Bird Dog420 Ramona St.,
Sun + Mon [closed]
In 2015 shortly before I retired, I found Bird Dog while I was working in Menlo Park and looking for lunch restaurants. Bird Dog is a dinner-only place, and unfortunately I was always pressed for time in the evening until I began my retirement process, started traveling, and moved to Hawaii without ever having a chance to check the restaurant out. Fast-forward to 2023, and now it's basically my favorite place to eat. I particularly enjoy Bird Dog's flavor profile - Japanese fusion mixed with obviously French cooking techniques, highlighted by tart and vibrant top notes - showcasing complex ingredients with inspiring simplicity. It's no wonder that chef Robbie Wilson is nominated for a James Beard Award for Best Chef, California, and I hope he gets it!
Bird Dog is a Michelin star establishment, so I began with the chef's Tasting Menu - which was a very reasonable prix fixe four-course meal, including a whopping ten plates! The first course was a trio of raw fish amuse bouches, setting the tone for the evening. This was everything I love about sashimi, but prepared in a way that detracts from the texture and fishiness, so that people who avoid sashimi might still like it. As usual I wanted more of it, and bigger pieces of fish, but this is just the first course.
The appetizer course featured the restaurant's signature grilled avocado with yuzu sesame dressing, and it did not disappoint. The avocado was firm and perfectly ripe, with a hint of wasabi and what I believe to be an espresso or coffee coating on the outside. There was also a grilled shiitake mushroom with a white chocolate and dried yogurt sauce that was ever-so-slightly sweet, almost as if a mushroom was a cupcake. My favorite appetizer here was the pear dish, which was so good I ordered seconds. The pear slices were unbelievably crisp, hidden underneath beautiful slabs of meringue and drenched in a tangy savory sauce that was peppered with dried shrimp bits, of all things. I wanted to lick the plates.
The salmon was perfectly underdone, dry rub seared and drizzled with a creamy roe sauce that was amazeballs. I especially enjoyed the garnish of locally sourced fennel frond, which added a dill-like licorice taste to the plate. The plate that I wanted to lick again. The entré course also included some finger-lickin' fingerling potatoes with a smoked oyster cream sauce and a crunchy panko topping, YUM!
The desert duo was fresh, light, and not overly sweet. There was a cute little ganache-covered brownie with a flavor so unusual that I had to ask the waitress about it. It was garlic! Garlic and chocolate - like ebony and ivory! The second dessert was a refreshing blood orange and mandarin granita sprinkled with a white chocolate and black sesame crumble, which fabulously reminded me of an Orange Julius all grown up. I left that night stuffed to the gills and telling myself that I would definitely be back.
My second visit to Bird Dog was much less extravagant, but still very tasty. The first course was a furikake salad with browned butter turninps. These bad boys reminded me of vegetarian scallops, with some toasted macadamia nuts and lots of fresh furikake flavor, so ono! My entrée of fried chicken thighs was packing some heat in the seasoning, which was nice, and I have to say that these were the most tender popcorn chicken nuggets that I've ever had. The dipping sauce for the popcorn chicken tasted like an eggy chinese mustard, appropriately served in a cute little dish resembling an egg.
The absolutely stunning lychee meringue dessert reminded me of the Lychee Li Hing Ice Cream I posted a while back, with Hawaiian flavors that are very familiar to me from living in Honolulu. Although it looked like ice cream, it was actually a petite baked meringue topped with lychee and a quenelle of cold foam. The plate was glittered with a brightly-colored, super tart powder substance that I could've sworn was li hing, but it was dried raspberry. Very clever!
For my subsequent visits to Bird Dog I wanted to try all of the menu items that I've not tasted previously. They had changed the menu already since my last visit, so I also ordered all of the new items. On a whim, I decided to try an aperitif - the Camparish is one of Bird Dog's non-alcoholic cocktails, and worth every penny.
The appetizer courses were more on the vegetarian side, which I enjoyed even though I'm higly carniverous. Interestingly, the gem lettuce salad with pistachio dressing reminded me of a vegan liverwurst, and the chawanmushi was something I'd never had before - a savory egg custard with the texture of flan. The best of the newer menu items was hands-down the grilled cauliflower. Aside from the awesomesauce on the plate again, there was a dancing array of paper-thin cheese shreds. Yes, I said THE CHEESE WAS DANCING!!! For dinner I also ordered another salmon entrée, which was consistently pristine, and I finally saved up enough for the Wagyu ribeye.
Underneath a conspicuously dainty pile of house-made potato chips, was my seriously sauced-up Wagyu. The immaculately rare beef slices were topped with a berry chutney-style dressing, and there was a magical ooze of peppercorn sauce that tasted very similar to caviar, full of umami. I sat and licked my lips for at least two minutes after eating this.
My final untried dessert was the Matcha Mousse, which was stacked atop a buttery cake 'shelf' and decorated with dried kiwi slices. There were toasted coconut bits for a welcomed crunch, and yet another delectable sauce with tart little kiwi pearls drizzled over the side, like fucking kiwi roe.
I have extremely high standards for gourmet food, and I can't sing chef Robbie Wilson's praises enough. My only complaint is that Bird Dog doesn't offer take-out. If you're ever in the Palo Alto area, you gotta check this place out!
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