The first thing you notice when walking up to the new Bradley's Fine Diner (BFD) is the large wrap around front porch, or veranda if, like me, you're from the South. It's a great place to start your experience at the latest eatery from the James Beard Award-winning chef Bradley Ogden. Sip a cocktail or have a spot of tea. Heaters make it cozy on cool California nights.
Eventually the aromas will lure you inside, an open, airy space with gorgeous gray wood walls, floors and exposed rafters in super high ceilings. The place is cool without being over the top. You can tell BFD doesn't take itself too seriously, with a chandelier made of cooking utensils and a the word FINE lighting up one wall. It's tongue-in-cheek, all meant to make you feel at home.
Chef Bradley is no stranger to Silicon Valley. He was a founding partner of the Lark Creek Restaurant Group, which grew out of the first restaurant he opened, Lark Creek Inn in Marin County in 1989. He went on to open Parcel 104 in Santa Clara and Lark Creek Steak in San Jose.
He left the restaurant group to create Bradley Ogden Hospitality in 2012. Recently he opened the first BFD in Houston. I was invited to join a group of local food press at his newest outpost to sample the family style service. The Silicon Valley diner is in Menlo Park, steps away from the Caltrain station, making it an easy trek by train from San Francisco or San Jose.
And that's a good thing as you'll want to come back often for Bradley's new American cuisine with comfort food classics interpreted through a seasonal, local, and yes, farm-to-table point of view. You'll notice purveyors and local farms are not named. "They're all coming from these little boutique farms," the chef says. "I don't need to name them because that's the way I source my ingredients and always have."
That comfort food includes starters like a savory, creamy riff on shrimp and grits, with wild prawns drizzled with smoky BBQ sauce and light and tender free range turkey meatballs baked with ricotta and a tomato basil sauce. Plates are big enough to share between two or three dining companions. The country pork pate is more than a generous serving, two thick slabs topped with pickled persimmons, adding a punch of color and sweet contrast to the rich pate.
Bring your appetite, mains are enormous portions, and great for sharing too. The dish I'll go back for is the Lassen trout seafood stew, warm, smoky and comforting with trout (grilled over almond wood), white beans, farro and bitter escarole in a cioppino-inspired broth studded with a citrus and fennel salad.
The Hereford pork chop is thick and juicy, set on a bed of tasty mustard greens, with a side of buttermilk biscuits, all coated in a smoky ham hock gravy. If you need your meat and potato fix, you'll want to order the Angus ribeye with a red wine sauce and a thick helping of Julia's potatoes, inspired by Julia Child. It's a creamy Parmigiano-Reggiano and Gruyere gratin and the definition of comforting.
The southern cuisine influences are undeniable here, and Bradley says it's what he grew up with, thanks a cook he called Aunt B. He grew up in Michigan and his first cooking job was at the local Holiday Inn, with "Aunt B" in the kitchen. "She was a southern gal that worked with me at the time and we braised greens, made grits, fried chicken, black-eyed peas," he says. When he became the chef at the American Restaurant in Kansas City, he says he worked with those southern influences. "I was one of the first ones to bring in blue corn flour back in the late '70's and and organic grits, Kentucky hams and Ozark trout."
Finish with Bradley's butterscotch pudding, perhaps the ultimate comfort food, and the best of the desserts, all made in house.
Dinnerware is rustic ceramic Korin Tableware - and each dish is served in a different vessel.
While we certainly drank well, bottles of Calera Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, next time I go I want to explore the cocktail menu, with seasonal drinks and fresh squeezed juices.
It all adds up to a BFD, which is a great way to dine for every meal.
Bradley's Fine Diner, 1165 Merrill St., Menlo Park, CA, (650) 494-4342.