Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Empire Tap Room, Palo Alto

Empire Grill & Tap Room
California cuisine, moderately priced

Two of the places we visit most often in Palo Alto are Buca di Beppo and Gordon Biersch, across from each other on Emerson between Hamilton and Forest. Next to Buca's is a little place called the Empire Tap Room, which we'd often said "we should try" and never did. A while ago, we tried it and liked it, so when we had a friend in town, we went again and were not disappointed.

Inside, it looks like an upscale bar. The patio was crowded, so we opted for the table inside right away rather than the 20-30 minute wait to sit outside. I've since read glowing reviews of the patio--will have to give it a try for next time. But the inside itself is not too bad, though our table seemed to be a favored stopping point for some gnats, maybe residents of the large plant next to us. The staff were all friendly and helpful, and the tables neat and clean.

The food, overall, was excellent. They brought some fresh bread, with oil and balsamic vinegar upon request. Service was a little slow, probably because the outside patio was so crowded, but it was nothing that bothered us much. Our companion ordered the New York steak (sorry, I'm awful about remembering steak types--it was flank or strip) and we split the halibut special (accepting the $2 split plate charge), topped with red pepper puree and accompanied by roasted potatoes. Both dishes included assorted vegetables julienne, and we ordered the parmesan roasted asparagus on the side.

The steak was (I understand) good. The halibut was delicious, tender but firm with good flavor. The red pepper puree was okay, but didn't really add much to the fish from my perspective. The potatoes were excellent, not too soft and really flavorful, and the roasted asparagus was really good, hot and crunchy and tasty. We also ordered their french fries, which were very good, crispy and well-seasoned, though the homemade ketchup tasted a bit too much like spaghetti sauce and the aioli, though tasty, was a little runny. We ate comfortably and weren't too full when the meal was done. For a place called a "tap room," the Empire has a good selection of wines, which were consumed without complaint and seemed to go well with the meal (I had a Diet Coke myself, which was also good).

It's a little pricey, but the food is good, the service is good, and if you want to sit outside, there are few places with as large a patio. If you just want good brew pub food, it's hard to beat Gordon Biersch across the street, and I think eight times out of ten we'd go back there rather than return to Empire.

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