Portola Kitchen brings Italian cuisine to Ladera


In five weeks time, Mike Wallau has transformed Mike's Cafe, into a rustic Italian restaurant featuring farm-to-table food, much of it grown organically.

Now called Portola Kitchen, the restaurant, located in the Ladera Country Shopper, sports a new look, along with a new menu. The decor features lots of reclaimed wood, fawn-colored upholstery, and handsome handmade black metal light fixtures. Mr. Wallau even tore out the tile floor, replacing it with trendy painted concrete.

"We want it to look like a rustic Italian barn," says Mr. Wallau. A very nicely finished barn, that is.

Executive chef Guillaume Bienaime presides over the kitchen. A graduate of Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts in Providence, Rhode Island, he is the former chef at Marche in Menlo Park. "I love it up here," he says of his new locale.

The menu features a large selection of Italian food "all made from scratch." The dinner menu offers such appetizers as a terrine of chicken liver with red onion marmalade and a caprese salad of heirloom tomatoes, burrata and basil. There are several pizza selections. The house-made pasta includes a saffron fusilli with lamb ragu, spaghetti vongole, and a delicately flavored ricotta ravioli with mushroom, corn, lemon and chervil.

Recent "mains" were veal scaloppini, chicken rosemary sausage with polenta, and grilled skirt steak with farro risotto. Entrees ranged from $14 for risotto to $24 for king salmon.

Portola Kitchen has a full bar and is featuring Italian as well as California wines. There are eight wines on tap, including Fogarty cabernet sauvignon 2010.

The only item on the lunch menu from earlier days is a BLT ($10); however, Mr. Wallau says customers have been asking him about including a burger. And he's listening. "We never forget that we are a neighborhood restaurant," he says.

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Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Aug 23, 2012 at 5:35 pm

My parents went recently & were completely unimpressed. I hope it was just an off night. We've all been fans of Bienaime & have socialized w/him & his family. Fingers crossed that future visits will be better.

Question: does anyone else find the romance w/rustic amongst the well-heeled a little amusing? It's not just that many of the flavors are something we crave- the whole "Under the Tusacan Sun" aspect is still at work, I think. I think the craving for the lifestyle is in part due to this being a new country & we crave a link w/tangible links to the past.

I make a lot of rustic Italian food at home - it does really suit this climate to do so & I grew up on it. It's how much of our family in Europe eats but it can be an unreachable lifestyle with long work days & kids to raise in the Bay Area.

Like this comment
Posted by Foodie
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 26, 2012 at 12:58 pm

My wife and I took her parents to Portola Kitchen last week. We had an excellent meal. And I like the fact that it's local....we don't have to drive (and try to park) to Palo Alto. Or theCity, for that matter. I would recommend Portola Kitchen highly.

Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of another community
on Nov 28, 2013 at 11:36 am

Went for a pre Thanksgiving meal with family. We were afraid we wouldn't be able to eat as there was no parking whatsoever in the lot. Turns out the restaurant was nearly empty, and with good reason. Poor food preperation, or bad refrigeration gave 3 of the 4 of us food poisoning.
We miss Mike's, this place is a mistake!
NEVER going back!

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