Mini Restaurant Reviews

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Following are condensed versions, in alphabetical order, of longer restaurant reviews published in the Weekly over the past several years. This week's reviews begin where the list ended one week ago.

Acorn Restaurant, 1906 El Camino Real, Atherton, 853-1906

The Acorn Restaurant is a touch of Italy, France and Greece rolled into one menu, with everything from moussaka and dolmas to linguini Napolitana. Even California cuisine fits into their concept of Mediterranean food. The Acorn opened 21 years ago on Crane Street in Menlo Park, originally owned and run by Sam and Maria Petrakis. When the Acorn moved to its present location six years ago, its loyal following followed. Two years ago, Sam Petrakis died and the family sold the restaurant to a new owner, who changed the name from Acorn Restaurant to Acorn Grill. Last May, Maria Petrakis and her sons took over the restaurant again, resurrected the old name and went back to serving Mediterranean fare. Napkins and tablecloths are white linen. The chairs are commodious. Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Mon.-Sat. and 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sun. (Reviewed May 28, 1993)

Andale Taqueria, 209 University Ave., Palo Alto, 323-2939

Chili-pepper lights and a bull's head decorate this fast food newcomer to the downtown scene. But don't let the surreal art deco put you off--mesquite-grilled chicken, low-fat black beans and fresh tamales so pretty you won't want to eat them make the fare here impossible to resist. Diners can pig out on supremo burritos laden with smoky grilled chicken, guacamole, beans and cheese, and other authentic Mexican dishes, or opt for a mesquite chicken salad with goat cheese, romaine lettuce and avocado that is top-quality California fresh. Save room for an extraordinary cheese flan. This place is kid-friendly and inexpensive but draws quite a crowd. Open Mon. to Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Reviewed Dec. 4, 1991)

Armadillo Willy's, 1031 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos, 941-2922

Recognizing that barbecue is not simply a method of cooking meat, but a culinary obsession--an art, even, in certain areas of Texas--the owners of Armadillo Willy's have created a dining experiene worthy of a hearty "Yahoo!" The huge menu features ribs, sausages, hamburgers, Tex-Mex specialties, sandwiches and salads. The service is friendly and the atmosphere is no-frills. Wine and beer as well as margaritas are available. Armadillo Willy's has won awards for its barbecue sauce, which comes in hot and mild versions. Unless you're a real spice wimp, go for the hot. It is quite manageable whereas the less complicated mild is a bit on the subtle side. Open Mon.-Fri 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat. noon-10 p.m.; Sun. 4:30-9 p.m. (Reviewed April 16, 1993)

Azur, 646 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 327-3140

Azur adds a touch of class to the local restaurant scene both in its sophisticated, European atmosphere and service, and its fine food. The small, rose-colored dining room offers a quiet spot for elegant dining. Dishes like fresh salmon terrine, goat cheese fondue and sauteed sea scallops provide memorable first courses. Entrees are more traditional and include a top-notch N.Y. shell steak and breast of chicken stuffed with spinach and fresh spices. Pastas, fresh fish and rich homemade desserts such as chocolate mousse add enough variety to please most any taste. Hours are Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Mon.-Sat. 5:30-9:30 p.m. Sun. dinner 6-9 p.m. (Reviewed March 25, 1992)

Baccarat at Hotel Sofitel, 233 Twin Dolphin Drive, Redwood City, 598-9000

Sophisticated French dining is a rarity these days, so when you feel like splurging it's important to go to the right place. Baccarat, the restaurant of the Hotel Sofitel, delivers classic, flawless meals from the first course--perhaps wild mushroom gnocchi in duck consomme--to the last-- maybe a chateaubriand carved at the table and accompanied by red-wine and bearnaise sauces. You'll find a triple veal chop, medallions of bison and other spectacular and creative dishes, all pricey but perfectly executed. The dessert special, a souffle, is worth the wait. Other classic French desserts are worth the calories. Hours are for dinner only. Mon.-Thurs. from 6-10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. until 10:30 p.m. Closed Sun. (Reviewed Aug. 26, 1992)

