Pastis, Palo Alto.

March 2019.

Down visiting our daughter in the Bay Area, we chose this place as looking good for a bit of a big night out. The restaurant’s name is the same as the now-defunct one in Vancouver which was a favourite of ours for decades. Unfortunately the similarity was confined to the name. We were three, and although walking in the atmosphere, menu and welcome appeared encouraging, unfortunately none of us were happy with the food.

They do an invitingly reasonable $15 corkage, and having visited our favourite wine store hereabouts (K & L in Redwood City) we brought a nice-looking Chablis grand cru and a 1989 minor Medoc Bordeaux costing about C$140 between them, so we were looking forward to real treats. Obviously it wasn’t our night: the wine was no hell either.

A lovely garlic-infused little cup of cream soup was the amuse-bouche, soft warm French bread with a nice compound butter was plentifully available. My two lady companions went for the warm goat cheese salad comme entrée which meant I was allowed to order rillette which neither of them would go anywhere near. The salad was okay although the goat cheese sat on a little dry toast and the dressing lacked flavor. But the rillettes was a flavourless cooked shredded pork jammed into a small cup that got drier as I dug to the bottom using hard toasts and eventually dumped it out and chewed it with its little cornichons which had come out of a commercial jar.

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Things went downhill from there. Our mains were the ribeye steak shared by the ladies and “roasted duck breast” for me. As we switched to the Bordeaux we entered the cagey negotiation over doneness of both of these dinners. “What does your chef understand by “rare”?” “Is the usual duck breast pink or grey?”. It sounded like they were used to doing things “medium rare”, and we anticipated from admittedly limited experience so far that we were dealing with a so-so kitchen serving inexperienced clientele.

So “Rare” was what we asked for both for the beef and the duck. What we got was a 1 cm beefsteak done through to uniform grey, and raw duck breast. There was a plop of mashed potato nicely flavoured with garlic with the duck and undercooked crunchy julienne of various vegetables with both dinners.

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Hoping that dessert might redeem things, we ordered creme brulee for the table but it was thin as though somebody had tried to economize (or, worse, to promote health) by using Creamo instead of the real thing. Dinner for the three of us was under US$200 but remember wine was only $30 as corkage.

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Lord, it’s as if there is some sort of culinary Mason-Dixon line at the south end of San Francisco, and in the Silicon Valley communities you have to go Michelin one-star (like Madera in Menlo Park) and pay the price for high-class food. The city is justifiably famous for world-class cuisine, but homey little bistros in the hinterland are in our experience so far expensive and third-rate.

Food 6.4, service 8.0, ambience 8.4, value 6.3, peace and quiet 7.8.

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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