Handmade pastas and naturally fermented pizzas are key ingredients on the menu of the latest restaurant making its debut in Menlo Park this month. But you’ll also find freshly made mozzarella stuffed with an ounce of caviar and vongole in crosta, clams dressed with herbs and nduja butter, wrapped in pizza dough and baked in an oven before the dough is cut tableside.
Che Fico Parco Menlo opens at the Springline development Nov. 8. The sister restaurant of the acclaimed Che Fico and Che Fico Alimentari in San Francisco, it’s one of the final eateries to open at the development. The lineup includes Robin Menlo Park, the sister location of the renowned San Francisco sushi restaurant; Andytown Coffee Roasters, tapas bar Canteen and sister cafe Canteen Coffee Shop, grab-and-go cafe Proper Food, Burmese restaurant Burma Love and Barebottle Brewing Company. Remaining eateries coming to Springline include Che Fico's Italian market, opening later this year, and contemporary Mexican restaurant Mírame, opening in 2024.
Executive chef and co-owner David Nayfeld opened Che Fico in 2018 with co-owner Matt Brewer. Brewer grew up on a 40-acre horse ranch and vineyard in the Sonoma Valley, working on the ranch before school and helping his mother prepare dinner with produce from their garden. He moved to Chicago after graduating from culinary school and worked at L2O in Chicago as chef de partie before moving to a front-of-the-house role in 2010 to help open Gilt Bar, according to Che Fico’s website. Brewer returned to the Bay Area in 2014 with the goal of opening his own restaurants.
Nayfeld also grew up in the Bay Area, taking his first job at a produce market at the age of 13. After graduating from The Culinary Institute of America, he worked at restaurants including Eleven Madison Park and Cru in New York City before taking a nearly year-long trip around Europe in 2012 to work with renowned chefs. Upon his return, Nayfeld went to Los Angeles before making his way back to San Francisco, also looking to open his own restaurant.
Despite the success of Che Fico, Nayfeld said he and Brewer were skeptical about their ability to grow economically in the Bay Area. As the pandemic hit and the two mulled an expansion, they discussed opening another restaurant outside the region.
“Economically speaking, it’s really challenging to make businesses work (in the Bay Area),” Nayfeld said. “We went through a lot of different thought processes during the pandemic about whether we should expand in other locales. Both Matt and I are young fathers, so the idea of being on an airplane and away from our kids was not our favorite option.”
The Springline development attracted Nayfeld and Brewer, and developer Presidio Bay’s investment in Che Fico Parco Menlo’s buildout “changed the economics such that a business like ours was able to come in and be successful,” Nayfeld said.
“Ultimately when you ask what drew us here it was the idea that we could build community around this project,” he added.
While the menu in Menlo Park includes Che Fico favorites like focaccia with whipped mascarpone and Sicilian olive oil and suppli – a rice croquette filled with tomato and fontina – the vast majority of the offerings are different. New items include Parmigiano Fritti, fried Parmesan that “almost looks like a round churro pinwheel” made with choux batter, and Frittella al Tartufo Nero, a black truffle fritter with a fontina fonduta.
“I don’t want to prescribe what each team is going to be doing – each space feels different,” Nayfeld said. “We’re all about trying to meet our guests where they’re at and providing what the community wants and needs most. We’re opening a restaurant with a menu we write on paper and it’s 85% different than the one in the city … it’s not as much fun if we say both menus are exactly the same.”
Pasta dishes range from garganelli with fresh shelling beans, heirloom tomatoes and house-cured pancetta to Gnocchetti Sardi De Zafferano, a saffron-infused pasta with spicy sausage, tomato ragu and pecorino Sardo. Pizzas include classics such as Margherita and the pineapple and chili, as well as newer varieties like the amatriciana with black pepper, tomato, pecorino and guanciale.
For dessert, choose from homemade soft-serve gelato, ice cream sandwiches or seasonal crostatas.
Wine director Jason Alexander created a 400-selection wine list that is mostly Italian, with other beverages including produce-driven cocktails, local and Italian beers and nonalcoholic options. Che Fico Parco Menlo has a horseshoe-shaped bar that seats eight, a chef’s table for 12, a main dining room with 26 seats, a weatherized patio that seats 80 and a private dining room with a 70-person seating capacity. The restaurant was designed by Jon de la Cruz of DLC ID and includes touches like Murano blown glass chandeliers, graphic terrazzo floors and plush red leather booths.
“At Che Fico (in San Francisco) it’s in an old auto body garage,” Nayfeld said. “There’s a raw, uncut gem feeling in that space. Here in Menlo Park, there’s a much bigger feeling of (a) polished, finished gem that has been built bespoke for this space.”
The Che Fico space will expand in the next couple of months with the opening of a separate market at Springline that will sell fresh produce, meat and fish as well as sandwiches, salads and other lunch items for people who work or live nearby. The market will also serve gelato on fresh waffle cones from a walk-up window, letting patrons watch as their gelato is paddled in front of them.
“We really view it as a way of opening up the keys to our cuisine to guests who live around here,” Nayfeld said.
And one of the key components of Che Fico’s cuisine is its grounding in traditional Italian cooking that feeds its modern approach.
“Knowing historical context allows you to break the rules in a more thoughtful fashion that shows you have an understanding and respect of cultures, and that's when it becomes appreciation,” he said. “The older I get, the more I recognize refinement and simplicity is the ultimate show of a chef.”
Che Fico Parco Menlo, 1302 El Camino Real Suite A, Menlo Park; 650-384-6514, Instagram: @cheficoparcomenlo. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 4:30-10 p.m.; brunch and lunch coming soon. cheficoparcomenlo.com.