Beausejour, 170 State St., Los Altos, 948-1382

Beausejour has the polished tone of decades of experience in the business. For eight years, Beausejour has been run by the husband-and-wife team of William and Ahn Yee, who came to the United States from Vietnam in 1975. Beausejour is the third successful French restaurant for the family, after La Cabane in San Francisco and La Tour in Palo Alto. The Vietnamese influence shows in the reduced reliance of fat in the food, and Californian influence can be seen in the use of shiitake mushrooms and cilantro in sauces where a roux or cream sauce might be more customary. The decor is unassuming and understated. The monied classes can easily spend $100 or more for dinner with wine. But more value-conscious types shouldn't rule out Beausejour. By sticking to glasses of Los Altos tap (brightened with a lemon wedge), dinner for two can be held to $25 or $30. The extensive wine list is primarily Californian and French. Hours: Lunch served Mon.-Fri. from 11:30 a.m. to 2 pm.; dinner every day at 5:30 p.m.; cocktail lounge open Mon.-Fri. from 5 to 7 p.m. (Reviewed Sept. 17, 1993)

Blue Chalk Cafe, 630 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 326-1020

A rocking restaurant-cum-pool hall with blue felt pool tables, an upstairs bar and art on the walls, the Blue Chalk Cafe is the kind of place an advertising copywriter would call High Concept. The food is predominantly Southern with a California flair--Texas-style catfish, staples like grits and greens gussied up with garlic, embossed with jalapeno relish and slathered with chipotle sauce. Even the blue corn hush puppies are more uptown than down-home. The full bar serves the usual wines and beer, plus an array of mixed drinks, cognacs, cordials. Pool is $10 per hour for the table before 7 p.m. and $12 after 7. Hours: Open every day from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. for pool and drinks. Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. (Reviewed July 2, 1993)

Blue Sky Cafe and Flower Bar, 336 Bryant St., Mountain View, 961-2082

After a harried day at work, the Blue Sky Cafe feels a lot like being at home. Long before it began serving dinner, Blue Sky built a solid reputation on the virtues of its gargantuan, down-home breakfasts. With the same standards applied to its dinners, the result is white-linen food in a cotton-tablecloth environment. Three daily specials are featured, generally a fish, pasta and meat entree, and each entree comes with a generous serving of three vegetables: caramelized carrots, broccoli with cheese and potato souffle. The restaurant prides itself on its lamb dishes, for which owner Betty Peach Ewing credits New Zealand-trained chef Paul Smith. All wines from the wine list are served by the glass. Be sure to save room for the homemade desserts, which do not rely on a surfeit of sugar to achieve their flavor. Hours are Tues.-Sat. 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m. (Reviewed May 8, 1991)

Buck's Restaurant, 3062 Woodside Road, Woodside, 851-8010

Everyone from the youngest hand to the trail boss is bound to have a good time at Buck's. This zany, down-home restaurant teams up wacky Western deco with comfort food--grub from the good ole days of Mom at the range. A trip to Buck's is a cross between a salvageshop expedition and a visit to a museum. There's an 1897 Columbia bike on the wall. A giant phone receiver lolls near an over-sized leather boot. Buck's menu is fun, but it's not for sissies. You can get buttermilk onion rings with BBQ sauce morning, noon or night ($3.50). Big, honest burgers are up from 11 a.m. till closing ($6 plain, $6.50 fancy). For dinner, you get stick-to-your-ribs stuff like chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy ($10.50), chicken and dumplings ($10.50), and Yankee pot roast ($12). Hours: Breakfast Mon.-Fri. 7-11 a.m.; Sat., Sun. and holidays 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Lunch 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (limited menu 3:30-5:30 p.m.) Dinner Sun.-Thurs. 5-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-10 p.m. (Reviewed Aug. 6, 1993)

Cafe Andrea, 610 Stanford Shopping Center in the Inner Circle, 322-4664

Set up as a refuge for weary shoppers, this tiny cafe is serenely quiet, and its food shows attention to the fine details of presentation. The salmon comes with ultra-thin slivers of cucumber marinated in the lightest of vinegars and fresh, feathery dill. The tarragon chicken salad is made with large tender chunks of chicken breast just barely marinated with tarragon mayonnaise, topped with toasted pecans. The menu also includes crepes and quiche Lorraine. Tea for two comes with a selection of diminutive sandwiches, miniature currant scones and bite-sized tartlets. You're sure to be tempted by the Austrian pastries in the dessert case; the special cremeschnitten feature an impossible amount of vanilla cream sandwiched between two fragile end pieces of puff pastry. (Reviewed Aug. 1, 1990)

