Before the food arrives at the table, the airy, charmingly decorated space inside Terrain Cafe commands attention. The Stanford Shopping Center’s newest fine dining addition attracts the eyes of of diners and passers-by alike, with its sky-high ceilings and vertical garden walls.
The rustic restaurant is the sister store to boho-chic clothier Anthropologie, and Terrain serves up similarly stylish offerings. The Italian-inspired menu will especially appeal to omnivores and vegans.
Terrain’s garden theme is ever present in its ever-changing menu, influenced by the seasons and featuring locally-sourced produce, meats and dairy. To start, our server presented us with the most unusual bread basket I’ve ever seen. Neatly baked and served warm, a slightly sweet, airy brioche bun and herb-infused butter were presented tableside in a small terracotta pot.
For starters, we began with the Terrain salad ($12), which came topped with pomegranate jewels, juicy cara cara orange slices and tangy pomegranate vinaigrette, all on a bed of chicory lettuce. The vinaigrette balanced out the subtle bitterness of the chicory perfectly but ended up being a little too fresh from the garden for my palate. Many of the lettuce leaves had particles of dirt and soil that had not been washed off properly. While the restaurant manager was apologetic and accommodating, bringing out a replacement dish within minutes and comping the bill, the second salad also contained a considerable amount of dirty greens. This is an overzealous adherence to the farm-to-table concept that Terrain can easily fix.
Moving onto mains, we ordered the stracciatella cheese and chicory lettuce sandwich ($16) and the famous Terrain burger ($19), per our waiter’s recommendation. The sandwich, served on Acme whole wheat bread and slathered in rich and creamy stracciatella mozzarella, hazelnut pesto and chestnut honey, was absurdly tasty and cohesive despite the competing flavors present in each bite. The honey somewhat overpowered the pesto’s flavor, but the crunchiness of the chestnut and hazelnut in combination with the creamy, gooey cheese made it worthwhile.
I rarely order burgers outside of diners or fast-food joints, but given that nearly every table surrounding us was enjoying one, I figured there would be something spectacular about the flavor or accompanying toppings. Served with cheddar, pickles, lettuce and slathered with a balsamic onion jam, the burger was cooked medium-rare and came on a brioche bun alongside a heap of piping hot, house-cut “frites.” The meat was cooked more rare than medium, which I was alright with, but the burger didn’t blow me away. For the price, I was expecting much more in terms of flavor, toppings and presentation. That being said, the onion jam was an unexpected and flavorful twist on the classic grilled onion.
For dessert—and to make up for our salad misadventure—we went all out and ordered the dessert board, which was presented on a beautiful redwood tree plank and included full portions of the housemade pear upside down pumpkin cake, tiramisu and a polenta budino ($30). What the starters and mains left wanting, the dessert board made up for tenfold. The pear upside down cake, which came garnished with amaretti whipped cream, was perfectly balanced in flavor, not overly sweet, and baked to exactitude. The tiramisu was equally tasty and was topped with a light dusting of cocoa and marsala, which gave it a uniquely exotic flavoring. Best of all was the polenta budino, a sweet custard served in a mason jar and layered with a generous helping of gianduia mousse (think Nutella, but creamier) and candied hazelnuts. The sweetness of the mousse combined with the crunchiness of the hazelnuts made it my favorite part of the entire meal.
I anticipate Terrain will fine-tune its menu over the next few months as it settles into its new West Coast home, working out some of the issues that many new eateries face. At the very least, one hopes the natural terrain will remain a part of the cafe’s decor, ambiance and title, but absent from of its freshest dishes.
180 El Camino Real, Suite 1301, Palo Alto