Has Ayers's Calafia opened up yet?
A Calamity of Mixed Food Reviews at Calafia
Last year we had our Valentine’s Day dinner at Google. (Free of course.) This year posed a dilemma – Valentine’s Day was on a Saturday and Google’s cafes are closed on the weekend. What to do?
Thankfully I remembered that Charlie Ayers, the best known chef at Google, had just opened his own restaurant, Calafia. This seemed like the most appropriate place to go for V-Day. Plus they didn’t have some marked-up prix fixe menu (in fact the place on this visit was ¼ full – perfect for future V-Days). I wanted to make it a surprise to my husband but I hate driving so I had him drive and didn’t tell him where the hell we were going.
Our server was uber friendly and offered to show us his recommendations on the menu. I’ve actually never had a server go so thoroughly through the menu saying what was the most popular, what were his favorites, and what had mixed reviews, but it was very welcome. I highly recommend it given the food we ordered in our second visit when we didn’t have the server’s input.
The eclectic menu is really appealing with lots of vegetarian options and full of the healthy sorts of things you’d find at Google like quinoa.
Calafia: White people love it.
On our first visit we shared the Mahogany Salmon ($15) and the Tofu Lentil Loaf ($13). The bottom of our Mahogany Salmon was burnt so we sent it back (something we rarely do). Our server was very apologetic. Our non-burnt salmon was pretty good but not amazing. Granted, Tofu Lentil Loaf sounds like it’s going to be awful but it was definitely the entrée winner. Both dishes were recommended by our server. He also touted the Gingered Mashed Yams ($3) as his favorite dish on the menu. It was with good reason – we even ordered it again on our second visit. We ended with the Death by Chocolate ($8) which we hoped would be a nice flourless chocolate cake but was more like a much too sweet giant chocolate truffle.
On our second visit the place was packed. We agreed to take a counter seat so our wait only ended up being about 10 minutes (non-counter would have been 40 minutes). Unfortunately our counter seat was the one *right* next to the door. Also, the counter is at an odd height that’s too high for the chairs.
This time we tried the Five Spice Chicken Fideo ($9) which was a horrible mistake. The dish had an odd flavor with too much of an herbal flavor (I’m blaming the mint). Wolfgang’s Pizza ($11) was a better option with an interesting pumpkin seed pesto, but a little too much shredded duck meat. (Note: I’m not usually a duck fan but this was good.) We were still hungry after the Fideo disaster (thankfully we had an order of the Gingered Mashed Yams) so we shared the Apple Galette ($8). It was okay, but really not worth $8.
Service was mixed. Although our server was super friendly and professional our first visit he also disappeared for close to 10 minutes while we waited for him to return to tell him our salmon was burnt. Our server on the second visit was not very impressive at all.
Chef Charlie Ayers could be seen in the big open kitchen. There are regular dining tables, a long communal table, and counter seating.
This place has a lot of range. Out of 5 stars:
Mahogany Salmon – 4 stars
Tofu Lentil Loaf – 4 ½ stars
Gingered Mashed Yams – 5 stars
Death by Chocolate – 2 stars
Five Spice Chicken Fideo – 1 ½ stars
Wolfgang’s Pizza – 3 ½ stars
Warm Apple Galette – 3 stars
I brought my family today. It was a brunch menu, which tends not to be my thing. I wish I could say otherwise, because I was looking forward to trying this place, but it was not very good. My kids got pancakes, but they were ultra simple and not a quarter as good as any different variants we might make at home. The burger was overcooked, the bun a tad burnt. The Barefoot coffee we ordered never showed up. The server, a nice enough guy, who seemed at home doing his job, never brought silverware for two of us. We'd have ordered more, but the message was clear. Maybe another time.
Also, looking at the regular lunch and dinner menus, I didn't find the choices to be very inspired.
I hadn't even heard of the neighboring Mayfield Bakery, but though it's newer, it seems like a better choice. The menu is more interesting, the food looked more appealing, the operation, in general, seemed more together and it's gotten some nice posts here. I look forward to trying it.
I'll give Calafia another try in a month or so and see if we have better luck. It'll take some convincing to get my wife back there again, though.
re: Melanie Wong
Four of us had dinner there on Sunday, and we will not return.
Starting with the service, it was absolutely, chaotic. When the server came by and asked how our entrees were, I hadn't received mine yet. She had to ask me what I had ordered. Three of us ordered coffees, I received mine and about 5 minutes later we had to remind the waitress that there two others were needed. When my wife's coffee arrived, it was noticeably darker than mine. The waitress apologized and explained that they brew the coffees "one at a time." Duh!!! To top it off, every time she came by, she would ask "wasn't that great?" We would cringe.
The food was unremarkable and the portions were small. We're Chinese and we thought that the Chinese Chicken Salad was the worse we've ever had. It did not taste like it was integrated, if I could explain it properly. I guess one could say it was thrown together. Hard to beat Chef Chu's. The desserts were not very good either. My tart was small and cold, like it just came out of the frig. The chocolate gelatin(?) was gooey.