Cafe Borrone, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 327-0830

A cross between an elegant sidewalk cafe and a busy Berkeley coffee house, Borrone offers light entrees such as nutmeg-spiced chicken salad and artichoke quiche, along with some of the best coffee drinks around. You'll find state-of-the-art sandwiches and desserts, featuring Rose's vanilla custard. Decor is bookstore chic, and Kepler's Books & Magazines is just across the hall. On warm evenings you can dine outside in the courtyard. Prices are moderate. Open Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. No credit cards. (Reviewed May 23, 1990)

California Cafe, 700 Welch Road, Palo Alto, 325-2233

Set in the renovated Stanford Barn, the California Cafe is a perfect example of Silicon Valley chic with its noisy, fun-filled atmosphere. A large, frequently changing menu offers everything from sandwich platters to full-course meals, with selections ranging from applewood-smoked meats to more adventuresome entrees such as grilled ahi with two salsas and lime sour cream. Even low-fat selections are served with artistic flair. Prices are moderate and portions range from large to gargantuan. Servers usually provide lots of individual attention. Open from 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Fri. and Sat.; 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-9:30 p.m. Sun. (Reviewed Sept. 6, 1989)

Capriccio, 546 El Camino Real, Los Altos, 941-1855

Capriccio is spacious and private; the tables are well separated in neat, curtained-off areas. It's quieter than is typical among our raucous, popular Italian eateries. The menu is enormous and service is quick and courteous. The menu contains no surprises. Anything with which you're familiar is there in every standard variation. No fewer than 16 pasta dishes ($9.70-$13.20), table d'hote dinners including soup or salad, vegetables, rice and tea or coffee; 12 seafood entrees at $13.95-$17.95; and veal six ways ($14.75-$16.25). Wine offerings are rather few and relentlessly conventional. Hours: Lunch Mon.-Sat. from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner Sun.-Thurs. from 4 to 10 p.m. and Fri. and Sat. from 4 to 11 p.m. (Reviewed July 23, 1993)

Carpaccio, 1120 Crane St., Menlo Park, 322-1211

Carpaccio is one of Menlo Park's toniest places to see and be seen. The people-watching is great. But food and service often fall short of the restaurant's reputation for excellence. A mix of funky accent pieces with staid marble floors and mahogany-painted chairs keep things a little off kilter. The best dishes on the menu take their cue from the earthy exuberance of the decor. One of the best is an appetizer of protobello mushrooms roasted in the wood-burning oven ($5). Carpaccio pours fresh-harvest olive oil--the leafy-green kind that tastes of pepper. It's great with the super-fresh bread brought in daily from Le Boulanger. The "pansotti con crema di noci," with its elegant cream sauce and mild herbs, is another good bet. You will need a reservation at Carpaccio. Ask for a seat by the front window. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 5-10 p.m. Sat., 5-9 p.m. Sun. (Reviewed May 7, 1993)

Cenzo's, 233 University Ave., Palo Alto, 322-1846

New general manager and executive chef Vito Bellantuono has refurbished this unpretentious little restaurant and completely revamped the menu. Try Cenzo's special, prix fixe lunch. For $8, you get soup or salad, a full basket of freshly baked focaccia and your choice of several entrees. Our soups were unmistakably homemade. The rich chicken noodle had big chunks of chicken and wide, flat noodles rather than the limp spaghetti that comes with canned American versions. The minestrone was even stockier, with a light tomato base chock full of diced vegetables, cheese and tiny, bead-sized pasta. The calzone was enough to convert a die-hard pizza fan. The Early Bird specials (before 6:30 p.m.) at dinner don't quite live up to the lunch specials, but the new dinner menu has many interesting Northern Italian dishes. Hours: Monday-Saturday lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner 4:30-11 p.m. Sunday dinner 4:30-10 p.m. (Reviewed Nov. 5, 1993)

