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Restaurant Reviews

Bella Luna Ristorante Italiano
Italian. $$$. Sunny Tuscan hues saturate the intimate interior, and the dishes create a tasty illusion of dining in Italy on food prepared by Italian chefs. The pasta, tender yet al dente, is unbelievably good. Beer, wine. 233 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA. 650.322.1846.

Bistro Elan
California French. $$$. The only problem with the menu is that it's all tempting. The use of seasonal produce allows the chef to let the fresh flavors speak for themselves. Wine, beer. 448 California Ave, Palo Alto, CA. 650.327.0284. (5/18/95)

Buca di Beppo
Nondesigner Italian-American. $$. Like a Sicilian Christmas carnival in the '50s, this party spot blends clutter, joy, high spirits and, oh yes, huge portions. Go with several friends. 643 Emerson St, Palo Alto, CA. 650.329.0665. Book a table online.

Cafe Brioche
Southern French. $$$. Mediterranean magic: exceptional cuisine on oversize plates is whisked to tables as soon as it's created. 445 California Ave, Palo Alto, CA. 650.326.8640. (3/6/97)

Cafe Riace
Trattoria. $$. An absolute joy. Every dish is made with honest expertise—no tricky trendiness here—and served with flourish and pride. The homey offerings are based on wholesome Italian staples. Beer, wine. 206 Sheridan Ave, Palo Alto, CA. 650.328.0407.

Germania. $$. Named for the third longest river in Europe, Elbe adjoins Rudy's and hence hosts a boisterous next-door bar crowd. The ambiance leans strongly toward Hollywood-on-the-Rhine. The food? Bratwurst, Polish sausage, sauerkraut, venison. Don't miss "Bill and his magical accordian" on Fri-Sat. Open daily. 117 University Ave. 650.321.3319.

Empire Grill & Tap Room
California grill. $$. Waiters with charm to spare, an energetic clientele and a menu packed with grilled, roasted and smoked intensity make Empire Grill much more than simply a smart place to sip a cosmopolitan. Full bar. 651 Emerson St, Palo Alto, CA. 650.321.3030.

Contemporary Aegean. $$$. Forward flavors and plenty of laughter—that's Dionysian dining. Evvia feels like a little taverna on Paros, only with an unmistakable Bay Area sophistication. Full bar. 420 Emerson St, Palo Alto, CA. 650.326.0983. (5/28/98)

Fanny & Alexander
New American, with Asian-Cajun spin. $$$. Spicy Thai shrimp and salmon carpaccio show up as appetizers, while entrees linger in the region of blackened meats and filet mignon in cognac sauce. Full bar. 412 Emerson St, Palo Alto, CA. 650.326.7183.

Sushi Japanese. $$$. For over two decades this superb Japanese restaurant has served sushi to Nobel laureates and other grateful foodies. Small wonder, since Fuki Sushi is easily the best appointed Japanese eatery in the area. Open daily. 4119 El Camino Real. 650.494.9383.

Gordon Biersch
New American. $$$. Food takes equal billing with ambiance and fine handmade beers at the first in this group of successful brewpubs. The menu is so fine-tuned, though, it could thrive even without a brewery attached. Beer, wine. 640 Emerson St, Palo Alto, CA. 650.323.7723.

Kan Zeman
Middle Eastern/Mediterranean. $$. A lively blend of Lebanese, Greek and Turkish cuisine fuels this festive social spot. A sampler plate offers garlicky hummus, earthy falafel, dolmas drenched in lemon, a minty tabouli salad and splendid marinated tomatoes. For entrees, don't miss the shawerma and magluba. Belly dancing Thursday through Saturday nights. Open daily for lunch and dinner. 274 University Ave. 650.328.5245.

La Bodeguita del Medio
Cuban/Californian. $$$. With more than 30 brands of rum in stock, it's stronger in the bar department than in the kitchen, but among the pleasantries are ahi, lobster bisque and Cuban-style Caesar salad. Closed Sun. 463 California Ave, Palo Alto, CA. 650.326.7762. (10/9/97)

Lavanda Mediterranean Grill
French bistro. $$$. Chef Clyde Griesbach has left a trail of great dining wherever he's cooked, and with Lavanda he's found a sophisticated showcase. This urban grill at the top of University Avenue offers eclectic small tasting plates, along with heartier fare such as roasted sea bass with chanterelle mushrooms and guinea fowl with sautéed chard. Save room for the signature grilled coconut cake! 185 University (at Emerson). 650.321.3514.

