Zola restaurant, Palo Alto - 8/15/2015

Our friends dined at Zola recently and told us to give it a try.   I called 2 days ahead to make a reservation and their only availability is a table for 4 at 7:30PM, so without hesitation I grab it instantly.  Zola is a small neighborhood restaurant located in Palo Alto offering seasonal French cooking with an influence on California cuisine and the use of local meat and produce.

If you are French and heard the word "Zola",  the first thing that will come to your mind is the famous French writer Émile Zola.  To confirm this though and when I had the chance to talk to Guillaume, the owner, he told me that indeed the restaurant was named after the famous writer, Émile Zola.

On the front of the restaurant they have are a few tables for two so people can also sit outside and enjoy the California weather while dining al fresco.


As soon as you walk in, there is small host station with floor to ceiling grey panel marking the separation between the host area and the dining room. 

Loan and I...

You can see the dinning room behind us.


The dinning room with deep marine-blue walls and coffered ceiling are accented with floral wallpaper. The polished white oak tables accommodate maybe 40/45 diners. Tables can be reconfigured easily by pushing them together to accommodate bigger party.  When asked I was told to give a week notice and they can easily set a table for 12.

Our table was at the end of the room against a partition close to where they store their wine.

View of the dinning room from my seat.

Our reservation is at 7:30Pm and the restaurant is filled with lots of noise but it is possible to make conversation without raising your voice. There is a very good ambiance of conviviality with people enjoying food, wine, and interaction.

The menu is small and limited with only 6 main courses to choose from and the wine list in printed in the back.

Hoa started with a Kir Bellini (peach) - $13

Simple plate setting.

Our table - simple but very cozy and it feels like home.

A server brought out a large wooden tray filled with toasted bread.  The bread was fresh, warm, and simply delicious.

A small black garlic butter in a cute ramekin was brought out so that we spread it on our delicious bread.

We were teasing our server saying that we should cancel our order and simply eat the bread 'cause it was so good and free!

We ordered the ricotta Gnocchi - $13

Apple Tree farms slow egg, mushrooms, brown butter, green onions.

The gnocchi came with a raw egg yolk in the center which our server proceed to mix it together in front of us.

Roasted bone Marrow - $15

toast, horseradish, black garlic, herb salad


I like the bone marrow but Minh thought it was too acidic as we find out they put vinegar to cut down on the fat.

All of us really like this dish. 

The gnocchi were pillowy & lightly crisped, served with mushrooms and brown butter. The runny yolk of a poached egg were mixed with the brown butter and yield a decadent sauce making this dish so yummy.

We also ordered a Terrine de Campagne made with pork, pickled mushroom & apricot mustard - $9

The French know how to make charcuterie and this terrine hit the mark.


View of the 3 appetizers we ordered.


For our main dish, Loan and I we shared the California King Salmon served with Zucchini tahini, chickpeas, green olives, harissa, mint - $29

They split the Salmon for us so here what you see is a 1/2 order.

This dish was so good...They cooked the salmon perfectly!  Crispy with a nice char on the top and rare in the center just the way I like it.

This was a real surprise for me as this dish surpassed my expectation.

Hoa ordered the Bavette Steak with brassicas, crispy fingerlings, sauce au poivre -$28


The steak was exactly what we expected but the crispy fingerlings were definitely the star of this dish.

Minh ordered the short rib bourguignon ($26) served with traditional vegetable mirepoix, parsley bread crumb.

The short rib Bourguignon came out in a cute miniature staub cocottes. The tender chunks of beef fell apart with the touch of a spoon (as it was supposed to), yet the carrots still had a nice texture, and the potatoes were miraculously crisp.  However, the dish barely came with a sauce and did not look like a stew, and was extremely salty. 

We all thought that this dish would be their best dish but it turned out to be their worst of the 3 dished we ordered.

Our table with our main dish.


The end of meal.. we shared everything so we all got a chance to taste a bit of the 3 dishes.

The Salmon was by far the best dish of the night.

The dessert menu

We ordered a dessert to share and coffee.

Peaches & plums, verbena, orange sponge cake, cream cheese mousse - $8

The cake was delicious with a nice cup of coffee.


Zola got lots of good reviews but to us it was just okay with some hit and miss.  The 3 appetizers we ordered are good but not extraordinaire.  As for our main entree, we were shocked that the short Rib bourguignon was pretty bad!  A stew is supposed to be served with a nice sauce but here there was barely any sauce and on top of that it was way too salty.  French are known for this classic dish but here it was not executed properly.  There are only 2 dishes that we really like: the Salmon which I am giving it a 2 thumbs up and the gnocchi which is also delicious. 

Not that Zola was bad, it was just average to us.   However, service was very good and there is also a really nice ambiance.  If you are going to give Zola a try, skip the Bourguignon and order the Salmon instead.



565 Bryant St., Palo Alto, 650-521-0651

Filed under: Restaurants




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