Chevys Mexican Restaurant, 2907 El Camino Real, Redwood City, 367-6892

This giant warehouse of a restaurant lives up to its reputation for fresh Mex food with made-by-the-hour chips, salsa pungent with fresh cilantro and slushy margaritas by the pitcher. Whether you're starving and want a Plato Gordo--mesquite grilled chicken and prawns, warm tortillas, guacamole and rice and beans--or a just a quesadilla and a cold beer, Chevys comes through with the best Mexican food on the Midpeninsula. Fajitas won't resemble those fast food renditions but come piping hot on a metal plate piled with crisp lettuce, bright red tomatoes, slabs of smokey chicken or beef and creamy guacamole. Prices are reasonable, children made to feel welcome. Watch out for giant crowds on weekends. This place doesn't take reservations, but it's worth the wait. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri. and Sat. 11: 30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs. (Reviewed Sept. 25, 1991)

Chez Louis Bistro, 4170 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 493-1660

This might be the only French restaurant on the planet where you can dine on escargots or sip a steaming bowl of onion soup just inches away from a wooden dance floor where patrons practice the tango or learn the newest country-western dance steps. Do note, however, that all this foot-stomping goes on far away from the cozy, plush main dining room in the far corner of the rambling, ranch-style building. The Bistro is a more casual alternative to the pricey dining room. The food is prepared in the same kitchen by the same chefs and is presented by tuxedoed servers. Bistro specialties include light French "snack food" such as the ubiquitous croque monsieur ($5.95) and more upscale cuisine such as coq au vin ($6.95) and a skinless, boneless breast of chicken with a sun-dried tomato relish ($8.95). A short wine list ranges in price from $3.50 to $4.75 per glass. Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat. (Dancing until 1:30 p.m.) Closed Sun. (Reviewed June 18, 1993)

Chez TJ., 938 Villa St., Mountain View, 964-7466

Elegant and intimate, Chez TJ. offers some of the most delicious and beautifully presented food around. Nothing is spared in the preparation, and the kitchen just doesn't make technical errors. Set in a charming house on Villa Street, Chez TJ. offers leisurely dining surrounded by fresh flowers, spotless linen and classical music. A new menu is created every two weeks, offering three different prix fixe dinners. The menu gastronomique ($57) includes appetizer, first and main courses, salad, selection of cheeses, a petit dessert followed by a larger selection of desserts. The menu moderne ($50) and the menu petit ($45) are just slightly less filling. The wine list is varied, though not inexpensive. Dinner seatings only, Tues.-Sat. from 5:30-9 p.m. (Reviewed Aug. 20, 1993)

China Delight, 203 University Ave., Palo Alto, 326-6065

This tiny restaurant has only 10 tables, allowing at best, about 40 people to eat there comfortably at the same time. That explains the line out the door at lunchtime. But the real explanation for the line is the spirit of the place. Between the warm welcome, the attentive and familiar service and the occasional offer of seconds on soup or rice, China Delight feels like your basic neighborhood restaurant--but located on University Avenue near Emerson Street in Palo Alto, it's as downtown as a restaurant can get. The chefs hew to the tried and true. All the Chinese equivalents of bread and butter dishes are there: pot stickers, cashew chicken, chow mein, wonton soup--nearly 100 items in all of Mandarin, Szechwan and "gourmet" cooking. Happily for the regulars who pack the place at lunchtime, the food is consistently good. Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 5-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-10 p.m. (Reviewed Aug. 27, 1993)

Compadres Bar & Grill, 3877 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 858-1141

If you crave a good, smooth pitcher of margaritas, a chile relleno or skewer of giant gulf prawns--and you don't mind crowds, noise and having to wait for a table at prime time--this is one of the funnest places on the Peninsula. It's also a great place for kids; anybody under 12 can heap up their plates with tacos or ice cream sundaes for five cents an ounce. The menu ranges from traditional Mexican fare such as enchiladas and tacos to more unusual offerings such as mahi mahi a la Vera Cruz. You won't find the true native Mexican cooking of some small family-run eateries, but the food is hearty, service is friendly and efficient and prices are reasonable. Hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends. Bar is open until 1 a.m. or last call. Credit cards accepted. (Reviewed July 26, 1989)

Country Fare, 2680 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 326-3802

This one-room, diner-style restaurant offers a quiet, homey respite from the rush of everyday life. The freshly baked muffins and hearty daily specials are worth a visit. Patchwork quilts on the walls and funky salt-and-pepper shakers add charm to the very casual setting. Everything on the menu is geared toward healthful eating. Lunch is quick and inexpensive, with salads, sandwiches, homemade soups and specials. A cup of soup and a muffin can be had for about $2. Dinnertime offers the regular lunch menu and two nightly specials, usually about $6, that can include lasagna verde or buckwheat noodles with cilantro pesto and grilled veggies. Breakfasts are good and downright cheap. Hours are Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Closed Sun. No credit cards. (Reviewed Nov. 21, 1990)

