The best of local farms and rustic Italian cuisine comes together at Portola Kitchen, just minutes away from the bustle of Palo Alto.
With its exposed beam ceiling, comfortable booths, and reclaimed wood tables, the brightly lit dining room has a simple, clean rustic-chic aesthetic that sets off the simple yet refined cooking.
A lot of restaurants claim they’re farm-to-table, but Portola Kitchen lives it. The restaurant at Ladera County Shopper in Portola Valley gets daily produce deliveries from Webb Ranch just down Alpine Road and Jelich Ranch over on Portola Road.
“Everyone says they’re farm-to-table, but we have a unique opportunity up here, being so close to the local purveyors,” says owner Mike Wallau.
Executive chef Luis Rodriguez spent 10 years cooking at Il Fornaio, where he got a solid grounding in Italian cuisine. He then traveled extensively through Italy, spending time learning regional specialties all around the country. He also shares Italians’ devotion to seasonal cooking.
“He has a passion,” said Wallau. He goes through every artichoke. He’s meticulous.”
The menu offers an array of fresh salads, thin-crust pizzas and pastas. The pizza dough and pastas are all made fresh in-house every day. Meat and seafood entrees highlight the grill, and diners can glance over at the open kitchen to watch the flames going up or the pasta machine being cranked. There are always fresh seafood selections and specials that change weekly. Seafood-lovers must try the Alaskan halibut or the shrimp scampi, which is made in the Mediterranean style: Four gigantic prawns butterflied and grilled, topped simply with extra-virgin olive oil, lemon and herbs. For something with a big burst of flavor, there’s also the ahi crudo appetizer with avocado, bell pepper, mango, cucumber, radish, ginger, cilantro and Calabrian pepper sauce. The most popular pasta on the menu is their lumache, housemade pasta shells tossed with Italian sausage, kale pesto, chili flakes and pecorino.
The wine list highlights local vintners in the Santa Cruz Mountains like Fogarty and Ridge, as well as Napa and Sonoma selections and Italian vintages. Cocktail aficionados will find much to like in the bar’s selection of artisan offerings, many of which are playful takes on classic cocktails. Try the Sidecar with a touch of cinnamon or the Fig-etaboutit, which adds muddled figs and lemongrass syrup to Maker’s Mark and soda.
Lunch is served five days a week, with the lunch menu also including a selection of panini. With its outdoor patio and excellent eggs Benedict, the restaurant is also a very popular brunch destination.
While Portola Kitchen is just off Interstate 280, it can seem like a world away once you’re there. Stop by, relax and enjoy.