8 years ago
|Sheila Himmel , a Professional Reviewer, wrote:||
by Sheila Himmel, Palo Alto Weekly (Aug 27, 2010)
Charlie Ayers may finally be able to shed his exes. The chef formerly known for feeding Google and the Grateful Dead has a hit in Calafia Cafe and Market-A-Go-Go, his contribution to the amazing revival of Palo Alto's revived Town & Country Village. Good luck finding a parking space at this recently moribund center at lunchtime.
What is Calafia? If you Google "Calafia," the first three hits are: a hotel in Baja California, a consortium of California libraries and the Barony of Calafia, a club dedicated to reliving and recreating the Middle Ages.
What it means to Ayers is an homage to Queen Calafia, goddess of an enchanted land ruled by courageous black women, according to 15th-century literature. Thus the state name California, legend has it.
What it means to us: at last, a sensibly priced, enjoyably furnished, all-purpose restaurant in Palo Alto. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, takeout. From vegans to omnivores, tofu scramble to braised pork, the food is good and the menu is the soul of diversity.
Comfort classics are listed under the "You Don't Have to Be a Kid Menu." They change daily, as does much of the menu. Recent comforts included turkey Bolognese, chicken tempura and vegetable potpie.
Macaroni and cheese ($6.50), la creme de la creme of comfort foods, is served in a baby cast-iron pot. The spinach melts so thoroughly into the cheese that you hardly notice it's there. This mac 'n' cheese is like a warm hug from a favorite aunt. For me, a little more bite to the cheese and crunch to the breadcrumbs would be welcome.
Chicken potpie ($6.95) is equally mild, but loaded with tender roasted chicken and topped with flaky puff pastry. I found it more satisfying.
The 9-inch pizzas make perfect starters to share. Wolfgang's Pizza ($11) is a Puck-ish combination of goat cheese and Oaxaca-style mozzarella, pumpkin seed pesto and shredded duck leg. It can't help being a little greasy. Vegan Love Fest ($9) is another pizza option.
The best dish we tried was the signature mahogany salmon ($15). It's a big hunk of beautiful fish with crispy skin, grilled asparagus and brown rice. Servers ask if you want it medium-rare, and you do.
Also excellent, the new Bohemia salad ($8.50) is a near-meal in itself, with baby spinach, avocado, jicama and toasted pumpkinseeds, tossed in basil-citrus vinaigrette and topped with warm braised pork shoulder. Less filling but more exciting, the crimson quinoa (KEEN-wah) salad ($8.75) is a tangy treat, unless you hate beets or arugula.
Servers are friendly and eager, as befits the whole tenor of Calafia. But, our neighbors' potpie was cold, pacing is problematic, and we never got the promised water refill. Don't expect perfection. On the other hand, servers talk you down if you're ordering too much, a nice gesture.
The point may be that you leave room for dessert, coffee and after-dinner drinks. Carrot cake and warm apple galette ($8) are OK. My advice is to go home with a Calafia cake ($3.95 at the market). Light years from the Hostess Cupcake, whose main virtue is that you can pull off the frosting in one piece, the Calafia Cake has a white squiggly line bisecting creamy perfect chocolate frosting that covers the dark, densely moist cake with a layer of whipped frosting inside.
Procedures at the market are a little goofy. Checking out the case of pre-made salads, entrees and sandwiches, we couldn't find a Stanford muffaletta ($8.50). It was all gone and would not be reproduced for the time being. Tough luck. The dinner receipt offered 15 percent off for market items, which the poor clerk had to laboriously deduct one by one: Calafia Cake, minus 60 cents; avocado, minus 8 cents.
It was a tasty avocado, on an excellent made-to-order sandwich ($7) of Canadian bacon, smoked turkey, lettuce, tomato and a whole-wheat roll. The market offers self-checkout, which is smart, considering the nearness of Palo Alto High School, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, and soon, Trader Joe's.
Calafia's ambiance sets the bar for environmentalism. San Francisco interior designer Nicole Hollis is all about re-use, re-purpose and redefine. Find the surprising objects yourself. I won't spoil the fun.
Calafia Cafe & Market A-Go-Go
855 El Camino Real, Town & Country Village
Palo Alto, California 94301
650-322-9200 | phone
650-322-9210 | fax
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