Crabnet, 369 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, 322-6523

The Crabnet fills a niche for those who love a fresh steamed Dungeness brought to them already cracked and ready to devour. This tiny high-ceilinged eatery isn't big on decor, but it knows its seafood. Clam chowder is redolent with fresh garlic and bay, crab Newburg is perfectly dressed with white sauce that moistens generous chunks of crab, mushrooms and Parmesan cheese. Crab Louis is giant-sized. Crab sandwiches are huge. No liquor license here, but you can bring your own and pay a $3 corkage fee. The bread is some of the best in town. Hours are Tues. to Fri. 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Closed Monday. Weekend brunch 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Dinner weekends 5-9:30 p.m. (Reviewed June 17, 1992)

Dal Baffo, 878 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 325-1588

Dal Baffo offers fine northern Italian fare in the heart of downtown Menlo Park. The dinner and lunch menus are laden with Bolognese, Milanese and Florentine delights. Food is a la carte, so you can construct the meal you want. Entrees include seafood, pasta, fowl, veal and red meat, arranged in dishes originating from various Italian provinces. There also is an extensive wine list. Dal Baffo's is not for the cheap or fast-food crowd; a three-course dinner, wine and a tip will come out to about $125 for two, but for sophisticated dining, it's the place to go. Hours: Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2p.m.; dinner Mon.-Sat. 5-10:30 p.m. Closed Sun. All major credit cards accepted, and reservations are recommended. (Reviewed June 25, 1993)

Dinah's Poolside Restaurant, 4261 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 493-4542

Nestled close to the swimming pool of Dinah's Garden Hotel, is Dinah's Poolside Restaurant. The defining feature of the restaurant is spelled out in its name--if eating unpretentious California diner cuisine at umbrella-equipped tables by the pool strikes your fancy, then this place is worth checking out. Dinah's serves breakfast all day, but if pancakes and sausage at 8 p.m. isn't important to you, the recently remodled Dinah's also serves lunch and dinner starting at 11:30 a.m. A highlight at dinnertime is the Pollo Borracho ($9.95), which translates as "drunken chicken." This half-chicken, marinated in beer, wine and spices, then grilled over mesquite, is savory, subtle and wonderfully succulent. In general, the food here is middling to good, but as long as you order carefully, you'll do fine. Hours: 6:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily; bar open until 11 p.m. (Reviewed Aug. 13, 1993)

El Calderon, 699 Calderon Ave., Mountain View, 940-9533

In this unpretentious restaurant, gourd cups are taken for granted along with plantains and yucca root. They're all part of owner Angela Lopez's Salvadoran roots. While similar to Mexican food, the fare is flavored with mild, Cuban-style flavorings. You can see the resemblance in pupusas--two homemade masa tortillas that seal in a mixture of cheese with meat or beans. A rich entree of fried plantains served on beans with soured cream makes the dessert version of fried plantains and cream seem shallow and unfinished by comparison. You'll know for sure you're getting a taste of El Salvador if you try the yucca root "salad"--piping hot chunks of white yucca and crispy crumbles of pork scattered over a bed of tart, lemony slaw. Prices are inexpensive to moderate. (Reviewed Sept. 26, 1990)

Eugene's Polish Restaurant, 420 San Antonio Road, Los Altos, 941-1222

This Old World Polish restaurant provides a taste of European culture and food right here on the Midpeninsula. The goulash is particularly good. Other offerings include a non-traditional borscht with potato, onion and garlic, stuffed cabbage, herring and, of course, Polish sausage. Dishes tend to be on the mild side, what some might consider bland. The ambience is festive, with servers dressed in Central European attire. The full bar has a big selection of beer and a moderately priced wine list. Lunches highlight ham on rye sandwiches, omelets and salads. Dinners are served Tues.-Sat. 5-10 p.m. and lunch Tues.-Fri. from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (Reviewed Dec. 19, 1990)

