Mayfield Cafe: Tasty Meals for the Rest of Us

Mayfield Bakery and Cafe on Urbanspoon

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This casual bistro/bakery aims to serve all Palo Altans

(This review appeared in South Bay Accent in September of 2009)

Imagine t.v.’s “Cheers” bar turned into a casual neighborhood eatery with quietly ambitious cuisine and you’ll approximate Mayfield Bakery and Cafe in Palo Alto’s refurbed Town & Country Village kitty-corner from Stanford Stadium. Trade the lovable drunks for designer-jeans-clad soccer moms and kids, dating couples, smiling retirees and VCs gobbling up business meals, but the concept still carries: a friendly, low-key establishment where everybody might not know your name but all are welcome.  The response has been very positive, even in the midst of the troubled economy.

Mayfield is the original handle for South Palo Alto and this Mayfield is a sister restaurant of Woodside’s super-pricey Village Pub, San Francisco’s Spruce and a few other well-regarded spots.  By this restaurant group’s standards, Mayfield is thrifty, which means dinner entrees cost around $23.  This is a long way from Denny’s but perhaps justified by high-quality ingredients, a wood-burning oven and rotisserie and a seasonal menu constructed by chefs Gordon Drysdale and Andrew Hash, company men with solid resumes.  All three meals plus weekend brunch are served, with enticing offerings also available from the on-site bakery like crusty breads , cinnamon rolls, croissants, muffins and S’mores squares.  Diners get the benefit of these riches in everything from excellent bread to sweet after-meal enticements.

The vibe is rustic and understated but classy.  Rough wood floors, white walls and linens, an open kitchen and white-marble-topped counter deliver a farmhouse look — by way of Atherton. Wide windows around both exterior walls let in lots of natural light and provide a view of the spiffed-up parking lot, street and outdoor dining area.  The latter is a good choice and also allows less strained conversation than in the high-decibel dining room.

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For maximum posterior comfort indoors, request to be seated at the banquette that runs down the center of the room. Otherwise, you’ll be on hard-seated bentwood chairs that don’t encourage lingering. Upscale but very approachable, the seasonal menu includes pizza, fries and burgers for the kiddies that are light years removed from fast food.  Overall, the offerings are sophisticated-adult-friendly — a smart approach in a foodie haven like Palo Alto.

Among the starters, there were no clunkers during my recent visit. The corn chowder — a creamy, sweet evocation of summer — was rich and lovely. We enjoyed both the salads we sampled: roasted golden beets punched up with horseradish and paired with walnuts and fennel; and spicy arugula with slices of strawberries, spiced pecans, goat cheese and red onions.  The wood oven imparted smoky goodness to a divine bruschetta concoction that piled fava bean puree, preserved lemons and chives onto thick crusty bread slices overflowing with pink, juicy prawns.  The oven is also the perfect instrument for an emerging signature dish, baked mussels in tomato vinaigrette.

strawberry salad-mayfieldStrawberry, arugula and goat cheese salad

Our smiles continued into the entrees, particularly the delicious braised halibut with fava beans and herb salad.  Surrounded by a delectable vermouth-based broth, this dish is worth a repeat visit.  But it would have been even better if the favas weren’t the color and consistency of canned peas. We liked the wood-grilled mahimahi (aka Hawaiian dorado) with grilled asparagus and orange-olive vinaigrette except for the fact that the fish was a tad overcooked and dry.  But the cooking was au point on the juicy, rotisseried Niman Ranch pork chops whose sweetness was enhanced by balsamic glaze.

Next time, we’ll order the whole-roasted striped bass  — delicious but messy to eat — or the rotisseried chicken with artichoke bread salad.  Getting online buzz is the grilled Niman Ranch bavette steak with roasted potatoes and green garlic butter and a very-adult burger with rémoulade and cheddar on a poppy seed bun.

Don’t neglect the side dishes, which include indulgences like fries with garlic and aged parmesan and beer-battered onion rings with horseradish sauce as well as seasonal specials.  Completely wonderful were thin slices of summer squash baked with a little butter, chiles and dill in that fabulous wood-burning oven.  The large, impressive wine list — most in the affordable range — present appealing choices from all over the world that nicely complement the tasty cuisine.

It’s no surprise that an eatery with “bakery” in its name would do a bang-up job on dessert.  The torte-style carrot cake with cream-cheese frosting was nice but overshadowing it was a seriously delicious rich chocolate souffle cake with chocolate and caramel sauce, caramel popcorn and vanilla gelato that comes from San Francisco’s famed Boulevard — as does the pastry chef, Nancy Pitta, whose bakery operation supplies all the group’s restaurant locations.  Also very yummy was a snowy panna cotta with cherry cabernet sauce.

Well-meaning but sometime bumbling service was a reminder that Mayfield isn’t a chichi boîte in the big city but rather a neighborhood eatery that favors sneakers over Manolo Blahniks. Palo Alto has plenty of upscale restaurants that serve the dining-out and business crowds. Like them, Mayfield is serious about its food. But unlike them, its goal is to be an equal-opportunity eatery where everyone from grannies to grade schoolers will find something to like whenever it’s mealtime.

Mayfield Bakery & Cafe, Town & Country Village, 855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 853-9200, http://www.mayfieldbakery.com

HOURS: lunch – 11:30-5 Monday-Friday; dinner nightly 5-9. Reservations recommended.

PRICES: Starters, $6.50-14.75; entrees, $14.76-24; desserts, $5.25-7.50.

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