Works in progress
Mayfield Bakery & Cafe piques appetite but has spotty service
Some new restaurants take longer to iron out all the kinks, especially ones that are trying to master being both a restaurant and a full-blown bakery. That's what Mayfield Bakery & Cafe is trying to do in the revamped Town & Country Village in Palo Alto. So far, some things work; others are works in progress.
The cool whitewashed interior partially overlooks the patio area and its inviting tables with expansive umbrellas. The long, open kitchen occupies a side wall with rotisserie and wood-fired oven. The starched white linen tablecloths, covered with brown craft paper, suggest a relaxed ambiance and hint that the food is fun, casual and worthy.
Adjacent to the cafe is the bakery with a glass wall in between. Bakers can be observed making breads and pastries throughout the day. In all, Mayfield is an energetic and ambitious project.
Opened in early February, the restaurant bears a name honoring the extinct town of Mayfield, which sat on this tract of land before Stanford University and Palo Alto. The project is owned by Bacchus Management Group, which operates Spruce restaurant in San Francisco, the Village Pub in Woodside and the Pizza Antica chain. Nancy Pitta (Hawthorne Lane, Boulevard) is the boulanger principal while experienced Herb Harms is the cafe's general manager.
The menu is appealing, accenting American comfort foods with California freshness. Many of the dishes sparkled but a few were ill-prepared. Desserts, though, were excellent. The wine list had broad appeal and fair prices. Service was touch-and-go.
For starters, the roasted golden beet salad ($10.50) with horseradish yogurt, walnuts and chopped fennel looked appetizing. The beets were cooked al dente but the horseradish yogurt dressing was disappointingly bland. No horseradish was evident, not the faintest hint.
The burrata bruschetta ($10.50) was a delightfully unusual rendition with grilled artichokes draped over the buratta (cream and mozzarella cheese) and grilled bread, all drizzled with olive vinaigrette. The bruschetta was a fun twist on an Italian classic but offered creamier, more pungent flavors. A great start.
Mayfield offers several side dishes that could also serve as starters. My favorites were the crisp Brussels sprouts ($4.50) with chilies and lemon and the grilled delta asparagus ($6) with preserved lemon and olive oil. Both were fresh and delicious. The Brussels sprouts alone are worth a trip.
Almond wood-grilled Hawaiian dorado (mahi-mahi, $24) came with crispy heirloom potatoes, spring onion and green garlic aioli. The fish was firm and just grilled through (as I requested). The aioli needed another clove of garlic to make it sing.
The baked ricotta gnocchi ($14.75) were set in a pool of melted parmesan cheese dotted with black chanterelles. I might be missing the point here but gnocchi are supposed to be feather-light potato dumplings — light, as in light as air. Baking them in cheese weighed them down, made the dish heavy (although the portion was small) and rendered the gnocchi stringy and somewhat rubbery.
Spit-roasted chicken ($20.75) with artichoke puree and pepper soffrito (onions, garlic, carrots, et al.) was irresistible. The half chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender, juicy and aromatic. The vegetables added depth and some zing to the plate.
Niman Ranch pork shoulder ($18.50), spit-roasted, was laced with chunks of pancetta layered over a bed of Brussels spouts leaves. The pork was mouthwatering with a high-flavor profile. The pancetta was plenty salty but the Brussels sprouts were so salty that they were inedible. Someone in the kitchen got carried away, ruining most of what was an otherwise delicious dish.
Spit-roasted leg of lamb ($24) came with an excellent grainy English pea risotto, baby escarole and mint salad. The thin-sliced lamb was imbued with the rich, almost smoky flavors of the almond firewood. I had not had leg of lamb roasted quite that way. It was robust, succulent and non-fatty.
For desserts, I nominate Mayfield's sour cherry bread pudding ($7.50) with honey-whipped creme fraiche as the dessert of the year. It was jazzy, light, rich, expressive. The cherries added sweet little flavor bombs to the pastry, while the lush creme fraiche gave it a sophisticated air.
Carrot cake ($7.50) with cream cheese and walnuts was also grand save for the semi-frozen dollop of cream cheese (or creme fraiche — I wasn't sure what it was). The cheese or cream had an unsettling metallic taste. Fortunately, it was on the side and didn't interfere with the scrumptious cake.
Meyer lemon cheesecake ($7.50) with blood orange compote, ditto excellent, as was the very chocolaty s'more tart ($7.50) with graham crackers, chocolate ganache and toasted marshmallow.
Service alternated between good and infuriating. One evening, we were asked if "everything is OK" at least a half dozen times. Other visits, I was queried during each course. Once per meal is sufficient; more than that is irritating.
One dinner, an over-zealous busboy snatched away my side dish halfway through the course. When I paused to query him, he made a grab for my not-yet-done-eating dinner plate. I nearly threw my body over the plate to save it.
The wine list features about 100 far-flung labels and not one is priced over $100. It is one of the most approachable lists I have come across in some time. There are a dozen and a half wines by the glass, none exceeding $12. Corkage fee is $10.
Mayfield offers many beers, old-fashioned sodas, milk shakes and ice cream floats. There are coffees galore from the Bacchus Group-owned Roast Coffee Company in Oakland.
Mayfield Bakery & Cafe adds another chic element to the suddenly trendy Town & Country. There are a few rough spots to be ironed out, but I am sure they will be. Mayfield has a polished dynamic that is stylish yet mindful of price points in this halting economy.
Mayfield Bakery & Cafe
855 El Camino Real
Lunch: Weekdays 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Dinner: Weekdays 5-9 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. 5-9 p.m. Brunch: Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Parking: shopping center
Alcohol: wine and beer
Outdoor dining: yes
Party facilities: no
Noise level: moderate
Bathroom cleanliness: excellent