Saturday, August 8, 2009

MADISON & FIFTH - fine Italian in Palo Alto

So we had planned to revisit a place we had really enjoyed the first time we went, just over a year ago. Madison & Fifth in Palo Alto. It took us two tries. The first time we went, we had no sooner ordered our drinks, than the firetrucks pulled up in front. After twenty minutes of climbing around the roof, they (the-brave-men-of-the-putting-out-of-the-fires) decided that maybe they should close the place down after all, just in case.

We never got our prosciutto & melon. Sad. We were so hungry (and we loved the food here so much on our previous visit) that we were actually weighing how crispy we'd let ourselves get before giving up the ghost. The PAFD decided for us. Curses!

But we were not to be deterred, so we made arrangements to reconvene our little party (with two additions) about a week later, giving Mad & Fifth time to regroup. We met last Tuesday and ordered to make up for lost time. We began the meal with more of their delicious cocktails. I have to say I am a huge fan of the new trend towards cocktail "mixology." When one's drinks are as thoughtfully prepared as the entrees, it can really enhance the dining experience. I had a repeat of the Peaches & Cream I had ordered on my previous visit. As chance would have it, our waitress was the drink's inventor. She whipped me up another serving of her delicious concoction, which tastes not so much like peaces, but a happy dose of citrusy sunshine in a glass. It's light and so drinkable I had another not so long after. She offered us an off-menu strawberry version, also her creation, which my sister-in-law enjoyed a great deal. My husband had the Midsummer Night's Dream. This is a dark fruity concoction that he found just to his liking.
Their house bread is this really delicious pizza-shaped bread that reminds me a bit of a cross between a biscuit and a scone. These breads are accompanied by a cheese and garlic spread that is so creamy it is easier to apply than room temperature butter. I find it absolutely delicious.

For starters, we all shared the Gnocchi Bettola, (pictured above left) which was buttery and delicious. I like my gnocchi a bit chewier (this was a very soft consistency) but the sauce was really good. We also had a prosciutto and melon. Unfortunately, while the melon was ripe and summery sweet, the prosciutto was as tough as shoe-leather. It looked appetizing, but was almost inedible. I probably should have spoken up, because they sincerely seem to care about food and service here, but after the fire I just felt bad for them and we were with a large boisterious group, so I didn't let on. My advice to others is to politely point these things out so that establishments have the opportunity to rectify the situation. They can't fix what they don't know about and it's possible they just got a bad slab of ham. It happens.
We raced through our apps, as we were all starving, and were promptly served with our main dishes. My daughter had ordered the Pizza Prosciutto and the Spinach Ravioli w/goat cheese fondue (pictured above right). While the pizza suffered somewhat from the lack of decent prosciutto, the spinach ravioli was world class. The sauce may have been the best cheese sauce I've ever tasted. Creamy, melted and a perfect balance of spices, this was heaven in my mouth. Seriously. The kind of experience one has trouble forgetting --- in a good way!!

I had a lovely raw ahi dish, but I was so blown away by the ravioli, I found the flavors a bit of a let down. Like my mouth was too excited to appreciate anything else.
We ended with coffee and a nice triple chocolate cake, and the meal went much smoother than on our previous visit. I have to say that although most of the patrons got excited (and many were somewhat hostile to the management) there was never any danger. It was a garbage can fire in the back courtyard, and the restaurant's design is such that it would be all but impossible to evacuate everyone to safety with the fire behind us and open space in front. The firemen were completely unphased, so there was no reason to panic, but some seemed to want to use the event as an excuse to leave without paying. People can be so tacky these days.
Although this meal was a little uneven, the food here is usually consistently first rate. They do italian and sauces better than most, so if you're in doubt, order a pasta dish. Hopefully they'll have fresh prosciutto before we return.
Bon Appetit!
Madison & Fifth
367 University Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94301
(650) 323-3900
Price: Moderately Expensive
Dining Time: Leisurely (have not had lunch here, but imagine they could get one out in an hour)
Table size: More than adequate

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

PACIFIC COAST BREWING CO. - simple food done well

As an Oakland native, I spent a lot of my formative years in what was the area adjacent to the old jail at 7th and Broadway. There was a pub there, known as Dahlke's, that my father long swore made the best French Dip sandwich on the planet. Well, Dahlke's has been a vacant building for years, our family business next to it, also no longer remains.

But that doesn't mean one can't find great pub food in downtown Oakland. Established in October of 1988, this modest establishment has long provided quality home-made beer (made in the basement of the brewery) and simple, delicious food.

My BH and I started the week off eating lunch at the pub. I ordered a new personal favorite, a dish the pub has titled the "Ploughman's Platter." It is a simple selection of two healthy slices of cheese sliced and accompanied by a choice of grilled sausage, add grilled onions and sliced apple and "voila." I like it because I'm trying to avoid a lot of starchy food, and the only carbs it offers are those found in the apple. The sausage I prefer is a spicy mango variety which is delicious. The onions are grilled perfectly in this dish, uniformly and consistently caramelized, yet still with some body and chew to them.

BH had the open-faced crab melt, which is also yummy. He ordered a side of fresh fruit, (rather than the fries pictured below) and the waiter accidentally brough fries instead, but was very speedy in rectifying the situation. (and very apologetic.) Pacific Coast offers a huge variety of beer, a warm and homey atmosphere and ---of a particularly hot summer day --- the indoor open courtyard is a welcoming place to eat.

The Pacific Coast Brewing Company also offers such treats as an authentic Shephard's Pie and a hot turkey lunch with all the trimmings on a regular basis.

If you are looking for comfort food in a nice environment, it can't be beat.

Pacific Coast Brewing Company
906 Washington Street
Oakland, CA 94607

Price: Inexpensive
Dining Time: Easily lunchable
Table Size: More than adequate