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San Francisco Bay Area Palo Alto

renzo - palo alto - surprisingly good addition


Restaurants & Bars 11

renzo - palo alto - surprisingly good addition

bbulkow | Jun 20, 2010 12:05 PM

As part of the "restaurant roulette", GF and I continually try all the new restaurants on University Ave. The recent spate of openings had us behind by about 6, but now closing the gap. Renzo is in the spot previously held by Rossi & Blanco and Loui Loui Steaks.

They've improved the space a bit, but the general geometry of the room is the same. They're making the most of huge sidewalk doors to open on warm days.

The place was full at 8pm on a Saturday. No reservation required, but every table full. We were vectored into the bar for a few minutes.

Service, overall, was excellent. A step up from just about anywhere casual on University ave, like the place is really overstaffed. Two hostesses. Waiter per about 6 tables. Runners. Waiter watching very carefully. More importantly, a very fast kitchen. After ordering, we had our apps in about 5 minutes. After we finished those, the main came without a beat. The table next to us cleared, another couple sat down and ordered a simple pasta dish, ate quickly and left in about 30 minutes.

The waiter asked our names, introducing himself by name near the end of the meal, as we were winding up, and clearly not in a huge hurry. It's the kind of place where we're likely to be greeted by name if he sees us again. The owner was hovering a bit, didn't introduce himself, and I saw him at one of the sidewalk tables tucking in as we were leaving. Talking italian.

The food - much closer to "red sauce italian" than the other entrants on University. Almost like what's served at University Cafe. The on-table bread is clearly their pizza dough formed into balls, nice and hot. Mussels were not overcooked, and in a simple butter/garlic sauce. Bruchetta wasn't "pokey" (overly crisp) nor soggy, according to GF. For a meat we had Osso bucco, which was covered by a red sauce, served next to risotto. Overall, the portions were kind of small for the price, but, frankly, we're liking not leaving restaurants stuffed.

GF liked it better than I did. Canolli, for example, fully house made and pretty darned good. I was a little down on the Osso Bucco (I like Peninsula Creamery's a lot better, when it's on their special list). Note to Renzo: there's a difference between a souffle and choclate lava cake (warm gooey center). Nothing wrong with that kind of chocolate cake, but don't sell me a souffle and give me cake.

The place is comforting, not high end. That, combined with the speed, means it's likely to get some of our restaurant dollars from time to time. It's good for PA, where people (like us) eat out almost every night. Some times, you just want a quick plate of pasta - the old pasta? niche, but the menu at pasta? is very limited and the service there is slow.

It's not trying to be Serious Italian like La Strada and Osteria. It's succeeding at being casual, unlike Pasta?. It's not huge steam tray portions like Bucca di Beppo.

The bar has received a serious upgrade since Loui Loui Steaks. I wouldn't say it has a cocktail program, but it does have a cocktail list, and they're sporting more high end liquor at a reasonable price. I think their house Manhattan has woodford reserve, for example, not maker's mark. GF had a lemon drop that was reasonably made (but warm). They have a nice munich wheat beer on tap.

Pasta were about $15, meats about $20, major apps (like mussles) around $10. The small pizzas had a thicker crust than I'm expecting for pizza for one.

Far more casual and friendly, Renzo's quickly got a following with parents with kids, older folks. It's not young and hip like Strada up the street, doesn't take itself too seriously.

Peninsula Creamery
900 High St, Palo Alto, CA 94301

Cafe Renzo
473 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

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