PORTOLA VALLEY is a different type of town.
It's about as rural as one gets in the Bay Area, yet
many of its residents are corporate millionaires.
You'll find decades-old ranches next to newly
built palaces and folks who can quote the
Farmers' Almanac as well as bankers who can
update you on the New York Stock Exchange.
Parkside Grille is the perfect restaurant for
Portola Valley. Driving into the redwood tree-
dotted parking lot off Portola Road, some four
miles from where Sand Hill Road crosses
Highway 280, I immediately spotted a pair of
horses tied up outside the restaurant. I then
noticed a showroom's worth of fancy cars —
Porsches, Mercedes Benzes, BMWs and such.
Yup, I thought to myself, that's Portola Valley in a
nutshell. As I walked into the establishment, I
quickly saw a man greeting patrons. The
gentleman, Parkside Grille owner Bill
Petkopoulos, seemed to be familiar with just
about everybody in the building.
"I know 90 percent of my customers by name,"
he boasted. There's a very good reason why
Parkside Grille does such strong repeat
business — it's an excellent restaurant and
one that, at the risk of overstating the matter,
perfectly meshes with the Portola Valley vibe.
The restaurant manages a skillful balancing
act, coming across as both neighborly and
elegant. The wooden building with high
ceilings resembles a casual ski lodge,
yet it's decorated with gorgeous original
artwork, and the tables are set like those in
a four-star restaurant. Chef Blair Waycott's
menu travels a similar road, offering a mix
of upscale items and comfort-food staples.
The starter menu had such a plethora of
tempting choices that I decided to ask my
waiter for a recommendation. Without
hesitation, he pointed out the baked organic
goat cheese ($12). His conviction sold me
— and I'm glad that it did. A family-style dish
to share, the starter was a glorious mix
of roasted garlic, salty olives, sun-dried
tomatoes and, of course, creamy, fresh goat
cheese cooked in extra virgin olive oil and
served in a saute pan. The blend is meant to
be spread on the accompanying grilled foccacia
bread, which is baked daily (sometimes hourly)
in-house, but carb-cutters might want to just
spoon it right into their mouths. Other tempting
starters I would like to try during future visits
are the spicy chicken-and-feta chile relleno
($15) and the crab quesadilla
($9 half order, $16 full order). For greens, I
thought about the spinach salad with seared
sea scallops ($16) and the Asian salad with
shredded chicken ($15) before finally
deciding on the roasted beet salad ($11).
The tasty mix included an ample helping of
sliced walnuts and dollops of goat cheese
in a mild basil-orange vinaigrette. Skipping
over the pizza and pasta selections,
I ordered a 12-ounce black angus New
York steak ($31). It was a nice cut of meat,
served exactly as ordered, but the best
part is the mashed potatoes. This to-die-for
side dish was prepared with fresh blue cheese,
the kind that you can smell across the table,
folded right into the potatoes. I also tried the
delightful pork tenderloin ($21), which was
coated in a sweet, apricot-shallot glaze and
served with snappy Blue Lake beans and
more mashed potatoes (minus the
blue cheese). It's hard to say which was the
better main course. Let's just call it a draw and
note that there appears to be plenty of
competition for the title of top dog when
it comes to the menu's list of main courses.
For instance, I would have liked to have tried
the Greek marinated lamb chops ($28) and
vegetarians would surely be tempted by the
phyllo-wrapped roasted veggies ($16).
My meal ended in fine fashion with a sparkling
creme brulee ($7). After dinner, I spoke briefly
with Petkopoulos and then started to walk
out to the parking lot with its mix of Porsches
and horses. As I left, Petkopoulos called out,
"It was nice meeting you, Jim." That's right.
You can now add this critic to the list of regular
customers that Petkopoulos knows by name.