Google Pioneer Opens Calafia in Palo Alto


In general, Palo Alto and "culinary mecca" aren't necessarily synonymous terms. But former Google god, Charlie Ayers, the chef behind the multi-billion-dollar company's dining success, has set out to change that. First order of business: Bringing a much-needed, top-notch eatery to Palo Alto's once-forgotten Town & Country Village.

Long before Google was a household name, it held an audition of sorts to recruit an avant-garde chef fully capable of manning its kitchen. In 1999, thousands showed up to try out for the position; in the end, only Ayers made the cut. His "slow food, served fast" mantra was a smash hit during his Google days--with people from miles around clamoring to snag an invite to the employee cafeteria--and he's now forayed that practice into Calafia, a brand new culinary enterprise that arrived as Stanford's neighbor on Jan. 20.

In the week since its doors have been open, Calafia hasn't seen any down time; rather, there's been a sizable line snaking its way out the door on any given day, at any given meal. Reservations aren't accepted, but Ayers' cooking crew is so efficient, you won't be waiting long (it doesn't hurt that the casual dining room seats 85 people either). Expect unique spins on classic dishes: A pizza, for example, might be topped off with spicy beef, jalapenos and oaxaca-style mozzarella; a braised pork shoulder mingles with citrus juices, black beans, brown rice and jicama japaleno slaw to create the delectable Angry Pork Wrap. And don't even consider skipping on dessert like the Death by Chocolate or Warm Apple Galette; if you think you can't possibly fit anything more in your belly, at the very least take a box of gooey cookies (chocolate cinnamon, orange oatmeal raisin, peanut butter) home with you.

The prices are beyond affordable, averaging from $4.50 to $12.50 a dish (with special items up to $18, but not a penny more). And as if it couldn't get any better, the food is actually good for you. Ayers uses only free-range, organic poultry, grass-fed beef and lamb, and Berkshire pork. Ingredients contain no growth hormones, antibiotics or harmful additives, and there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan alternatives.

A word to the wise: Dine at Calafia in a group, so you can sample a wide variety of the eclectic fare, family style.

A second part to Calafia, Market A-Go-Go, is set to open in mid-February, offering comparable meals like salads, sandwiches, smoothies, wraps, sushis and pre-cooked meals, wrapped up fresh and ready for you to grab in a hurry.  A-Go-Go will even feature a state-of-the-art self checkout service to keep things moving at a rapid pace.

Calafia and Market A-Go-Go are located in Suite 130 at Town & Country Village, just past El Camino Real on Embarcadero Road. Hours are 11am to 10 pm on weekdays, 10am to 10pm on weekends. Ayers cookbook, Food 2.0: Secrets from the Chef Who Fed Google, is also available for purchase at the restaurant.

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