Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dish on Dining: Calafia Café

Eat Like Google Employees
855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
Town & Country Village
PH: 650.322.9200
Open Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; weekends, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for brunch only
Major credit cards accepted
No reservations, except for parties of six or more at the communal table
www.calafiapaloalto.com


PALO ALTO
I rarely make a trip down to Silicon Valley because BART doesn’t extend that far, but last weekend I hopped on the train down to Palo Alto because I had lunch plans with the Food Gal.

The Food Gal and the Single Guy used to work together at the San Jose Mercury News, when we were just known as Carolyn and Ben. (She in the Food Section, ’natch, and me in Business when I used to care about all this stock market mess.) We got together to catch up and compare notes about our fledgling food blogging experiences.

Our lunch spot was the newly opened Calafia Café by Charlie Ayers, the chef known mostly as the guy who fed the masses at Google’s free employee cafeteria. The idea was that the poor Google employees worked such long hours they needed a place for gourmet lunches and dinners to keep them happy (the top salaries and stock options didn’t hurt either).

Calafia is located at the Town & Country Village shopping mall, which for years have been eclipsed by the nearby Stanford Shopping Center but has been undergoing a rejuvenation of late with the arrival of such foodie spots as Kara’s Cupcakes and the Mayfield Bakery and Café.

When we arrived for lunch at 1 p.m., we didn’t have a problem getting a table in Calafia’s large space. It’s a casual, family-oriented dining spot with several interesting eating areas created to fit your mood. There’s a huge communal table at the front, a dining area with small tables in the center and a long counter facing the open kitchen. Food Gal, who came for a preview when the café first open, pointed out the interesting reclaimed wood used for the décor and the amber-glowing chandelier made of recycled milk bottles.

Off to the side is the recently opened Market A-Go-Go, where you can purchase take out items and local, sustainable food products.

When I looked over the menu, I have to say I was disappointed to find out that Calafia serves only brunch on the weekends. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big brunch person, but I had my heart set on trying some of the interesting appetizers and entrées I saw listed for lunch and dinner on Calafia’s Web site.

The brunch menu offered some of the typical eggs and breakfast dishes like omelettes, French toast and “fluffy” pancakes. But it also included some entrées that reflects Chef Ayers’ tendency to fuse global flavors in dishes using fresh, healthy ingredients.

Food Gal ordered the daily omelette ($9), which on this day was made with smoked salmon and cream cheese, and served with hash browns. When her plate arrived, it looked pretty straightforward. Food Gal said she really enjoyed the taste of the smoked salmon inside.

I decided to order something different and got the Five-Spice Chicken Fideo ($9). Fideo (as explained later by Chef Ayers who happened to spot Food Gal and came over to our table after lunch) is a Mexican short noodle that’s toasted first. The noodles are as thin as vermicelli or capellini.

My chicken fideo came in a bowl dressed in a simple light sauce made up of juices from the ingredients, which included tomatoes, mushrooms, mint, cilantro and basil. The bowl was topped off with a heap of pea shoots. The chunks of chicken in the dish had a nice five-spice flavor that wasn’t overpowering but pleasing. Still, I felt the sauce was a bit too wet making it difficult to eat the fideo without worrying about making a splash with every bite. It did seem like a very healthy, light lunch, however.

Since it was a light lunch, I decided to order dessert. I got the Meyer Lemon Tart ($8) with a citrus sauce. The slice of tart looked very yellow and tasted very lemony, and I enjoyed the slices of fresh grapefruit and citrus sauce. But the crust was too soft for my taste, blending into the lemon custard instead of providing a nice contrasting texture.

Side note: While I thought the service was efficient, I did sense a lag between the time we order things and how long it took to get to our tables.

Calafia Café is a beautiful space that smartly reflects the fresh environment of California—in look and taste. And at its price point, it definitely has the feel of a fancy cafeteria rather than a destination restaurant.

I’m not giving my usual ratings for this review since we didn’t really eat that much to get a sense of the menu, and I don’t really have the opportunity to come back often. It does seem to be a nice casual option among the offerings at the Town & Country Village.

Calafia Cafe on Urbanspoon

4 comments:

foodhoe said...

ooh I didn't know about this! How funny, I went to high school across the street and spent a lot of time hanging out at town and country village... ah, memories. I'm curious where this is located in the mall. The brunch menu looks interesting I wonder what oaxacan pizza is like!

cookingschoolconfidential.com said...

That meyer lemon tart may have had a soft crust, but it looks gorgeous to me. Of course, that could be because I am so longing for sweets these days - anything to get over my chicken overload (I'm a culinary school student and we are cooking chickens galore this week!).

Cheers!

Chef Ben said...

Foodhoe, Calafia is located on the side of the mall facing the street...not El Camino but the other side, I think it's Embarcadero? It's just a few steps from the new Mayfield so they'll probably benefit from some overflow from them. We didn't order the pizza because I heard mixed buzz about the crust.

Carolyn Jung said...

Nice pics! And thanks for coming all the way down to the Peninsula to share brunch with me. I had a great time! So good to catch up with ya, Single Guy Chef.