Anyone who lives in or near Menlo Park has more than likely been to (or at least heard of or driven by) Cafe Borrone. It’s a family-owned restaurant doing everything from waffles to open-face turkey melts to salads, soups, pasta and more. This year, they opened a sister restaurant called Borrone MarketBar in a smaller space next door. The verdict: delicious, unique and hard to believe it’s a Menlo Park restaurant. It’s a little fancier than Cafe Borrone (I.M.H.O.) and more of a special occasion dinner, though the prices are pretty good for what you get. Solid portions and very, very well done food. They also have various prepared foods available for take out (housemade pasta, salads, marinated meats, desserts, etc.). To top it all off, they have a beautiful oyster bar, lovely outdoor seating (well set back from El Camino and near the train station so it’s its own quiet haven) and a full liquor license.
I particularly enjoyed a proscuitto/burrata/grilled leeks appetizer plate, crab spaghetti and a gin fizz, but everything was excellent. Make sure you save room for dessert; the bombolone are out of control (see below).
I didn’t get to frequent PizzaHacker when it was a traveling one man show with owner Jeff Krupman using a makeshift Weber grill slash pizza oven to serve up pies all over San Francisco. But I did check out his new brick and mortar (conveniently located about three blocks from my apartment) and thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed the za. The “Yo Vinny!” – marinated onions, pickled goat horn peppers, hot Italian sausage from 4505 Meats, Krupman’s own tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella – definitely came out on top, but “Rocket Man” – arugula, garlic, fresh mozzarella, lemon juice and chili paste topped with an egg – was a close second. Only two wine options, but perhaps they’ll expand after getting settled. They didn’t do much to transform the space, previously occupied by a Peruvian restaurant, but with a giant chalkboard wall, strings of lights and no-frills picnic tables, it’s got a charming indoor beer garden feel.
If you’ve never been to Treasure Island, this monthly flea market is a wonderful first-time visit (it was for me). Lots of vintage goodies, food trucks, multiple bars with real drinks (moscow mules and vodka in a real coconut, anyone?), wineries and stunning views of the city. It’s held the last weekend of every month.
The Oxbow Market in Napa is kind of heaven on earth. It’s like the Ferry Building in San Francisco (and is designed by the same architecture firm) – an indoor artisan market with a huge range of mini restaurants and local shops. I made two marinade and spice purchases, could have gone crazy at the Napa Valley Distillery and tried some tasty tacos from C Casa. All in all, and excellent pit stop if you find yourself in wine country.
After almost a year of drooling over glowing reviews and desperately wanting to cave to the hype, I made it to Ramen Shop in Oakland. The College Avenue restaurant, run by three former Chez Panisse chefs, opened about this time last year and has been packed ever since. (We got there before 7 p.m. on a week night and were told there was a two-hour wait, but it only took about 30 minutes.) Though the concept of expensive, farm-to-table-like ramen might turn some off, it’s worth trying. The broths are amazingly different and flavorful without being overly rich (my problem with most ramen) and the noodles clearly made with care and quality. We tried two: shio ramen with green garlic, scallop tsukune, chashu, a shoyu-marinated egg, leeks and mizuna; veggie shoyu meyer lemon ramen with hedgehog mushrooms, salt-cured egg, roasted butternut squash, broccoli di ciccio and mizuna.
They also serve a few small plates/appetizers (the avocado citrus salad was a winner), cocktails and ice cream sandwiches for dessert to boot. All the details are beautiful too – a long wooden bar fronting the open kitchen; sauces, alcohol bottles and old records on display on shelves; beautiful cocktail (and even water) glasses; great music.
Not exactly an authentic ramen shop, but they know what they’re about and they do it well.
New to the neighborhood in Noe Valley is La Nebbia, sister restaurant of La Ciccia (pretty much across the street). In the same vein as La Ciccia, they’re serving truly authentic Italian food, but with a more casual tilt. La Nebbia – which fittingly means “the fog” in Italian – just opened this week (and happens to be a block from my house), so my roommate and I decided to check it out.
Despite some definite first-week-of-opening glitches in service, it’s a really nice space and sure to be a neighborhood staple. An extensive Italian wine list, waiters from Italy, a few pizzas, fresh cheeses and meats (the bufala is really delicious). The menu is pretty hard to maneuver if you’re not familiar with the language, but it’s a fun foray into the unknown and I appreciate the authenticity.