Restaurant Reflections: Cafe Fino

Fork rating: 1/2 a fork

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh … what a night. Company-wise, a wonderful evening. Restaurant-wise, not so much. Craig and I, with another couple, went to Cafe Fino in Palo Alto. Since some of us had been to Maddalena’s before (the restaurant that used to be next door, and was owned by the same people), we figured we were in for a lovely evening. Here’s how it went from start to finish:

Craig and I got there early and our table choices were quite limited. 95% of the tables were set up for parties of 8, with only 2 tables for 4 people and 2 tables for 2 people. Oddly enough (ahem), the tables for 2 and 4 were near the front of the restaurant. Nothing makes a restaurant look more lively than seeing people enjoying themselves at dinner … and nothing makes the restaurant seem more packed than full tables visible from the window.

Our waiter took our drink order, which seemed difficult since we had a little language barrier. The bartender ended up coming back and asking again what we ordered. Our friends arrived and we looked at the menu. Hmmm … quite sparse, not a lot of choice. We were offered an appetizer special, which was actually just a mix of 3 of the listed appetizers. We got crab crostini, prawns on a skewer, and ahi tuna. The crostini wasn’t too bad, the prawns were totally overdone and tasted like rubber, and the ahi tuna wasn’t red with a ring of seared tuna, but rather dark in color. Basically all overcooked.

Our entree was the New York Remoulade, which was a thinner cut of meat rolled up with a crab stuffing. Again, the menu being rather light in the choices, it was either this remoulade or something called “airline chicken”, a portobello mushroom, salmon or halibut. (As Craig says, would you want to associate your restaurant food with airline food? I think not!) We were able to make a small substitution in our entree (mashed potatoes for rice), but I think that would have been it in terms of subbing. The remoulade was acceptable, but definitely not great. You had no choice in whether you wanted it medium rare or well done.

The ambiance of the place was OK, except when the musician started to perform. You could basically stop all conversation at that point, because the music was overwhelming. The restroom is in the back of the restaurant and when I walked back there, the wait staff was starting to move tables around so that the tables-for-8 could be broken down into smaller groupings. The problem for me, as a patron, was that 1) there was little room to walk around the tables towards the restroom, 2) I was nearly hit by the tables and chairs being shoved around, and 3) no apologies, no “excuse me” or anything as I was dodging furniture.

While at the back of the restaurant, I saw the kitchen and it suddenly occurred to me that (in all likelihood) the food was made elsewhere and heated/reheated at the restaurant. I saw no stove, only a few standalone ovens. Now, in all fairness, I didn’t take a long, hard look at the kitchen, but it was extremely small and just didn’t seem like it could churn out the food we had. (Disclosure: I am a cooking enthusiast, taking hobby classes at a local cooking school, so I have a tendency to look at restaurant kitchens and be critical.)

Paying the bill was rather an adventure. The couple we were with had a gift certificate good for Maddalena’s or Cafe Fino. Additionally, we both had Passport cards (see my other blog entry for info on Passport). Keep in mind that this was a gift certificate, someone paid cash for it; it’s not a coupon. The owner initially didn’t want to accept it at all. After some discussion, though, they did take the gift certificate. The waiter and the owner were also loathe to accept both the gift certificate and the Passport card, but eventually did. However, they skimped on the Passport discount, which was highly annoying. We were too jazzed to be leaving, though, to make a big deal out of it. Instead, we decided to give poor reviews to this restaurant on Yelp. (On reflection the next day, it turns out they over-charged us for our appetizers. They had quoted us $50 for the “appetizer special”, but ended up charging us $56.)

The evening ended on a high note when the 4 of us went to get some delicious gelato elsewhere. Phew! The day was saved!!


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