Dinner for 1 in Palo Alto?
Two places spring to mind, The Refuge on Laurel in San Carlos, which is about 15 minutes up the El Camino Real in San Carlos, and Martins West in Redwood City on Main, just a little closer than The Refuge to Palo Alto. Both are top notch. I am partial to the wine list and selection of on tap Belgian beers at The Refuge and the scotch and bar snacks at Martins West.
Village Pub. Michelin star without tasting menu, cozy, eat at the bar, cal for res on Friday or Saturday. French/american comfort style. Not terribly adventurous but very, very good. No sign, google maps gets you close but you won't find it, call for specific directions. This is a "masters of the universe" kind of place that would fit in perfectly in Telluride or New Caanan. Probably the most expensive of what I've listed here.
Flea Street Cafe - often overlooked because it's not in a downtown area. Excellent food, just under the michelin-one-star level. Great cocktails, which few order. Small bar area which is often dead, you'd probably enjoy a table in the main area more. Likely the only "californian" place in that area. Makes the 1-night-only list.
Martin's West - this is a *great* place I highly recommend. Neuvo British - are you scared yet? Scotch eggs - house-smoked bacon around a wee quail's egg deep fried so the yolk's still runny. Crab pasta I had there was excellent. Very good cocktail program. Haggis *ON A STICK*. Very serious about eco conciousness. Eat in the front bar area, either at the bar or high tables, which is lively enough. Rotating menu. Never full. A little hit or miss, but somehow more unique than everywhere else on this list. I mean, modern viet is so over. Excellent value.
St Michael's Alley - excellent high-end place with seasonal menus. Medium fancy. That fairly unadventerous cal/ital/french thing, but done well. Hard to recommend over others in this list, but it is really good. Nice little bar when you first come in, which can be eaten at - looks french, with a marble top. Good bar, cocktails, wine by the glass. Slightly staid.
BDM - menu looks better than it sounds. Only thing I get now is the Mastitas, which I consider top notch. Decent bar, but not as good as Tamerine, Martin's West, Flea Street, Mantra, St Michaels. Would not be on my 1-night-only list.
Evvia - it's all about the mesquite lamb and a crisp fresh white wine. If you're not in the mood for that, go elsewhere. If you are in the mood, go straight there. And the crispy smelts. Not sure if they even have a bar, but it's a cozy place.
Tamerine - great place, recommended, although some hit-and-miss. Go for complicated dishes -my fave is the tea leaf beef app. Melanie says it's "too sweet" by and large. Eat at bar, eat at bar tables. Convivial.
Mantra - a little more interesting, a little less execution on the food, better cocktail program, amazing "half price happy hour" (half price *everything*). Cal-indian mashup. Eat at the bar, or the bar area, or at the streetside tables and watch the world go by. Would go to Tamerine over Mantra, but have gone to Mantra when Tamerine was full.
Crouching Tiger - cleaned up chinese. Decent sichuan in a decent environment. Especially like the dry-cooked dishes. Good if you don't get much sichuan in whatever part of the world you're in, bad because as one person you won't get to sample as much. No bar.
Refuge - like a very small beerhall. Food is basic - burgers and pastrami - with extraordinary execution. Extraordinary. I've never had pastrami like that. Belgian beer list (with all correct glasses) is high-grade. Sports TVs on walls and boisterous. Go for the beer. Would not be on my 1-night-only list, unless I was a fool for belgian beer and/or pastrami. Very relaxed, tee-shirt type place. Would make my top-10, however.
Iberia, Menlo Park - a small dark bar in the spanish style run by a madman. Only eat in the bar area, where you'll find the most authentic tapas around. Very cozy, service is, shall we say, quirky. But it's real tapas, not some kind of small plate mashup. Long wine by the glass list.
Kaygetsu - astonishing japanese. Best you'll have eaten outside tokyo and new york. Very small sushi bar, but the star's the non-sushi japanese (I think they only recently added sushi to their evening menu), so a table might be better even for solo. Very quiet, zen, formal japanese. No mashup, real straight-up japanese. There's lots of other good sushi in the area, my two favorites would be Fuki and Naomi - although hard to put on a "one night only" list. Except for Kaygetsu, which is one-night-worthy. Haven't tried Jin Sho, reviews in the first few weeks were good-not-great, especially considering the Momofuku-like prices.
Italian - lots of places, nothing terribly strong. Osteria is highly recommended but not good for solos. La Strada is my favorite right now, and might have a bar. Vero has a secret bar in the back nearly *in* the kitchen which is fun. Pasta Moon has better food than all of them but just tables, no bar. Pro Bono is a bit old school, but great manhattans. All in all, nothing meets your requirements. If you really want Italian I'd probably pick La Strada.
If you want the full-on tasting menu extravaganza, Manresa is about 17 minutes from PA, Chez TJ is 10, and the new place on california ave has already been mentioned.
There are literally dozens to tack on. More detail if you want it.
Back in Austin after a short trip to Palo Alto.
Two meals, both excellent in different ways:
Dinner at a place suggested by a colleague at Stanford, Cafe Brioche on California.
Very good place, if you are in a particular mood. The "mood" would be for homey, and somewhat heavy, comfort food. "Twas a chilly day in the southbay that this happened to hit the spot. Small, cozy bistro surroundings, French in focus, preparation, and attitude (I don't mean the latter in a bad way). I had a delicious starter of the chicken liver salad; for main course, a large Osso Bucco stew. Really complex, rich, savory; the lamb well cooked, the sauce not an afterthought, but very well composed. Colleague had the Cassoulet, which he loved. Again, not a course for the wary or for every day, but scrumptious when in the right mind + stomach frame. (Excellent bottle of Moulin Vent too boot).
Next day, managed to squeeze in lunch at one of the spots recommended: Martin's West in Redwood City. Terrific suggestion; thanks! Just as described, it is neo-Scottish. Beautiful room, combing pub ambience with nice touches of style (there was a photo shoot going on in the back room when I was there!). Started with the Scotch eggs. Would never order under normal circumstances, but was a remarkable, small dish made up of shrewedly cooked quail eggs surrounded by a sausage infused fry batter. Top notch. Next, I had a lentil soup. A perfectly executed version of a dish that seldom warrants comment. Main course was a superb lamb burger, locally raised, well composed, and topped off with a lovely lump of fries.
This relentlessly great meal was accompanied by two fine local beers, an Anderson IPA from Boonville and a hoppy Bear Republic Red Racer. And, for "dessert," a short glass of St. George Single Malt.
Although I didn't get there on this trip, I echo the recs of Ewia, a fine, modern Greek restaurant in the downtown area. I have been there before and love it.
There's a new place called Baume that just opened that looks pretty adventurous on Cal Ave.
Other than that my favorites (not necessarily adventurous but all very good)
- Evvia (high-end Greek restaurant)
- Tamarine (Vietnamese - nice place)
- Bistro Elan (French bistro)
- Jin Sho (Japanese)
- La Bodeguita del Medio (Cuban - the food is good, the mojitos are excellent and there's a cigar room in the back w/ a patio)