Palo Alto Grill opened earlier this year in the former Miyake space on thriving University Avenue in the heart of Silicon Valley. Owned by the team of Bruce K. Schmidt and Luka Dvornik, formerly of Lavanda (whose across the street site is now Campo 185), they reinvented themselves with Palo Alto Grill as a steakhouse blending classics with intriguing Modern American fare. Heading up the kitchen is Chef Ryan Shelton, who has a two Michelin-starred background having worked as Chef de Cuisine at Baumé before heading off to the excellent, but now-defunct, Le Cigare Volant, the showcase restaurant of Bonny Doon’s owner/winemaker Randall Graham.
The BarFlys have visited Palo Alto Grill (nicknamed PAG as evidenced by their cocktail napkins) a few times now, anxiously awaiting the arrival of their cocktail program. A snafu stopped them from getting their full liquor license; however, wine and beer are available to pair with steak and their other menu items. Note that this post spans the excellent items we have encountered over a couple of visits.
Their bread service consists of three different kinds of house-made breads and a mustard cheese spread. The table favorite was the epi-pretzel whose flavor was really enhanced by the dip:
The Avocado Corn Dogs served with Chipotle Mustard were really good. The order normally comes with three, but additional ones can be added for a nominal fee so that no one at the table has to fight over the tasty battered corn pops with a creamy avocado center:
With his experience from Lavanda Wine Bar, proprietor Schmidt hired Tim Augello to put together a wine list befitting an upscale steakhouse. We gravitated towards this 2010 Villa Gentina Langhe Nebbiolo since it has the right acidity to pair well with most food. The Langhe designation refers to the area around Barolo and Barbaresco in Piemonte; great wines can be found here without the accompanying price tag of the prized appellations:
We are big fans of duck confit, and this version features a crispy fried leg set in an Arugula Salad with summer cherries, red onions and roasted pecan halves:
The Carpaccio of Steak with Capers, Parmesan Cheese and Arugula is another great starter and one of the better versions we have had in the Bay Area:
We have been slowing making our way through their entire menu, but the Gambas en Chorizo is so good that this is one item that we repeatedly order. Three plump prawns are encased with a breadcrumb and spicy chorizo sausage coating, then fried to perfection. Similar to fried ama ebi sushi, the delicious heads can be eaten in their entirety like shrimp chips. For those that are squeamish about such things, make sure to at least try the orange soft organs (hepatopancreas) that is the essence of shellfish flavor. Sweet pickled cucumbers help cut down the richness of this unbelievably great dish. Note that like the avo corn dogs, extra prawns can be ordered (highly recommended because you really don’t want to share this):
We noticed that some of the appetizers take on Spanish influences, such as the Gambas dish described above and this tender Grilled Japanese Octopus. Served over fingerling potatoes, basil herb is prevalent in both the flavored olive oil and chiffonade:
PAG has five primary preparations of steak which range from the steak frites to a Turf and Turf version, plus one that is purely Californian. Named after our favorite state, the Californian comes with an 8 ounce Natural Beef Skirt Steak accompanied by a Crab Salad. The steak arrived perfectly rare and topped with a pat of herbed butter, but the real revelation was the crustacean salad speckled with peas and avocado and teepeed in by fried won ton skins that can be used as crab vessels:
On one visit they offered steak upgrades, such as prime or dry-aged versions, which could replace the beef in any of the five preparations. On a subsequent visit, we were not offered that option, so it seems the upgrade might only be occasionally available. The time that we could order the premium steak, our Grilled Steak Frites came with prime ribeye. A small bowl of bordelaise sauce came on the platter to use with the steak or as a dip for the perfectly cooked fries. Similar to typical bistro fare, a lightly dressed frisée salad completed the platter. We ordered the very tender steak “bleu”, and it arrived as if it just kissed the grill, closer to a tartare, which we didn’t mind since we like our beef still breathing:
Another time we tried the Peppercorn Burger which came sandwiched between buttery brioche buns, more of the perfect fries and a sweet house-made tomato ketchup. The burger was good, but for our taste, the peppercorn was a little overwhelming and dominated the flavor of the burger:
It’s a steakhouse, but the kitchen is equally adept at seafood and vegetarian items. The Seared Scallops with Trout Roe was flavored with a citrus butter and arrived perfectly cooked with almost raw centers:
We also had to try the Corn and Vegetable Bisque Pot Pie which came stuffed with carrots, mushrooms, peas and was delicately flavored with sage. The bisque was very rich; we can honestly say that we did not miss the chicken or any protein with this excellent vegetarian dish:
We don’t normally do desserts, but our dinner companions insisted, and we are very glad they did. The 64% Chocolate Torte with vanilla gelato cube topped with malt crunchies was rich, decadent and served as an excellent way to end any meal:
A special dessert one evening, the Citrus Cheesecake served with a pistachio biscotti, was thoroughly enjoyed by our friends who deemed it one of the best cheesecakes they have tasted:
Note that it’s worth checking out Chef Shelton’s blog, Will Work for Food, which includes recipes and details of how he has come up with some of the dishes on the menu, such as the epi pretzel, the cheese mustard dip, the carpaccio and those crazy great avo corn dogs. It’s worth visiting just for the recipes alone, and yes, we’ll be making that crispy sous vide chicken breast one day soon!
it should be noted that service is efficient and very friendly whether seated at the bar or at a table. Palo Alto Grill has quickly become one of our favorite places in the South Bay due to the excellent food and decent price points for a genuine steakhouse. The combinations are truly inventive and brings new meaning to modern American cuisine. It could rival any restaurant in San Francisco, a comparison we wouldn’t normally bother with for South Bay restaurants. The only thing missing is a full bar where one could have a martini, which is de rigueur for a steakhouse, but that should come soon.
Sep. 26, 2013 Update
Their full bar is now open!