Madera, Menlo Park California.

September 2017.

Our daughter moved to the Bay Area south of San Francisco awhile ago, and so we are learning about the string of small cities west of the Bay that have exploded with significance thanks to Google, Facebook, etc: “Silicon Valley”. We were escaping after dropping our three-year-old granddaughter in day care, and chose this spot because it was well-reviewed. It certainly didn’t disappoint, but it was expensive and had an ambience that might not be everyone’s choice.

It’s located in the Rosewood Sand Hill Hotel, a luxury spread with rooms mostly in cottage-style buildings starting at around $650 Canadian. Menlo Park is the headquarters of Facebook, and this hotel (and restaurant) must depend on that relationship, filled as they are with high-energy characters in suits, but also with the local elderly who, one speculates, may have benefited from the real estate value explosion associated with the social media giants.

It was a hot day in late September as we parked and walked through the classy modern entrance. The atmosphere reminded us of West Vancouver: a presumption of wealth with all its perquisites, encouraging us to imagine we’ve been rich for maybe one or two generations (but certainly nothing close to “old money”, more like lots of new money). We sat outside on the deck overlooking the hotel swimming pool (and the freeway not far away), and watched as adjacent tables filled up with casually dressed Chinese guys, an elderly lady in a wheelchair with two Filipina attendants, a couple of attractive expensively-dressed fiftyish women, and a pair of silver-haired rich male septuagenarians.

Our server was a disarmingly naïve young guy, knowledgeable about the menu but deferential when we started talking about the extremely comprehensive wine list. Robin had a glass of pinot grigio which was just fine, and we ordered a local pinot noir that turned out to be acidic and a little bit volatile acidic but pleasant and a nice accompaniment to lunch at $90 US.

Someone said this place had a Michelin star, and at its best the food was really terrific. We started with a shared tomato salad (“heirloom” of course), which instantiated an experience we’ve found lately where salads are enhanced by dressing that avoids being acidic and just presents the flavour of the salad elements beautifully. It was as we say mouthwatering.

Robin had the burger. This was not bad, but didn’t have any tomato or lettuce in it. It was cooked “medium rare”, which they sometimes tell us back home is against some sort of food safety law. This drives me crazy. You’re not allowed to take your one chance in 100,000 of E. coli in order to have your hamburger not dried to a grey granular chew. God bless America.

My chicken was one of the nicest things I’ve had in over a year. It was a roulade, perfectly tender and moist, folded around subtle herbs with the skin in place just gently crisped. The two roulade cylinders sat on a bed of lentils and chopped nuts in a complex chicken stock reduction, flavoured with what turned out to be “pickled stone fruit”: tiny chopped cubes of very sour cherry or peach that had been incubated in vinegar. These contrasted with the rich chicken flavour and al dente lentils giving them exactly what they needed to be really spectacular.

It got too hot outside so we moved into the air-conditioned dining room and were talked into desert which was peaches melba, but done with crème brûlée, a couple of accompanying tropical fruits, and a sorbet. Fabulous.

This was a mixed experience. The hamburger aside, the food was world class. I guess we would rather have had these treats in some other venue, but the simple, bland, sybaritic environment wasn’t frankly offensive, and we were very nicely looked after. This was, however, close to a $US 300 lunch, which we wouldn’t be doing as a regular thing.

We will find somewhere else next time around in the West Bay communities, but one can certainly do an awful lot worse than the delicious eats in this fancy spot.

Food (selectively) 9.4, service 9.1, ambience ??, value 8.0, peace and quiet 8.6.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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