Year in review: MidPeninsula dining | News | Palo Alto Online |


Year in review: MidPeninsula dining

A look back at the food news of 2015

The endless cycle of restaurants moving in and out of the MidPeninsula persisted in 2015, with continuing growth in cities like Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos.

Was 2015 the year of boba in Palo Alto? Perhaps, with four milk-tea cafes -- three of them large international chains -- setting up shop on or around University Avenue. Palo Alto also saw the opening of longtime San Jose breakfast staple Bill's Cafe; the news that Stanford Shopping Center will house three new restaurants and one bakery in 2016; and the temporary closure of Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, set to reopen its doors in January with a new name, menu, beers and look.

It was also a big year for sleepy Los Altos, with the openings of upscale American comfort-food restaurant Turn Bar + Grill, Hawaiian ramen joint Charley's Noodle & Grill, Cetrella (the second outpost of the Half Moon Bay favorite) and Cho's Mandarin Dim Sum (the reincarnation of the Palo Alto hole-in-the-wall on California Avenue). Los Altos also is now the home of the reinvented Amber India, dubbed Amber Club, in a new, enormous space just barely across the Los Altos-Mountain View border on El Camino Real.

The year bid farewell to many longtime local establishments, from Fran's Market and Scott's Seafood in Palo Alto to Fiesta del Mar in Mountain View (which technically moved to the owners' Agave Mexican Bistro on Castro Street) and Hunan Home's in Los Altos. Menlo Park suddenly lost the popular Borrone MarketBar in June (though the owners indicated it could reopen in the new year), but gained Mademoiselle Colette, a true Parisian bakery, on Santa Cruz Avenue.

Read on for the top food-related happenings of 2015 and the most anticipated opening of the new year.

TOP PENINSULA FOODIST POST OF 2015 ... By leaps and bounds, the most-viewed post on this writer's Peninsula Foodist blog was the one announcing the sale of Su Hong To Go in Menlo Park to a new owner. The news rocked generations of Su Hong fans who for years had been loyally and regularly consuming Bee King's delicious General's Chicken, potstickers and Chinese chicken salad. King, who owned the to-go outpost as well as a now-shuttered sit-down restaurant on El Camino Real for more than three decades, decided in late September to retire. Some customers cried upon hearing the news, she said. King sold both locations to Jason Kwan, owner of Jason's Cafe just down El Camino. Kwan kept the venerable Su Hong menu but changed the restaurant's name to Chef Kwan's. He and other staff members spent the last days of official Su Hong business reassuring panicking customers that everything would be the same, except for the name.

MOST EXCITING OPENING OF 2015 ... Arguably the most exciting opening of the year was Bird Dog, a contemporary small-plates restaurant that opened at 420 Ramona St. in Palo Alto in November. It's the brainchild of well-known Santa Barbara chef Robbie Wilson and his wife, Emily Perry Wilson, who teamed up with Silicon Valley power couple Chamath Palihapitiya and Brigette Lau to open the restaurant. Robbie Wilson's resume includes renowned kitchens like The French Laundry in Yountville and Nobu in New York City. The Bird Dog menu is split into three sections -- raw, proteins and vegetables/grains -- with intriguing items found nowhere else in Palo Alto, such as wood-grilled avocado with ponzu and ocean lettuce, and delicate Thai snapper with lime, chili, sesame and pecan.

BIGGEST REVAMP ... Those who built downtown Palo Alto's Varsity Theatre in 1927 could never have imagined what the space would be today: a techie-focused "innovation hub" caffeinated by none other than third-wave coffee pioneer Blue Bottle Coffee. Palo Alto-based German software company SAP bought the historic landmark with plans to open HanaHaus, described on its website as "a community of purpose defining a new cafe experience where creative individuals and entrepreneurs can come together to meet, socialize, share ideas and connect with experts." Translation: Silicon Valley movers and shakers (or just regular people) can for a small fee reserve spaces for meetings, network at events, attend design-thinking workshops and the like -- or, just drink coffee.

SHORTEST SHELF LIFE ... Despite its best efforts, artisan hot-dog eatery Chez Franc in Palo Alto did not survive criticism of the price of its haute dogs. The restaurant at 415 California Ave. closed in May after only four months of business. Owner Jacquetta Lannan, a former attorney and culinary school graduate, opened Chez Franc in January after months of unanticipated delays and funding challenges. Just two months before closing, Chez Franc slashed its prices by several dollars. "We are all sad that this restaurant didn't succeed in the way we hoped," Lannan wrote in an email announcing the closure. "However, please be proud of us for taking a bold leap and following our dream; I know that I am."

MOST ANTICIPATED OPENING OF 2016 ... Easily, the most anticipated opening of the new year will be a new Los Altos outpost of Manresa Bread, the popular bakery spinoff of David Kinch's celebrated Manresa restaurant in Los Gatos. Andrew Burnham, partner at Manresa, said they've long been eyeing Los Altos as one piece in a larger expansion puzzle. They took notice of a changing downtown landscape, with Google co-founder Sergrey Brin buying up real estate and new developments being built as well as new restaurants moving in. Burnham said the Los Altos Manresa Bread will be similar to the existing bakery but will have the addition of full espresso and coffee service with Verve Coffee. There will also be cold-brew coffee flowing from a nitrogen tap, kefir on tap and all of the famed breads and baked goods. Los Altos will "basically be a better reflection of what we want the experience to be like from the very beginning," he said.

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