What's Cooking: Portola Kitchen brings Italian cuisine to Ladera | August 22, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Community - August 22, 2012

What's Cooking: Portola Kitchen brings Italian cuisine to Ladera

by Jane Knoerle

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.

New chef for

Menlo Grill

Menlo Grill Bistro & Bar has a new executive chef, Chuck Courtney, who comes to the Stanford Park Hotel restaurant from Bistro at the Park in Lafayette, also owned by Woodside Hotels. A graduate of the Western Culinary School in Portland, Oregon, chef Courtney has cooked at many top West Coast restaurants, including the Viceroy in Palm Springs.

Mr. Courtney is offering guests some new dining options, including a prime rib Sunday supper and a Thursday night outdoor barbecue featuring ribs and strawberry shortcake. We hear the cheddar chive biscuits and the lobster roll are to die for.

The Bistro is open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Willows Market

espresso bar

Kathleen Jensen of Menlo Park has parked her Butterscotch on the Go food truck and has taken over the espresso bar at the Willows Market, 60 Middlefield Road in Menlo Park. The bar serves coffee drinks, morning pastries and sweets, including Kathy's famous butterscotch pudding with toffee almond brittle and butterscotch brownies with salted caramel icing. "We still participate in the Monday night food truck events (held at Willows Market) but serve our desserts inside," she says. The espresso bar is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day but Sunday.

Afternoon tea at

Rosewood Sand Hill

Afternoon tea is now being served from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays at Rosewood Sand Hill hotel in Menlo Park. Guests may opt for tea inside the Madera dining room, on the outdoor terrace or in the library. Chef de cuisine Erik Romme has created a menu to include duck confit rillette; shrimp Waldorf; dates with yogurt, apricot and brie flatbread; and scones with clotted cream and house-made preserves.

The children's menu features almond butter and jelly and ham and cheese sandwiches, as well as cheese flatbread.

Cost per guest is $49 or $55 with champagne and $25 for children. Reservations are required and may be made online using OpenTable.com.


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