When the Epi-“curious” Threesome (or the Gastro Monsters, or the Hungry Trios, or just “Three-Friends-That-Go-Around-Town-in-Search-of-Great-Food”) gets together for dinner, it’s a guarantee good time. But, deciding on where to dine can be a challenge at times, because we want to try everything and narrowing down to just one is virtually impossible! Needless to say, we take preparation very seriously, as careful research is definitely the key to maximizing our dining experience. Tiffany’s epicurean inspiration comes from Chowhound and Gabriel relies on the trusted Zagat, and I dive into my favorite blogs to give us the best recommendations.
We were in the Silicon Valley together for business a few weeks ago, and we all agreed, after serious discussion as to where we should go, to drive down to the neighborhood of Palo Alto, a home of many fine restaurants. We had narrowed down to several places that were Chowhound- and Zagat-approved, but when we drove by Lavanda’s warm and welcoming décor, we just had to throw away our plan and go in.
Despite our unlikely spontaneous act, the night seemed promising. The place was beautifully lit with the natural light of the late afternoon sun, and the fully stocked wine bar showed pride the restaurant has in its fine vino. We were seated on a table by the window overlooking the hip yet sophisticated University Avenue where, I suspect, is the destination of many local Northern Californian’s very discriminating pallets. Lavanda, it turned out, boasts an impressive resume. Not only was it dubbed by Michelin Guide as one of the best restaurants in the Bay Area, it is the recipient of Wine Specter Magazine’s “Best of Award of Excellent” for featuring, “one-of-a-kind wines from around the world.”
The threesome, who can never settle for just one, ordered the Red Wine Flight that allowed us to sample three of the popular reds, and ordered three tapas-like appetizers to get the night started.
The first appetizer we ordered was Stuffed Risotto Fritters. The little orange-like balls were wonderfully golden brown with well-cooked Risotto but the flavor of the blue cheese that oozes out on the first bite was just a tab too overwhelming for my taste as it took away the goodness of the Arborio rice.
Vince’s Avocado and Grilled Bread, on the other hand, was more on the simple side, but lacked any character. It was nothing more than an avocado smeared on a piece of tasteless bread. I would have loved to taste a drizzle of olive oil or a sprinkle of sea salt on it for more depth in flavor.
The tomato salad we ordered was my favorite appetizer of the night. The mixture of fresh tomatoes, red onions and other summer vegetables tossed in light vinaigrette was refreshing – a perfect plate for the hot summer night.
Unfortunately the fun ends there.
I ordered the Fettuccini with Mushroom Ragu from the special menu with anticipation. The dish had all the characteristics of a true winner – with homemade fresh pasta and wonderfully pungent wild mushrooms – yet the dish was, I hate to say, one of the worst pasta dishes I have ever tasted. The fresh pasta didn’t translate well on the plate as they were mushy and overcooked, and they reminded me so much of the consistency and the texture of an Instant Noodle (yikes). The Ragu was flavorless, somehow silencing the lovely flavor of mushrooms as if it were ever possible. It was so unfortunate because I was really looking forward to this.
Tiffany’s Shrimp Risotto was not any better. I understand how difficult it is to make a perfect Risotto, but this one seemed to lack effort. The rice was still coarse and tasted very “rushed”, as if the chef didn’t give enough love and time for the dish’s magic to truly come out. Shrimps were slightly overcooked which made the texture very rubbery.
The House Made Ravioli of Artichokes with Manouri Cheese, Kalamata Olives and Wild Fennel that Gabriel ordered were our favorite, or should I say the lesser of two evils. The artichoke filler was interesting and the cheese added creaminess to each bite.
Lavanda, to me, is a place that purely relies on its untarnished reputation and not on the craftsmanship of the folks in the kitchen. With wonderfully written reviews from some of the most reputable publications in the Bay Area, I’m sure that Lavenda is full of charm. We, unfortunately, were not able to experience that during our first and last visit.
This night made us really rethink about deviating from the original plan and spontaneously giving an unknown venue a chance, which was perhaps the most disappointing part of this entire dining experience.
Lavanda Restaurant and Wine Bar
185 University Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94301