Famiglia's Pizzeria and Pasta, 4115 El Camino Real, Palo Alto

No, you do not have to have at least two semesters of Italian to read the menu at Famiglia's. All you have to know in order to enjoy yourself at this pizzeria/sports bar is how to say, "Can we please have some more garlic pizza bread?" Served with every entree, including the huge pizzas, these warm yeasty triangles are all the reason you need for coming to Famiglia's. Well, the calzones and the pizza aren't bad either. Located one block north of Arastradero Road on El Camino Real, Famiglia's took over the old John Dough's location last year. Little has changed inside, except the pool tables are gone. There are a few video game machines, a television set mounted on the wall and all the appropriate sports and old movie paraphernalia decorating the walls. KFOG is usually on the radio. For a pizzeria, Famiglia's just isn't dark and cozy enough. Some dark wood paneling and a lower ceiling would contribute remarkably the the creation of some actual ambience. Hours: Monday and Tuesday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Wedneseay-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-9 p.m. (Reviewed Nov. 26, 1993)

The Fish Market, 3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 493-9188

The final word on the Peninsula for fish, fish and fish. Offering fresh fish served grilled, baked, smoked and broiled or any other way you like it, the Fish Market has 20-30 choices of fish, depending on the season. Standard fare is a fish entree with rice or potatoes, along with appetizers ranging from white clam chowder or several different seafood cocktails. The menu is the same for lunch and dinner. Prices are moderate, and the service is fast and friendly, as is the ambience. Open Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sat. and Sun. from 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. All major credit cards accepted. (Reviewed July 30, 1986)

Flea St. Cafe, 3607 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park, 854-1226

This totally organic, gourmet kitchen turns out some of the best food on the Peninsula. From tender scallops with enoki and shiitake mushrooms dotted with tiny purple flowers to grilled salmon and mashed potatoes, everything is lovingly prepared and presented picture perfect. California-style fresh takes shape with hints of ethnic cuisines and specials change nightly. Vegetarians will find sumptuous offerings, as will those who love chicken or fish. Salads are made with the most delicate greens, sauces are light and bursting with flavor, fish is ocean-fresh and desserts too good to pass up. The cozy old-fashioned dining rooms are intimate but welcoming even to families with kids. Open for lunch Tues.-Fri. from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner Tues. to Sun. 5:30-9:30 p.m. Brunch is served weekends from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Reviewed July 12, 1992)

Frankie, Johnnie, Luigi Too, 939 W. El Camino Real, Mountain View, 967-5384

From the garlic-infused Caesar salad to the authentic pizza pie, to the hearty pasta and meat entrees, this lively Italian restaurant is the place to go for generous servings of satisfyingly rich food. Although the size of the restaurant and its menu offerings have grown in recent years, the quality of the dining experience has remained constant. Highlights include the thick, yeasty-crusted pizza ($11-$16) and pasta dishes with succulent sauces. Full dinners ($10-$13) run the gamut from tiger prawns sauteed with garlic, shallots, tomatoes and white wine to New York-style Italian sausage with bell peppers. Vegetarian dishes are starred on the menu, and the restaurant delivers, too. Hours are 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Mon.-Thurs.; to 2 a.m. Fri.-Sat.; and 1 p.m. to midnight Sunday. (Reviewed March 27, 1991)

Fresco, 3398 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 493-3470

A moderately priced cafe-style restaurant where the entrees are inventive, but straightforward and decidedly unpretentious. The menu is diverse, featuring mostly garlicky California cuisine, but also some old-fashioned stand-bys such as a hearty Reuben Sandwhich ($7.50). The restaurant is divided into two sections: a comfortable dining room with gigantic booths, linen tablecloths, a counter and a full wall of windows; and the smaller, darker, more romantic dining room that is still laid-back enough for a quick bite with a group of friends. Don't leave without trying the famous Roasted Red Pepper Soup ($2.25 cup, $3.25 bowl). A medium-sized wine list features some interesting, local selections. A small, but interesting breakfast menu. Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 6 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. 6 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; brunch 9 a.m.-2 p.m. (Reviewed July 16, 1993)

