Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Madison and Fifth, Palo Alto

pumpkin risottoA few weeks ago, I mentioned a "New York-style" restaurant had opened in downtown Palo Alto. Since then, I've passed by Madison and Fifth several times and it's always been really busy. So last night, Jon and I finally decided to check it out.

The decor is colorful, but certainly not NYC-hip (you would never find Carrie Bradshaw in a place like this). The walls are covered with murals of NYC scenes, and lots of mirrors (this came in handy when the young, female hostesses needed to check themselves out). We had the option of dining indoors or out, but we went with the former because the patio-style dining is just awkward here. Basically, they have a half dozen or so tables for two along the sidewalk. One member of the party has to sit with their back to the street, and there's no barrier between the diner and the public strolling by. (They should take notes from Niebaum-Coppola down the street; I believe they have planters or some other nice barrier set up.)

So what is this "New York-style" food? Basically Italian-American. And the menu was pretty extensive -- divided up into salads, appetizers, pastas, pizza, entrees and daily specials. Here's how our meals broke down:
  • Gratin of Pear Carpaccio - Thinly sliced pears, crowned with crushed walnuts, asiago, honey-vinaigrette and arugula. The dish was served slightly warm, so the cheese was good and melted.
  • Caprese - In addition to the usual mozzarella and tomato, the salad included avocado and roasted red peppers.
  • Pumpkin Risotto - Served in a small gourd filled with creamy risotto. There were chunks of lobster meat, asparagus and a few slices of black truffles as well.
  • Steak - I didn't notice how this was described on the menu, but when the plate arrived at the table, it included slices of meat and a cabbage salad piled on top of a large, crispy potato pancake.
This was a heavy meal, and the portions were generous. In terms of tastiness, Jon may have put it best: "None of the dishes was better than the sum of its parts." We liked all of the components of the dishes, so the meal was good; but we weren't wowed by any of the combined flavors and textures. I will say that this place gets an "A" for presentation. (Sorry for the terrible photo up there. I only had my camera phone to work with last night.)

The service was also great. Our water glasses were never empty, plates were removed promptly. And our waitress was super-friendly. I'll even forgive her for mispronouncing several of the specials (e.g., "four-grah" instead of "fwah-grah").

When I was reading through the menu at the beginning of our dinner, I mentioned to Jon that there were so many things that sounded good, we would surely have to come back. But once the bill came, I had second thoughts about repeat visits. Our total was about $100 and I admit I was slightly surprised. It just didn't feel like a triple-digit meal (or restaurant) to me.

Using the SF Chronicle's rating system, I'd give Madison and Fifth 2 stars overall (good) and 4 dollar signs (expensive, more than $25 for entrees). Oh, and by the time we finished our dinner, the place was nearly full and the noise level had reached about 3 bells (talking normally gets difficult).

Madison and Fifth
367 University Avenue
Palo Alto, CA
(650) 323-3900

(Note: The restaurant's business cards indicate that their web site is, but as of today, the site isn't up.)