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Restaurants & Bars

Stoa: destination vegetarian in Palo Alto (long)

Windy | Sep 5, 200302:55 AM     1

I went to dinner at Stoa tonight for a friend's birthday. Despite being a table of non-chowhounds, we decided to order most of the appetizers and just share a few entrees. This allowed us to try most of the items on the menu, which changes roughly each month.

Stoa's in a building on the frontage road that probably belonged to Loral and most recently to Palo Alto Joe's. There's a gorgeous bar area, a small patio, and a warm interior, despite the IKEA rice paper lamps. Service is attentive and friendly; the owners and chef came by as we left and invited us to come again soon.

The food is often exceptional. The chef has a great hand with sauce, and presentation is important (we oohed and aahed as each plate arrived) without any of the dishes seeming architectural simply for the sake of appearance.

Prices are high. Most salads were $8-$9.50; appetizers are 9-12, and entrees $17-21. The portions varied dramatically. When the first few appetizers arrived, we thought we would need to go out for dinner afterward. We felt differently after diving into the dishes, however.

Baskets of wheat bread are accompanied by a mysterious green spread, a "pea pate" apparently made with peas and walnuts that I can best describe as a vegetarian chopped liver. It was addictive, and the baskets were replenished numerous times.

Highlights:

The caramelized baby eggplant was just superb. We fought over every scrap of it, and this was the largest portion among the appetizers. Roasted peppers and garlic balsamic pan juices complemented the juiciness of the eggplant.

A polenta lasagna with layers of cheese, tomatoes, and pesto was incredible. Very common ingredients, available all over town, but rarely rising to the level of what we tasted here. A mingling of flavors and textures, I wish I was entitled to more than 1/7th of it.

Vegetable tempura with coconut dipping sauce was fun and tasty. It was accompanied by steak cut potatoes for no reason I could tell. Yams would have made more sense.

A beet salad with goat cheese was lovely but skimpy at the price.

The truffled spinach ravioli entree was tasty, but the creamy tomato sauce was out of this world. I nearly licked the plate, but restrained myself and simply devoured the sauce on a piece of bread.

A spinach souffle with mixed mushroom stew was also well received, especially by the guest of honor. (I have to admit, I was a huge fan of Stouffer's spinach souffle as a teenager, and this reminded of it--in a good way).

Black-eyed pea fritters with mashed potatoes vanished before I had a chance to try more than just the potatoes.

Less successful:
Rice paper rolls were crunchy and good but very skimpy for $8.

Mushroom dumplings looked good, didn't work at all. Generally, given that the chefs are Israelis, I'd stick to their Mediterranean offerings over the asian-influenced ones.

We were excited by the "savory pear tart with stilton, lemon verbena, and orange blossom honey" but what arrived looked like 5 ritz mini sized puff pastries. I only got half of one, so if there was pear or stilton, I'll just have to take their word on it.

There was also a black bean empanada dish that I didn't get to try.

We did have one problem, when the tapas-sized dishes we requested for sharing arrived, clearly in need of a dusting. They were apologetic and promptly replaced them.

Drinks are too expensive, and the restaurant does not offer sodas or cocktails. They do offer Numi teas (for an outrageous $4.50 for a pot with a teabag in it) along with spritzers made with fresh juice and Illy espresso at $4.50 a cappucino. (And to think for $2, I can have a graffeo cappucino at XOX with a caramel truffle...)

The beer and wine lists are vast and decently priced, considering their other drink markups. We enjoyed two bottles of delicious 2000 Talomas (a partnership between Robert Mondavi and Australia's Rosemount that I had never heard of) Cabernet Shiraz for $38, bringing the total for 6 adults and 1 child to $300 including a generous tip.

Given how high the prices were, we decided to enjoy dessert and tea back at the house. I hope they will consider lowering them slightly, especially on items like drinks. Portions also need to be reconsidered so there's not such a discrepancy from one appetizer to another. Entree portions were huge, maybe more than necessary. I'd love to eat at a place like Stoa regularly, perhaps for lunch, but simply couldn't afford to.

In the mean time, get down to Palo Alto for a meal like no other in the area. Stoa is a boon for vegetarians, but a great destination for anyone else too.

I'd highly recommend them instituting a tasting menu of some sort, to allow diners to enjoy the range of dishes offered as we enjoyed them tonight.

3750 Fabian Way (the continuation of Embarcadero Rd West), off Highway 101
Palo Alto
650 424-3900

Link: http://www.stoarestaurant.com/

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