The reason we went was there was a favorable TV news feature about it and the fact that the chef was from Google and how high tech it is. Well, I can see why the food is free at Google because I certainly wouldn't pay for it and hand held remote ordering is not new. I think McArthur Park tried it about 20 years ago.
re: Ronald Wong
re: Ronald Wong
"The food was unremarkable and the portions were small." Too bad, I was really looking forward to this place. Also, this doesn't bode well for Town & Country who's seen new vacancies in the last several months. I am now looking forward to Amici's pizzeria scheduled to open this Spring in downtown Menlo Park.
re: Ronald Wong
Ronald, I must have gotten your waitress. After she took my order, I had to chase her down for coffee (which was cold), for cream, for a spoon, for the check...but everyone else there was very nice and attentive, from the hostesses to Charlie. While the decor was very stylish and the counters are terrific for single/duo diners, I found my fideo oddly Asian: monochromatic (brown) and monotextural (soft). Thank goodness for the 2 cherry tomatoes and some pea shoots that broke up the soupy 5-spice monotony. Others around me seemed happy, so I'll give it another try sometime.
re: Melanie Wong
I had lunch there today and I enjoyed it. Service was attentive, but there were some early kinks. I had the chestnut soup, but there was no bread--oops.
Per the waiter's recommendation, I had the Bohemian salad which was microgreens, glazed walnuts and braised pork. Quite good--the pork had a smoked pepper, almost Oaxacan, seasoning. While the portions were not huge, I was quite full by the end.
The chestnut soup was unusual--a puree, a bit salty, and the flavor was filled out with almond butter.
My friend had the tempura of the day and a braised greens dish. Both were well done.
As someone very interested in locally sourced and seasonal ingredients, I liked the variety of dishes offered--both barley and quinoa formed the basis of a couple of dishes. Chestnuts are, in fact, grown locally and in season. The Chinese Chicken Salad was the most ordinary looking salad on the menu. I don't think I'd bother with it.
The seasoning on all the dishes was on the strong side, but well-balanced. However, I've been doing a lot of home cooking with fresh ingredients lately and *all* restaurant food has seemed heavily seasoned to me as a result. (I'm also a "supertaster".) My companion had no problem with that.
All in all, I found the variety and use of local ingredients to be on par with good San Francisco restaurants. Combined with a reasonable price point, (lunch for two without wine came to $30.) this makes Calafia a good deal for Palo Alto. Since I live down here, I will definitely go there again--it's miles above anything else in the Town and Country Shopping Center and beats out most of the downtown. (MacArthur Park has been on a downhill slide for a very long time, alas--but even in MacArthur Park's prime, it was a very different restaurant.) Calafia does not rank with the top-notch SF restaurants--so not a destination restaurant for those up there. More like a good place to get a bite if you're in the area.
re: Melanie Wong
I had lunch there today and was quite pleased with my "angry pork wrap: Braised pork shoulder with citrus juices, smoky black beans, brown rice & creamy jicama jalapeno slaw in a whole wheat tortilla." Everything went together well and, although I felt good and healthy eating it, it didn't taste like health food. The wrap was on the smaller side, meaning one won't feel stuffed and that many people might want an appetizer or dessert, but it was enough for me. The pork was shredded and respectable, though it wouldn't stand on its own as at, say, a BBQ joint.
My friend had the eggplant and mushroom panini and seems relatively happy.
Our waiter was friendly. We talked for a bit and he recommended the following, admitting first that he liked spicy things and that might bias some of his recs:
* Papas Con Ajo (french fry appetizer)
* Daily Tempura
* Angry Pork Wrap
* a chicken + bbq sauce + Oaxaca-style mozzarella that's not listed on
* Fiery Bottom BBQ Pork Rice Bowl
* A Simple Pizza (only "Oaxaca-style mozzarella, tomato sauce & basil:" but it was his favorite pizza)
* Warm Apple Galette (he talked this up a lot)
* Vegan Sticky Buns with Maple Syrup (the only other dessert he mentioned)
The place is much bigger than I expected. The decor is stylish, the kitchen is open, and there's a nice buzz, making it a comfortable place to sit.
I plan to return.
Warning: when I arrived at 1:15pm today, there was a 20 minute wait.
re: Melanie Wong
I had dinner there the other night and my experience was much different than Ronald's.
If anything service was over-attentive -- maybe a bit rushed. That might have been because we were eating at the counter area.
We had the duck confit pizza which was excellent. The pesto sauce was bright and interesting and the goat cheese very tangy (perhaps a bit overwhelmening). There was generous amounts of rich confit and the crust was crisp on the bottom but still had some nice chewiness.
The braised short rib was also quite good. It was tender with a nice rich sauce. Perhaps not the best I have had, but very good.
The wine list is short and a bit ecletic but moderately priced (most bottles are in the $20 to $40 range).
I wouldn't rate this as a "must do" but I would certainly go back for a casual dinner.
re: Melanie Wong
We finally tried it out on Saturday night. Our waiter's recommendations were spot on: the turkey meatloaf with greens, ginger mashed yams, and a really mushroomy mushroom sauce was delicious, as was the Bohemian salad that urbavore aptly described. We followed his recommendation on the warm apple galette and that was a winner too, infinitely better that the "apple" crostata at Mayfield from a couple weeks ago. But when we didn't ask for advice on the appetizers, we didn't do so well - neither the duck dumplings nor the lamb meatballs impressed us very much at all.
The food was consistently under-salted in all 5 dishes, even for my wife who likes less salt than I do. If you're going to under-salt so much, it would be nice if you provided salt and pepper and didn't force your customers to ask for it.
The draft beer selection is an outstanding group of 5 local beers. The Devil's Canyon Amber Ale and the Scrimshaw Pilsener were both excellent.
The room has lots of communal tables with a bit of a Google cafeteria vibe. It's not a fancy place or a place to linger, but it seems like a nice addition to the area. If the salting can be fixed and the food quality made more consistent it will be even better. I'm going to be spending more time in this part of Palo Alto over the next couple of months so I'll probably get to try out more things, especially at lunch. The take-out market has lots of nice choices - I don't recall seeing Fra'Mani sausages for sale at retail in this area before.