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Madera

2825 Sand Hill Rd, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, 94025, United States

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Madera is the main restaurant of the Rosewood Hotel, a low rise luxury hotel set in 18 acres on the Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, the heart of Silicon Valley's venture capital industry. The dining room looks out over the Santa Cruz mountains and has a terrace with additional seating. The dining room itself has a very high ceiling and an airy, casual feel, with a wood fire burning in the fireplace along one wall, and an open kitchen. The restaurant seats 110 at capacity and there are two additional private doing rooms as well as the terrace. Tables are fairly well spaced, with wooden floor and unnecessary muzak playing, though the noise levels were not too high on the evening of my visit. The executive chef is Peter Rudolph and the chef de cuisine is Daniel Sanchez, neither of whom managed to put in an appearance in the kitchen this evening, leaving the cooking to a sous chef.

The wine list was very extensive at over 700 selections, with deep coverage of Californian wines but also plenty of choice from France in particular. There were more than a dozen German Rieslings on  offer, and ten vintages of Ridge Montebello, to give an idea of the depth of the list. Example wines were Stony Hill Chardonnay 2007 at $75 for a wine that could can find for $46 in the local liquor store, Hudson Vineyards Chardonnay 2009 at $125 for a wine that costs around $61 in a shop, and Ridge Montebello 2009 at $300 for a wine that retails at around $147.

Dungeness crab ($15) sounds mildly amusing to a UK ear due to the nuclear power station of that name in Kent (Three Mile Island crab, anyone?) but is a common crab along the west coast of the US. A fairly generous serving of white crab meat came with a salad of apple, fennel, candied ginger, radish and little blobs of creme fraiche. I wasn't particularly taken with this dish, the crab not having much sweetness, and there not seeming to be quite enough apple in the salad to provide acidity, though it was harmless enough (13/20).  

Duck breast ($38) was pan-roasted pink and served with cabbage, potatoes, apple, red wine reduction and a streak of mild mustard. The duck was fine if under-seasoned though it did not compare in flavour to the high quality duck that you get in France, e.g. from Challans. However the cabbage was not good at all, seriously overcooked, soggy and tasteless. The waiter entertainingly claimed that this was the effect that the chef was going for, but did at least manage to get the kitchen to rustle up some pan-fried root vegetables when he saw my reaction to this claim. The red wine reduction could have been much more intense, though the potatoes were fine (13/20 if I ignore the cabbage).

A selection of blackberry and honey beignets ($12) were actually the best dish of the meal, their coating light and not over-sugared, served with some freshly made jam and honey. These were very good, ones that Homer Simpson would approve of (15/20). My only comment overall is that when the finest dish of the meal is something that comes from a deep-fat fryer then the kitchen may not be firing on all cylinders (unless it is a tempura restaurant of course). A double espresso was an absurdly expensive $9.

Service was good, if a little gushing in style. The bill came to $151.90 (£100) for one person before tip, with three modest glasses of wine to drink. This is a lot of money for the level of food that was served, though it was partly a matter of unfulfilled expectations for me. This has a Michelin star, and although I am now fairly inured to the wildly generous scoring that the Michelin US guide had adopted, this was still a disappointment. Would this have a star in Paris? Of course not, not even close. If I ignore that, then the meal was decent enough, in a quite pretty setting, albeit at a rather high price point.   

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