The Village Bakery is the latest addition to the Bacchus Management Group's growing family of up-market restaurants. The six-month old restaurant and adjacent bakery occupies the central Woodside location long inhabited by the Woodside Bakery, which decamped to Menlo Park in 2016 after losing its lease.
The bakery makes exceptional bread, pastries, cookies and other baked goods. An almond croissant ($3.75) was flaked perfectly with buttery decadence and rivaled anything I've enjoyed in France. A crusty loaf of sourdough bread ($6.75) held its own against Tartine Bakery's storied loaves.
The little bakery is chic and sunny with white subway tiles and black wood. Unfortunately there is very little seating, just a few awkward stools in front of the windows. Next door, through a separate entrance, is the restaurant with a large, dog-friendly patio in the back.
The Village Bakery takes some of its cues from The Village Pub, its Michelin-starred big sister down the road, but it more closely resembles its Palo Alto sibling, Mayfield Bakery and Cafe. This newest member of the Bacchus brood has the self-confidence of an enterprise run by a practiced corporate hand: the lighting is lovely, the noise level is balanced, service is knowledgeable and attentive. The seasonal, oft-changing menu draws on the bounty of SMIP Ranch, a private farm in the hills above Woodside that provides ingredients to Bacchus' restaurant empire, which includes Spruce (also Michelin-starred) and The Saratoga in San Francisco, as well as four Pizza Antica locations.
Corporate efficiencies have a downside, though. The cocktails ($13 for signature drinks) appear to be poured with annoying attention to profit per serving. Giant blocks of cocktail-displacing ice could sink the Titanic. The martini glasses are doll-sized. The Restoration Hardware-inspired decor feels a little pre-packaged, as if designed by a focus group, but this brand of understated elegance works well enough in the town that arguably invented the concept of rustic-chic.
Over two dinners, we found that the most expensive entrees delivered exceptional experiences. If you're not inclined toward entrees in the $35 to $39 dollar range, though, things can be little uneven. While we are on the subject of price, some may wish to have it called to their attention that The Village Bakery adds to each bill a 3 percent surcharge "to support living wages and health insurance." Why not simply build the surcharge into the menu prices?
In such a case, the striped sea bass might be $37.50 instead of $36, but at least it was excellent. A flaky, generous piece of fish came with its skin crispy and caramelized, prepared with tangerines and fennel and served on a thin bed of creamy garlic lentils. A special on another night was duck breast ($39) from San Jose-based Bassian Farms' humane-certified 38 North brand. This fantastic dish showcased tender, earthy pieces of thickly sliced duck breast plated with caramelized white escarole and topped with roasted chestnuts and huckleberries. Both of these upper-end entrees evidenced executive chef Mark Sullivan's confident hand with disparate flavors.
The more down-market crispy fried chicken with waffles and spiced honey ($26) was less impressive. The boneless, succulent breast and thigh were exotically spiced with cinnamon and star anise, but the buttermilk waffles were very soggy. Surprisingly, given Bacchus's Pizza Antica bona fides, we found our Village Bakery pizza unremarkable. One would expect a classic, three-ingredient Margherita ($17) to be simple, but ours was completely tasteless and slightly under-baked.
The simple spaghettoni ($22) was a small serving of al dente homemade pasta shimmering with just the right amount of olive oil, garlic and fresh tomato. My restaurateur friend's roasted chicken breast ($27) was reported to be excellent. A nice-sized, tender breast was bathed in a rich wine-and-mushroom sauce and served with a bit of spinach.
A paltry bowl of butternut squash soup ($14) arrived lukewarm. I ate two or three spoonfuls before sending it back. I was immediately delivered a more reasonably-sized, piping-hot serving sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and decorated with creme fraiche.
We tried all of the side dishes ($8) on offer during our visits. The shoestring fries with Dijon aioli were addicting, crispy and disappeared in about one minute. The roasted heirloom carrots were nicely caramelized and tasted like they had been picked that morning. The baked cauliflower was bland, but the caramelized Brussels sprouts with pearl onions and roasted pumpkin both evidenced ultra-fresh, farm-to-table flavor.
The avocado toast ($14), served with toasted quinoa and topped with pickled red onions, was built on a sturdy base of The Village Bakery's divine whole grain toast.
I find it irksome to be charged for pre-dinner bread, especially at a restaurant with its own bakery, but at least at The Village Bakery, you're getting excellent bread. The mini whole-grain porridge loaf ($8) was so good, I fear my table companions might not have gotten a crumb. The warm Parker House rolls ($5 for two) were dusted with grey sea salt and tasted a little like up-market King's Hawaiian rolls.
At the end of each of our two dinners, I ordered a decaf coffee ($3.50) with dessert. Both times I was delivered a cup of black, sour brew that clearly had been on the burner for some time. I sent it back both times and received fresh cups in fairly short order.
The Village Bakery's signature dessert is the double-chocolate wonder cookie ($10), a toothsome, brownie-cookie hybrid studded with hazelnuts and other rich and crunchy delights. It is topped with vanilla ice cream and a salted caramel sauce. It is over the top but wonderful.
That a "wonder cookie" can be served with a straight face at an upscale restaurant supplied by its own farm speaks to how self-assured The Village Bakery already feels, buzzing as a centerpiece of Woodside's dining scene.
Freelancer writer Monica Schreiber can be emailed at [email protected]
The Village Bakery
3052 Woodside Road, Woodside
Hours: Restaurant: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Bakery: Daily, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Credit cards: Yes
Outdoor seating: Yes