I've been going to this joint once every couple of years for the past 15 or so. Between visits I forget the bad and remember the good so it's time to write it all down for the next time!
Kuleto’s was among the first modern Italian restaurants. It sports an open kitchen that allows you to see what’s going on in there, an eclectic wine list and the dishes have a flair that isn’t a slave to traditional ingredients.
Because it’s pretty much alone out there in Burlingame, or because it’s getting long in the tooth, or perhaps it’s been reading its own press, the shine is off. The food is good, but a slow accretion of negatives are creeping in.
Let’s start with the service. I personally hate the “Do you want to pay us 3X retail for water, or do you want to roll the dice with Burlingame tap?” routine. It shines out as a check inflator and at Kuleto’s was particularly obvious. Immediately asking for a wine order as you are handed a wine list is also a pushy maneuver.
To top it off (after we tell him nicely to let us exhale first), he comes back in less than two minutes to ask us if he can “start us off with a bruschetta or …” Strike three and I’m put off of this guy for the rest of the night.
The food is good, no question.
My wife ordered the Burrata: Creamy Mozzarella, Toasted Bread, Chestnut Honey, Arugula, "La Quercia" Prosciutto, Truffle Salt. The mozzarella was particularly flavorful and the honey contrasting with the arugula was quite nice.
She followed it with Salmone: Wild Salmon, Buttermilk Golden Yukon Puree, Cherry Tomatoes, Prosecco-Mascarpone. I go to Alaska most years to catch king and silver salmon and I can attest that Kuleto’s fish-monger knows what he was doing. Good flavor, not overwhelmed by sauce. Nice.
I felt unadventurous (possibly because of the off-putting service experience when I sat down), so I stubbornly stuck to a salad and meat motif.
I started with Caesar: Hearts of Romaine, Parmesan, White Anchovies, Focaccia Croutons, Caesar Dressing. This was an excellent interpretation of the original. The garlic didn’t slap me in the face, the anchovies were quite subtle and delicious and the romaine was devoid of the fibrous leaves that lesser chefs sneak in on you. I was feeling better now!
I moved on to the Bistecca: Sliced Angus Hanger Steak, Tuscan Frittes, Curly Spinach, Red Wine Sauce. Ever have fajita’s done at a joint one step-up from Chevy’s? Same thing. The steak was what looked like to me a marinated skirt steak, sliced into bite-sized pieces and covered in an Italian version of a teriyaki sauce. The “Tuscan Frittes” are garlic and salt covered steak fries and the spinach was completely forgettable. Now after saying all that, it was just fine to eat. On the other hand, it was definitely not up to the standards of a fine Italian joint.
The deserts looked like the usual suspects (gelato, tiramisu, etc.) and we weren't tempted.
In the end I was reminded of why I keep coming back to Kuleto’s: It’s an oasis of decent food between SF and the peninsula. It’s easy to find (try and miss the 50 foot lighted sign from the 101), they park your car for free, and they feed you well. I just wish it wasn't so obvious that they are trying to squeeze extra cash out of you.
1 = Bad, 10 = Outstanding
Food: 6 (not inspired, but good)
Service: 4 (retrain the waiters to be more gracious and less mercenary)
Price: 2 people, martini, wine, tip and taxes = $120
Ambiance: 5 (I still love the open kitchen, but it’s all dark woods and getting threadbare)
“Can they make a decent dry martini?”: Yes, they can.
1095 Rollins Road
Burlingame, California 94010