro Elan and, if you want a decent burger, The Counter.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: foodcrunch


                          i was very unimpressed with cafe riace. three seasons began to slip over the summer, though it started out good. junnoon is good if you order right.

                          however, tamarine was great. oh, that empress rice. and fuki sushi was mind blowing.

                          too bad i didn't get to try evvia!

                          1. re: artemis

                            Yes I agree with the comments on Cafe Riace, Three Seasons, Junnoon, and Tamarine. But what's so "mind blowing" about Fuki Sushi?


                            1. re: vincentlo

                              it is fantastic quality from top to bottom. everything from the tea to the fish (especially harder to find ones) the the construction of the maki to the broiled eggplant and agedashi tofu. it is #4 on sushi monster's list, and would likely be higher if it wasn't so expensive.


                              yes, it is very expensive, but when i went, the firm paid :). i plan on going back again on my own dime, though i will not be able to order with as much abandon. the eggplant, agedashi tofu, and spicy hamachi roll wouldn't be too pricey!

                              1. re: artemis

                                What examples of "harder to find" fish were available? And also, how was the sushi rice? Thanks.

                                1. re: shortexact

                                  i'd check with sushi monster on this. i didn't do any ordering (the partner, who was footing the bill, did). there were several (3? 4? this was in july) kinds of fish i'd never had before, which he ordered off the white board of specials. a couple of the specials had lines through them because they ran out.

                                  i think i am pretty experienced in the standard fish (maguro, sake, hamachi, etc), so i feel confident that these were unusual. there were a couple i recognized the names of from reading about sushi, but a couple we had i'd never heard of. the waitress recommended one in particular...sorry i can't be more specific! it was several months ago.

                                  i remember thinking the rice was nice. not too sweet (pet peeve), but not so vinegary that it fought with the fish. i'd say it leaned just slightly to the vinegar side as opposed to the sweet side. not too sticky, as i recall.

                          2. re: foodcrunch

                            I agree with foodcrunch about Tamarine/Three Seasons. I have eaten at TS several times, both in Palo Alto and in the now-closed Walnut Creek location, and was very happy with the food and service. However, when I met some friends a few weeks ago at Tamarine, I found the service attentive but slow and the prices outrageous. $25 for a small entree on a sushi plate with a pile of green accompaniment! We spent nearly $200 for three people (including overpriced wine by the glass) and were still hungry. Just my two cents'...

                            1. re: foodcrunch

                              Weighing in on the Three Seasons vs. Tamarine comparison - I think they fill entirely different niches, despite both ostensibly being upscale Vietnamese. Three Seasons is where I used to go to get drinks with friends, and some food to go with the drinks. The menu draws on influences from all over Southeast Asia, and the food is fine, but not especially well done or inventive (with the exception of the spring rolls). The Malaysian dishes, in particular, could be take-out from Penang Village, but plated more attractively.

                              At Tamarine, the quality of ingredients and skill of preparation is evident. The dishes are either refined versions of classic Vietnamese dishes, or new creations with strong Vietnamese influence. It's a fine dining experience, not a Friday night out with friends, and the prices are commensurate. I think of Three Seasons as an alternative to Straits Cafe, and of Tamarine as an alternative (or, imho, significantly superior replacement for) Slanted Door.

                            2. i doubt a 23 yr old isn't going to be that concerned about the food, per se. for a birthday dinner, it should be a fun place...and you should be ordering a round of cocktails or two. she might really like nola's, because it has a party atmosphere and decorations. or maybe gordon bierch, or cheesecake factory.

                              nothing more annoying that being taken to some fuddy-duddy old people restaurant like osteria on your 23rd birthday !!! show some consideration, it's not your birthday!!!

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: elduderino

                                That's pretty sad if Gordon Biersch or Cheesecake Factory are the Palo Alto hot spots. Could you guide us to the exciting cocktails at Cheesecake Factory? Seriously, is Cheesecake Factory where all the 20-somethings are gathering these days?

                                1. re: elduderino

                                  I was 23 a few short months ago and would have been horrified if someone suggested cheesecake factory for my birthday. I wouldn't choose Osteria either as it is just a solid neighborhood Italian, nothing celebratory. Good cocktails and interesting well-executed food can be found at Mantra on Emerson St. The lead bartender there, michael, is pretty passionate about designing new and interesting cocktail combinations, and the wine-by-the-glass list is also put together well. Has anyone been to Cafe Fino since it reopened? They have live jazz, and in the past many celebratory dinners have been held there.
                                  There's a difference between going to a celebratory dinner with family and to a bar with friends, for the latter occasion your choice would be Nola or Old Pro. Mantra's bar is also pretty lively, though it closes earlier than the others.