Remember the scene from Garden State, when Zach Braff stands against the wall wearing a shirt matching the wallpaper print? At Zola in Palo Alto, the same quirky sensibility can be found. Floral wallpaper adorns two of the walls against adjacent darker toned walls and rustic country-style tables. One can’t help but strike a pose against such a backdrop.
Zola is a small establishment serving French cuisine and it is a study in quaint, charming appeal. In the dining room, there is only enough space for two rows of tables, none holding more than six guests.
As I stared at the menu, whose lettering and drawing of a turnip held the same French flair as the décor, I had an unusual feeling of indecisiveness. Simply everything sounded appetizing. It’s too bad a stomach can only hold so much.
The Garde Manger section, literally meaning “keeper of the food,” ironically contained small items meant for sharing like pork terrine, smoked salmon and crudite. From this section, we ordered the pork Terrine de Campagne ($9) served on a wooden board with pickled mushrooms, apricot mustard and slices of cornichon. While the portion of the terrine was too much to divide among only four slices of buttered bread, the terrine was rich and cold, leaving an interesting texture. Pickled mushrooms were a tad too sour on their own but paired well with the fatty terrine.
This is the first time I have seen a section just for vegetables (Legumes) containing thoughtful dishes of seasonal California produce, just as the restaurant advertises. Resisting the urge to order an entire dinner off this list, I committed to the Peaches and Baia Nicchia Tomatoes ($13). A plate arrived of sweet and juicy summer peaches and peeled tomatoes around creamy burrata cheese, topped with tarragon and vanilla citronette. The dish was an idyllic symbol of farm-fresh summer produce.
The ricotta gnocchi ($13), which was considered an appetizer (Pour Commencer or “to begin”), sounded more like an entrée. The waiter told us it was not to be missed. The gnocchi had a thin crispy skin and a soft pillowy texture on the inside, and it sat in a brown butter and mushroom sauce around an Apple Tree Farms slow egg. The combination of the broken egg yolk mixed with the brown butter sauce was a perfect compliment to the gnocchi.
Finally, we moved on to the Plats de Resistance (main course) of Flounder Beurre Blanc ($24). We told the waiter that my friend and I would split every course and the flounder came out already equally divided onto two plates. The sweet and tender filets were plated with fingerling potatoes and carrot cubes, artichoke hearts, Sicilian capers and an excellent butter sauce. We were both satisfied with the portion sizes in our meal and left the restaurant with full stomachs and contented hearts.
Zola delivers excellent food, stellar service and a cozy ambiance. The menu is interesting yet not confusing. If it does have complexities, the wait staff is more than capable of talking customers through different combinations of dishes to craft a cohesive, satisfying meal. It is barely noticeable that different employees each perform a particular task. From taking the order to offering the bread to bussing the table—the sum of the parts provide a well-coordinated service to the diner.
An experience at Zola is worth the time and money, but get there soon. The small space will soon find itself with a not-so-small queue.
565 Bryant St., Palo Alto. 650.521.065. zolapa.com