Madera, Menlo Park, California.

February 2022.

We’ve been to this lovely restaurant before, and typically I would just add a note to that visit, but this time it felt good enough that I wanted to post it separately. It’s adjacent to an uber ritzy part of the South San Francisco Bay area and to get to it you drive through Atherton California, the second most affluent residential neighbourhood in the US. Estates there make Vancouver’s Shaughnessy look like a trailer park. The restaurant is set in the fancy Rosewood Sand Hill hotel, expensive and an erstwhile watering hole for wheeling and dealing in the early days of the Silicon Valley .com era.

Walking in early for our reservation the welcome is cheerful and although we are at first told that the tables outside are reserved another staff person disagrees and we are taken to a table way at the end of the outdoor patio, quiet and isolated, partially sunny but cool and comfortable. At least three people approach quietly, offering water and taking drink orders, and a brisk German-accented gentleman lets us know that the short wine list on the lunch card is far from all that’s available. He brings a 20-page wine list topping out with a page of Romanee-Conti at over $5000 each. We settle for a recommended Flowers Winery rose, tart and slightly astringent: close to perfect at $75.

Our main server appeared pretty neutral, even a bit nerdy, but slowly morphed into a relaxed and eventually hilarious friendly character as lunch went on. The cadence of service was ideal, always polite and quiet, never intrusive.

The menu is abbreviated: eight starters, a couple of sandwiches including a burger and only four mains. We followed our usual strategy when we want to extend our time eating of ordering one item at a time. First came three roe-covered devilled eggs, salty and mustard-flavoured.

Next (and we thought best) was a grilled octopus with cauliflower crema and shiso (Japanese mint) and macadamia gremolata. It’s not easy to put octopus up nicely because it has to be carefully softened before grilling or it ends up chewy like rubber. This was two thick sections of tentacle with crisp grilled suction cups under the vegetable dressing. Soft and delectably fishy against the gremolata.

After a creamy acidic fresh ricotta on sourdough toast we dug into a shared lobster tartine, softly tasty with mashed avocado, maybe a bit shy on the lobster pieces that were tender and subtly flavoured.

About C$375 including a nice tip is a fair bit to pay for lunch for two, but having experienced through Covid and other vicissitudes the crumbling of a planned family holiday to celebrate a special birthday (mine), Robin kindly agreed to this special meal. Independent of that I’d still call it worth the money.

Food 8.9, service 9.5, ambience 9.1, value 8.0, peace and quiet 9.6.

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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