Almanac

- May 4, 2011

Station 1 lights up Woodside dining scene

by Jane Knoerle

Only months old, Station 1 is bringing new life to an old building and new zest to the local restaurant scene.

Station 1 is located in a former fire station built in the 1920s. Later, the little red building on Woodside Road was the site of Nina's, then John Bentley's restaurant. Today, young owners Zu and Kristi Tarazi have warmed up the cozy space with red wallpaper, mahogany paneling, and a fireplace, but the hottest thing at Station 1 is the kitchen.

It is the domain of Zach Freitas, former chef de cuisine at Commis in Oakland, who is turning out food as innovative as any found in trendy San Francisco restaurants.

He has created a three-course menu ($54) with choices: five appetizers, three main courses and three desserts. You may also order a la carte.

The menu needs some deciphering, even for experienced foodies. We asked our server to explain several terms, including mimolette (a kind of cheese) and urfa biber (pepper flakes), which were served atop smoked spinach soup. And how many local restaurants feature ramp, green garlic, sorrel, quinoa, guanciale, nettles, and parsley root on the menu?

The Tarazis have added some nice touches to the dinner service, such as an amuse bouche. One night it was salt-roasted rutabaga topped with julienne of raw rutabaga. Other extras are a palate cleanser before dessert (watermelon soda) and sweets that come with the check. These amenities, plus both owners on the floor making sure everything is going smoothly, make dining at Station 1 seem special.

There are drawbacks. The little dining room, which seats 48, is noisy, and the wooden chairs are uncomfortable. Since there is no entryway, every time the front door opens, nearby diners get a blast of cold air.

Such annoyances don't seem to deter diners. On a recent Thursday night, the restaurant was full. As the evening wore on, older well-dressed diners were replaced by a younger set, including CEO-types with their spouses and friends. The Tarazis seem to have found their target audience: young movers and shakers who expect the best and can afford it.

On a recent first visit, we settled on smoked spinach soup and nettle risotto with hen of the woods mushrooms as appetizers. The brilliant green soup was delicious, one of the best things about the meal. Blue cheese overpowered the taste of nettles in the risotto.

For the main course, I chose wagyu bavette (skirt steak). The steak was beautifully presented with fat asparagus spears and king oyster mushrooms, and topped with what turned out to be miner's lettuce. The steak was satisfying and chewy, but I would've liked bolder seasoning.

Leg of lamb was perfectly cooked and tender. It was served with parsley root, kale and fig. Neither of us had tasted parsley root before. It has a sweetness like parsnips and looked as if it had just been pulled from the earth.

For dessert, our choices were chocolate caramel cake with espresso, anglaise, and mint; and vanilla bean custard with strawberry, tangerine, and cinnamon. Chocolate caramel cake was a three-layer cube topped with thick frosting sprinkled with sea salt. The frosting tasted more of chocolate than caramel. The custard was refreshing comfort food.

Kristi Borrone Tarazi's family owns Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park. The custard made me think of "Rose's custard," a longtime favorite there.

We each had a 6-ounce pour of a French pinot noir. Wine comes in a 3-ounce pour, 6-ounce pour, or by the bottle.

For those who complain the Peninsula offers little of the innovation found in San Francisco's restaurants, Station 1 is a welcome addition. Along with its nearby neighbor, the Village Pub, the new restaurant shows that dining out can be exciting, even in quiet Woodside.

Station 1, 2991 Woodside Road, Woodside, 851-4988. Open for dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

• www.station1restaurant.com

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