New Bamboo
Asian Fusion. $$$. Bamboo stops at almost nothing to amuse your taste buds: chow mein, pad thai, kung pao chicken, salmon curry, sweet & sour pork, Mongolian beef and even pho pack a seasoning wallop. The high-ceilinged interior is lovely, but the front sidewalk expanse is the place to be. Open daily. 543 Emerson. 650.323.7700.

Italian. $$$. An Italian-American director's answer to Planet Hollywood, Niebaum-Coppola gives Palo Alto a genuine tourist mecca. The brasserie-cum-trading post lures incoming diners with a glittering tableaux of Coppola paraphernalia, and lines the back walls with an acreage of wines, accessories, condiments, and tablewares. 473 University Ave. 650.752.0350.

Cajun. 535 Ramona Street, Palo Alto CA 94301; Tel. 650.328.2722. Book a table online.

The Old Pro
Sports fan food. $. An oddball sports bar serving a broad selection of entrees, including burgers, pizza and ribs. Eleven television monitors and constant conviviality keep this place hopping. Expect little and you'll get a lot. Beer and wine. 2865 El Camino Real, Palo Alto 650.325.2070.

Italian. $$. Authentic Italian cooking done by skilled chefs from Italy—inventive men willing to explore, yet mindful of Old World standards. Be sure to make a reservation, or you'll be lucky to put a single foot through the door. Beer, wine. Closed Sun. 247 Hamilton St, Palo Alto, CA. 650.328.5700.

Restaurant Soleil
New American. $$$$. A mouthwatering menu and an elegant, golden-hued room shine together at Soleil, upstairs in the Westin Palo Alto. Local ingredients and provocative sauces create dishes worthy of the wine list. 675 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA. 650.321.4422.

St. Michael's Alley
New California. $$$. Reservations are a must at this smart bistro, whose menu includes inventive potato, meat and seafood dishes that tilt toward New American cookery. Beer, wine. Closed Mon. 806 Emerson St. 650.326.2530.

Spago Palo Alto
Progressive California. $$$$. Elegantly flashy, with decor as loud as the noise level, Spago provides upscale vivacity. The upscale menu pampers, purrs and occasionally shows some teeth. 265 Lytton Ave, Palo Alto, CA. 650.833.1000. (1/29/98) Book a table online.

Spalti Ristorante
Italian. $$. Along with a handsome interior, Spalti offers good wine and sparkling flavors. Casual. Beer, wine. 417 California Ave. 650.327-9390. (12/26/96)

Straits Cafe
Singapore exotica. $$. Blending culinary motifs from India, China and Thailand, the food of Singapore is anything but timid. The menu at Straits is lavish and diverse, and desserts are artfully arranged like edible sculptures. Full bar. 3295 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA. 650.494.7168. Book a table online.

New Vietnamese. $$$. A mesmerizing back bar of natural bamboo and glass sleekly adjoins a wall showcasing original artwork. Even the waitstaff is sleek, clad in Prada black. Maybe it was this sartorial sleekness that allowed them to serve us so speedily. Entrees are gorgeous, and deeply aromatic: a Saigon bun salad, Shaking Beef, sea bass with lemongrass. 546 University Ave. 650.325.8500. Book a table online.

Trader Vics
Polynesian-American. $$$. A jungle gym of tiki gods—but a classy jungle. Sip a high-class mai tai in the lounge before embarking on a dinner trip from pork spareribs to boat-fresh seared suki tuna to a Calcutta curry. The centerpiece here is the wood-fired oven, where delights like the Indonesian Rack of Lamb come to worship. 4269 El Camino Real. 650.849.9800. Book a table online.

Asian. $$. Putting a hip spin on an ancient culinary artform, this contempo noodle palace purveys many forms of the deliciously messy primal food. Casual. Beer, wine, sake. 261 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA. 650.328.1988. (6/4/97)

Southern Mediterranean. $$$. This eye-popping remodel by the chef-partners of Restaurant LuLu in S.F. offers delectable wood-fired favorites. 430 Kipling St, Palo Alto, CA. 650.328.6722. 650.328.6722. (11/20/97) Book a table online.


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