Shops, theatre and fine dining await near Santa Cruz. What can we learn?
Sometimes I need a quick getaway that’s actually relaxing. Palo Alto fits the bill, especially when I can relax on Public Transit and stay in a beautiful hotel relatively inexpensively.
The downtown entertainment section is roughly two blocks wide, bisected by University Avenue, which runs perhaps 10 blocks west of the El Camino.
You can jump on the 17 Express bus ($5) in Downtown Santa Cruz or Scotts Valley (and a few places in between) for the 45-minute ride to San Jose’s Diridon Station and ride Caltrain ($5) for a 30-minute jaunt to University Station. Bring a glass of wine to sip on the train, it’s OK. On the return trip, many stations have farmers markets. On Saturdays, detrain at Sunnyvale or the California Avenue, and on Sundays a very large market takes over the Mountain View Station parking lot.
Once in Palo Alto, you can take in events at Stanford University, enjoy classic films at the restored 1925 Stanford Theatre, where a Wurlitzer Theatre organ still plays, or catch live theatre by nationally acclaimed Theatreworks or Palo Alto children’s Theatre at the Luci Stern Theatre.
Shopping includes chain specialty stores such as Renovation Hardware, with its chic wood furniture and Title 9, who this year carries a nice selection of gorgeous sports skorts. There are also numerous local art stores, and a Giants Dugout.
My favorite hotel is the Cardinal. The massive stone building opened as a hostellier in December of 1924. In its two-story sky-lit lobby, carved wood-clad columns topped with carved stone capitals support the paneled ceiling. The hotel has fully self-contained rooms and one-bedroom suites ($150 to $270), but I like to go European-style ($80 to $100) where beautifully tiled shared baths and showers are down the hall. Book early and request an inside room to avoid the 2 a.m. brouhaha.
Cardinal Hotel 235 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-323-5101. Visit cardinalhotel.com.
The ground story of the Cardinal is home to Osteria, a family-friendly Italian restaurant which normally bursts at the seams even on weeknights. Rated Zagat 24, and a member of Palo Alto Weekly’s hall of fame, the extensive menu includes starters, pasta, salads, entrées, and desserts.
An excellent appetizer for two is the Fondo di Carciofo con Gamberetti, an artichoke bottom filled with plump bay shrimp ($8.50).
We whet our appetites with large pieces of sourdough bread spread with iced butter. We settled on a special wine, the meaty Sangiovese di San Marino ($35).
Descriptions of the salads were thin, but radicchio and blue cheese ($8) seemed like a good pairing. Four large cupped leaves of radicchio and four spears of sweet endive were arranged like petals of a flower around a bowl of sauce. I spread the smooth Gorgonzola over the tender red and white leaves, and dipped them in the garlicky pesto dressing.
The bowl of hearty Spinach Salad ($7) contained velvety leaves, sliced crimini mushrooms in a light vinaigrette topped with minced, toasted pine nuts and grated semi-soft cheese.
I found the normally excellent Spaghettini Carbonara ($13.50) a bit bland that night. A light cream-based sauce was tossed with perfectly al dente noodles and bits of pancetta bacon. I missed the fresh peas, and thought it needed additional garlic.
A special of the evening was Lamb Medallions Marsala ($23) where a trio of three tender, dense oval medallions were topped with sweet Marsala reduction. They were served with fresh soft green beans and crisp matchstick carrots.
For dessert, we normally split the Doppio Cioccolate ($6.50), a double chocolate cake with a rich, molten ganache center. Looking for something lighter, we ordered Gianduja Flan con Hazelnut ($5). The cappuccino-colored custard, sweet, and hazelnut-flavored, was cooked in a demitasse cup. Overturned, its rich caramel-flavored juice spread onto the plate which was drizzled with chocolate syrup and peppered with cocoa powder. A glass of plummy Porto ($8) made for a fine ending,
Osteria Cucina Toscana, 247 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto. 650-328-5700. Open weekdays for lunch 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. and dinner 5 to 10 pm. except on Sundays.
Since 1923, the Palo Alto Creamery Fountain and Grill has prepared made-from scratch dishes, including pies and croissants from their bakery. It still sports the Peninsula Creamery logo, a company that delivered bottles of milk to our home when I was growing up. It’s a great stop for a hearty meal at any time of the day from French toast to meatloaf and turkey pot pie.
Palo Alto Creamery Fountain and Grill, 566 Emerson St., Palo Alto, Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner from 7 a.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. weekends. Visit Palo Alto Creamery.com.
If there’s a sports event you’ve just got to check out, Old Pro Sports Bar and Grill across the street from the hotel has a collection of flat screens that Best Buy might envy, a limited full bar, appetizers, pizzas, entrées, and a late night ($5) menu. You’re also welcome to climb into the saddle the mechanized bull. Propane heaters on the back porch cater to the nicotine crowd.
The Old Pro, 541 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 650-326-1446. Open at 4 p.m. on Monday, and 11 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday, until 2 a.m. most nights, depending on game schedules. Visit oldpropa.com.