Palo Alto Grill Adds Creative Touches to Classic American Steakhouse
If classic steakhouse fare can be compared to the realistic art of the Old Masters, Japanese cuisine is more evocative of transparent watercolors and delicate calligraphy. The two can hardly be put together in one place to everyone’s satisfaction.
Not so at the recently opened Palo Alto Grill, which calls itself a steakhouse but proves to be much more nuanced—and therefore successful—with various kinds of diners in the food-savvy Palo Alto, California.
Seated in a cozy corner by the window, my husband and I sipped Torito Bravo Cava from Spain and enjoyed the clubby ambience—classy dark wood furniture, contemporary art on the walls, diffused light, and efficient, quiet service.
Yellowtail crudo “watercolor” in the Raw Plates section of the menu piqued my curiosity. I knew I could rely on chef Ryan Shelton (formerly chef de cuisine at two Michelin star Baumé) for an extraordinary dining experience.
When it arrived, I looked with amazement at my square white plate. It contained a three-dimensional watercolor. I saw green lily pads, purple lotus blossoms made of chives flowers, thin slices of fresh plum like crimson rounds of setting sun reflected in the waves, and a flurry of crispy rice “water bubbles” that seemed to come to the surface of a basil-pesto pond teeming with slices of my favorite fish.
On one side of the plate there was a hieroglyphic message, and I asked the chef what it was about. “It’s an old Chinese saying,” he explained. “It reads ‘meeting like lily pads’ and refers to people bumping into each other by chance.”
“What a lucky chance I had to bump into chef Ryan,” I thought before devouring the watercolor, complemented by a glass of elegant 2012 Bishop’s Peak Chardonnay.
The restaurant’s beverage director, Tim Augello, of Baumé and Manresa fame, is tirelessly searching for rare vintages. Their variety on his wine list is remarkable, but the strength of his selection lies in moderately priced, reputable California labels, always of high quality and easy to pair with the fresh, local meat, seafood, and produce.
My husband’s seasonal heirloom tomatoes from the Small Plates section were bright red, yellow, and green; lightly marinated; and garnished with creamy burrata, aged balsamic, and emerald basil oil. Crumbed croutons added a nice crunch to the dish.
When it came time to sink our teeth into a trademark steak of the house, my husband chose the pan-seared Southern Gentleman—Angus filet mignon in bourbon sauce with a side of kale, topped with bacon crumble and seasonal grilled peaches.
Still relying on the chef’s creativity to razzle-dazzle me, I was tempted by stuffed and rolled lamb chops, an elaborate mosaic preparation with sausage rolled inside the chop, spicy harissa contrasted by golden raisins, mild couscous, and cooling cucumber-yogurt salad.
Excellent Keenan reds accompanied our meat courses: 2009 Merlot and 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.
The dessert menu at Palo Alto Grill is a story all its own. Pastry chef Yoomi Shelton, who happens to be married to chef Ryan, makes unbelievable petit fours, addictive green tea macarons with chocolate filling, and super indulgent chocolate torte with refreshing tart yuzu.
Palo Alto Grill is located at 140 University Avenue in Palo Alto, California. Lunch is served Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and dinner is served Monday to Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. Call (650) 321-3514 for reservations.