New Asian / Mexican fusion in Palo Alto

Another new restaurant in Palo Alto, this one at the Town and Country shopping center, is Calafia Cafe & Market a-Go-Go. There’s been quite a bit of buzz about it, as the chef / owner is Charlie Ayers, former head chef at Google. We’ve stopped by twice in the last week and had wonderful meals each time.

Saturday we stopped by for lunch. We got a seat at the counter looking at the open kitchen. Everything was running mostly smoothly for a restaurant in the first week. I was quite impressed with Chef Ayers, who was right there interacting with the guest, expediting food and occasionally heading into the kitchen to show the line chefs how he wanted things done. They were almost full by 12:30, and seemed to have a decent turnover of tables. They have a gas powered pizza oven hot enough we could feel it sitting at the counter.

Steve had the brunch special, a cassoulet style bean and meat casserole with a roasted egg on top. It was artistically served in a single serving cast iron pot on a wooden platter. These were, according to Steve, the best beans he’d ever eaten. I had a taste and they were certainly flavorful and well cooked. I had the Fiery Bottom BBQ Pork Rice bowl, described as: shredded pork shoulder with spicy bbq sauce, brown rice, wilted baby spinach, roasted yams, sunnyside up quail egg & micro greens. The pork was well cooked and extremely tasty, with a pleasant undercurrent of heat. There was also a flavor in the finish that I could not identify, somewhat reminiscent of cumin and turmeric. The soft, slightly sweet yam and the greens were a nice contrast to the pork. The quail egg was well cooked and tasty, and yes, I actually tasted it.

The couple next to us got dessert, apple tart with ice cream. They also have a plate of cookies, cheesecakes and a death by chocolate cake. All look stunning and tasty.

Sitting at the counter we did get to see a lot of food go out, including the pizzas and fries (Papas Con Ajo). We decided we would have to go back and try more. Tuesday lunch, we decided we needed a break and headed back.

By lunchtime (12:45-ish) all the tables and the back counter were full. We did get seats at the front counter. We ordered a bit more variety from the menu.

  • Duck dumplings
  • Calafia pizza
    • Shredded beef, tomato sauce, jalapenos & oaxaca-style mozzarella
  • Papas Con Ajo
    • Crispy fries seasoned with garlic and herbs with spicy special red sauce #1
  • Barley Corn Salad
    • Barley, roasted peppers, green onions, pickled ginger, ume plum vinegar, black sesame seeds & corn kernels

The duck dumplings were pot-sticker style, with a tasty dipping sauce. The fries were very thin cut and crispy with a spicy coating. Spicy special red sauce #1 seems to be a house take on ketchup, less sweet and a little spicier than what comes in a bottle. Worked well with the spicy fries. The pizza was very thin crust, with a kiss of sauce and cheese. The beef was tasty and the jalapenos added a nice, fresh bite. As good as all that was, the real winner of lunch was the barley corn salad. It was extremely well balanced in flavors, the right mix of acid and savory and extremely satisfying.

As a bonus, sodas in the cafe are all agave sweetened (no HFCS). Steve had their ginger ale both times we were there.

Overall, a wonderful place for lunch. Food comes out promptly and efficiently and on Tuesday we were in and out in less than an hour. The clientele is extremely varied, from office workers to moms with kids to retirees to university staff. The other nice bit is that Chef Ayers is there, greeting customers, getting feedback, sharing information and I even saw him sign a copy of his book for one customer. To his props, he even remembered us on Tuesday. We’re going to have to hit there for dinner one night, too.

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