I hate kale, which probably means I won't live to be 200. Recently, I encountered chopped kale at the Palo Alto Grill and, gasp, I liked it. I might make it to 100 now.
The kale wasn't presented by itself. It was secreted away on the plate, mixed with chopped chard and mustard greens and tucked under the tender, crispy breaded chicken breast ($22). The chicken came with mini-waffles and sauteed apples, all drizzled with stock and Dijon mustard sauce. It was good eating. The kale was serendipitous, though, nestled beneath the sheltering chicken as if I would have rejected the plate on sight. I might have.
Not that I walked away a kale fan, but I did achieve some level of detente with those too-chewy leaves. And I departed fully satisfied with Palo Alto Grill, the brainchild of partners Luka Dvornik and Ryan Shelton.
Dvornik, managing general partner, was co-owner of the late Lavanda restaurant. Managerial stints at Cafe Torre and Cafe Adriatic contributed to his experience. Fine-tuning makes a difference, and PAG runs like a clock.
Plenty of talent in the kitchen as well. Shelton is partner and executive chef. He began his cooking career at a Ritz-Carlton property, then became the pastry chef at Chez TJ, chef de cuisine at Michelin-starred Baume, and most recently executive chef at Le Cigare Volant.
Yoomi Shelton is the pastry chef (yes, they are married). In addition to graduating from culinary school in San Francisco, she has a degree in hotel and restaurant management and worked at the late Citizen Cake, the Ritz-Carlton and others. The inviting interior is stylish and minimal: wood-plank floor, bare wood tables and chairs, butternut squash-colored walls with modernist wall art. The dining room is sectioned off from the bar area and two rooms are available for private functions.
Chef Shelton adjusts the menu seasonally, and what I am writing today might not be the truth and nothing but the truth by the time you get there. First-rate kitchens continually adjust menus to incorporate the freshest, most seasonal ingredients.
One of the dishes I had, the delicious and colorful puree of corn soup ($10) with bell pepper, chili, corn-muffin crouton and popcorn, for instance, will no doubt segue to pumpkin soup. Equally tasty, I am sure.
The starters/small plates were both tempting and fun. The salmon poke ($14) was assembled with seaweed, cucumber, avocado and gochujang (a fermented Korean condiment of red chili, glutinous rice, soybeans and salt.) The dish was a visual surprise and the strata of flavor were intriguing and refreshing.
I loved the grilled Japanese octopus ($14) that was served with fingerling potatoes, lemon and basil oil. The octopus was perfectly cooked: that is, cooked through but not to the point of being rubbery. It's tricky business but when it's done right, it's delicious.
The avocado corn dogs ($7) were whimsical and enticing. Chunks of avocado had been thickly breaded and deep-fried. These "dogs" were more spheres on sticks than the long dogs found at the county fair. Served with coarse mustard and cilantro, they were an appetite-igniter.
For main plates, steaks were the star attraction. The "Turf and Turf" ($32) featured a 13-ounce succulent, dry-aged, bone-in, rib eye with slices of house-made pastrami layered over the top. Peppercorns and onions added taste and texture and the Bordelaise sauce was heavenly gravy.
The tender 9-ounce grilled hanger steak frites ($28) was mouthwatering with fries, Bordelaise sauce and a small frisee salad.
Corn and vegetable bisque pot pie ($19) was loaded with mushrooms and peas with hints of sage in a hearty tomato sauce, and boasted a great crust: a worthwhile vegetarian option. There were satisfying sides as well. Fried brussels sprouts ($7) with brown sugar, butter and pecans and the miso-glazed carrots ($6) were both delectable.
Dessert was a blessed event. The 64 percent chocolate torte ($11) had layers of sponge cake and chocolate mousse with a side of vanilla gelato topped with ground peanuts and drizzled with yuzu caramel. Yummy.
The espresso cheesecake ($9) was made from cream-soaked, toasted illy coffee beans, eggs and cookie crumbs, baked at a low temperature and topped with a red-beet meringue and a dollop of passion fruit. Delightful.
There is a full bar, and an adequate and fairly priced wine list. The waitstaff was friendly and very knowledgeable. They had to be because the menu was void of descriptions, showing just a partial list of ingredients. It's my one fault with the restaurant. It's difficult to get excited about a dish with so little information.
Overall, a lot of in-house talent who tend to details and make the dining experience a pleasure. Notwithstanding the chef's penchant for kale.
Palo Alto Grill
140 University Ave., Palo Alto
Lunch: Weekdays 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Mon.-Sat. 5-10 p.m.; Sun. 5-9 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Parking: city lots
Alcohol: full bar
Outdoor dining: no
Private parties: yes
Noise level: low
Bathroom cleanliness: good