Gambardella's Ristorante Italiano, 561 Oak Grove Ave., Menlo Park, 325-6989

The atmosphere in this dining room is one of festivity and great food, all made better with generous portions of garlic. White linen and fresh flowers set each table. Giant garlic braids dangle from the ceiling and classical music, often opera, sets the mood. First courses like polenta fritta con porcini e pepperoni--a masterful combination of crispy polenta wedges, mushrooms and peppers--whet the appetite. There is a never-ending supply of tomato and red pepper spread and warm house-made foccacia bread, sublime green salads and pastas and fish specials prepared to perfection. A full range of coffee drinks and a generous wine list featuring Italian selections round out a meal that can only be described as scrumptious. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tues. to Fri. Dinner starting at 5:30 p.m. Tues. through Sun. (Reviewed Feb. 24, 1993)

Garden Grill, 1026 Alma St., Menlo Park, 325-8981

This daring, elegant restaurant makes hasty pudding of all the grousing about British food. Appetizers range from dainty griddled scallops on puffs of smoked salmon mousse to the incomparable "Devils on Horseback"--bacon wrapped prunes stuffed with chutney served on toast points spread with mustard cream sauce. Fresh game dishes are based on tender, ranch-raised elk and deer. Seafood includes the likes of grilled salmon in shellfish sauce or shellfish braised in saffron cream sauce. The only complaint here is the emphasis on meat; many entrees haven't a hint of green vegetables. Portions are ladylike and the menu is a bit pricey. Appetizers are $4-$6 and entrees range from about $8-$19. For a special tea-time treat, try the "cream tea" served with tiny scones, jam and sinful faux clotted cream. Hours for lunch are 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; dinner is from 5:30-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat. (Reviewed Feb. 27, 1991)

The Gatehouse Restaurant and Bar, 265 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, 326-1330

The Gatehouse has always been one of the prettiest restaurants in town. Now the food is as picturesque as the setting--and everything tastes as fabulous as it looks. New Executive Chef Jeff Stout is responsible for the culinary revolution. He has completely changed the Gatehouse menu. This veteran of Domaine Chandon in Yountville has a flair for unusual flavor combinations that shows in everything from soups to sorbets. And his presentations are so creative that servers balk at splitting dishes in the kitchen. They do the honors at your table, after giving you a chance to "ooooh" and "ahhhh" over Stout's artistic edibles. All the pretty fixings at the Gatehouse may come at a pretty price, but servings are guaranteed to be huge and the flavors fabulous. Entrees now run from $8-9 for pasta and $13-14 for chicken and fish at lunch. At night, the pasta goes for $10-13, with chicken and fish priced at $15-16. Lamb and steak sell for $17-18. When venison is on the specials lists, it commands up to $23. Hours: Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Sunday dinner 5:30-9 p.m., lunch Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner Mon.-Sat. 5:30-10 p.m. Bar open until midnight. (Reviewed Sept. 24, 1993)

Gombei Japanese Restaurant, 1438 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 329-1799

Simple and soul-satisfying Japanese cuisine with a special emphasis on noodle dishes make Gombei unique on the Peninsula. Featured are unusual combinations like large, deep fried balls of mashed potatoes flavored with curry and mushrooms, a croquette of faux crab, fried cutlet and broiled fish or Spanish mackerel steeped in soy and mirin. More traditional dishes include noodle, rice, chicken and egg combinations served in earthenware bowls. Avoid the eel noodle soup, which doesn't share the freshness of other dishes. Gombei resembles small diners in Japan, lists no desserts and offers quick, friendly service. Open for lunch from 11:30 to 2 p.m. and dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Mon. through Fri. (Reviewed Dec. 5, 1990)

Gordon Biersch, 640 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 323-7723

Gordon Biersch has come to represent everything the Silicon Valley singles set seems to want in a restaurant and drinking establishment: terrible acoustics, inventive California cuisine, friendly service, good beer and masses of "beautiful people" milling about. Overall, Dean Biersch, the half of the dynamite duo who honchos the kitchen, serves up interesting, but slightly uneven, appetizers, entrees, salads and sandwiches: Roasted Leg of Lamb Sandwich ($7.50), served with rosemary aioli, olive focaccia and brie; and the Marzen Prawn Salad ($8.50), which comes on walnut bread with a side of leeks and red pepper puree, for example. Watched over by Dan Gordon, who learned how to brew while a student in Munich, the brewing process at Gordon Biersch is proudly outlined in 11 not-so-simple steps on the back of cards propped on every table. Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-midnight Thursday; 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. (Reviewed Oct. 22, 1993)



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