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Palo Alto’s California Avenue Eats

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Palo Alto’s California Avenue Eats

Melanie Wong | Apr 13, 2002 08:26 PM

Vin Vino Wine (VVW), a retail wine shop and bar on California Avenue in Palo Alto, offers some very interesting tastings of rare and fine wines which lure me to the area with some frequency. I’ll often grab a bite to eat nearby to give the liver time to do its thing before driving home. So far, I’ve tried and posted thumbs up on La Bodeguita, neutral on Peking Duck (actually located on El Camino Real), and thumbs down on Cho’s Mandarin Dim Sum. Here are a couple more reports for the neighborhood.

Café Brioche – A rave about the mussels brought me in for the first time a few years ago. A board behind the bar listing a wide range of wines by the glass, the warm Provençal color scheme, French-accented servers, and the uncomplicated offerings on the menu all radiate of southern France. More recently I joined a friend for a weekday lunch, and I soon wondered why I’d been away for so long. He had recommended the oyster sandwich ($8.50) which both of us ordered with a side of salad. This was spot-on. The oysters were dusted with cornmeal and looked a bit anemic at first glance. However, the short timing in the fryer yielded tender and juicy oysters bursting with the fresh taste of the sea. A good quality pan levain was lightly toasted to give the bit of needed firming crispness on the outside yet stayed soft inside. Crispy lardons, grilled onions, and wilted bitter greens rounded out the flavor punch. Really, really tasty combination, albeit a somewhat difficult construction to pick up and eat due to stray pieces of onion and bacon falling out. I ended up wearing some of my lunch and needed to send my sweater to the cleaners. (g)

Bistro Elán –On my one visit, just tasting the bread and butter told me it would be special. I asked our server where I might buy some of this rosemary-scented bread – he smiled and said it was baked in house. I then inquired about the butter - also housemade? He shook his head and matter of factly said it came from Normandy, as if that were not a big deal. The wine list was exquisite and I had to remind myself that my objective was to dry out from the horizontal flight of '97 Baroli we’d tasted, not to stress the liver enzymes further. My companion and I agreed to restrain ourselves and split a glass of 99 Vincent Girardin 1er cru Santenay. My entrée of oven-roasted branzino (aka loup de mer) on a bed of glazed butternut squash batons set a new standard for this style of preparation. The golden crisp skin on this whole fish was a wonder – I still can’t figure out how they could get it crackly on both sides. The sweet white flesh was moist and succulent with just a slight resistance to pulling from the bone, the degree of doneness that a Cantonese chef would applaud. I’ll note that our waiter did not offer to bone the fish for me, which was not a problem as I prefer to do it myself, however the woman at the next table was quite flustered at the prospect. My friend’s day boat scallops with tamarind sauce was less successful in concept and execution, perhaps indicating that the fusion-y stuff is not the kitchen’s forte. For dessert, I did indulge in a glass of the rare 90 Coteaux de Layon from Baumard, a late harvest and botrytis Loire chenin blanc from a great vintage.

I’d appreciate other recommendations for the neighborhood. Here’s a link to a recent post recommending Café Brioche and Joanie’s for breakfast.

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