Sand Hill Kitchen is the restaurant equivalent of Soma, the wonder drug in Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World. The instant you arrive on Sand Hill’s sedate, sequestered campus a peaceful feeling encircles your body and soul.
Stanford University is minutes down the road but all the hustle and bustle doesn’t intrude upon “The Sand Hill Experience.” Three compounds stretch across 48 acres with 21 office buildings built into ruggedly manicured hills. The tagline for this resort-like expanse reads, “A new kind of workplace.”
If you begin to sense a Stepfordian way of life, don’t worry. Sand Hill Kitchen is only open on weekdays for breakfast and lunch. Plenty of time to finish your meal before darkness falls. The location of the restaurant itself isn’t immediately obvious, however. Signage is limited and obscure. There are a couple of signs pointing toward a “cafe,” which I interpreted to mean the Sand Hill Kitchen.
After circling around the parking lot below the restaurant, I took a short uphill hike. The trail reminded me of the Sierra Nevada, albeit a more civilized, heavily paved version. Boulders, trees and shrubs adorn the path, straight out of a meticulously designed TV or movie set of a Western. This approach to landscaping is a combination of the real and the hyperreal. I felt like a character from Westworld or The Truman Show, enacting my preordained destiny to consume a fresh cobb salad and homemade lemonade.
At the top of the trail a circular driveway leads toward the restaurant’s entrance. The address numbers “2400” are the signal that you’ve arrived. And beneath the archway, there’s a tasteful sandwich-board sign indicating the name of the restaurant. When you get there, you’ll feel as if you’ve come in first place at a scavenger hunt. I arrived about an hour before closing, and the dining room was nearly empty. I could choose from any number of umbrellaed tables outside, many of which had partially obscured views of the valley below.
Within minutes of being seated, a variety of diners started to appear. Several men, one after another, picked up their to-go orders. They all sounded chummy and familiar with the staff. The chef, Nicolai Tuban, brought one customer a new drink to try while he waited for his meal.
I panicked a little when a party of two dozen suddenly arrived and filled up the dining room. My friend was late and I thought once their order was in we’d be there until the onslaught of the late afternoon rush hour traffic. When my friend did show up, the legion of bien habillés — nary a wrinkled shirt or hair out of place — was escorted into a separate dining hall at the far end of the patio. One crisis averted.
The menu and setting together achieve a dreamy ideal, where lunching out with colleagues and friends excludes the unhappy outside world of current events. For an hour and a half, you can forget your domestic responsibilities at Sand Hill while the kitchen bottles its own cold-pressed juice. You can try an on-trend carrot with turmeric ($7) or a greener than green kale, celery, apple, lemon and cucumber ($7).
As determined by the fates, my cobb salad ($18) delivered everything one expects from a cobb. Bacon! Chopped egg! Avocado! Tomatoes! And yes, even lettuce. Both of our starter cups of soup ($5) were worthy of the full bowl treatment ($8). Mine was a delectable combination of chicken and white bean chili, with cilantro, tomatillo and a crema. My friend exclaimed with delight over the crunch of a coriander chili crisp in her creamy carrot bisque.
What failed to delight the table was a power bowl ($14). On paper, the mixture of vegetables read, “I am life-giving and full of vitality.” In the cold and harsh light of reality, the five-grain cereal turned the ingredients—maitake mushroom, garnet yam, avocado—into a gluey mush. Our server was kind enough to listen to the complaint. She sent the feedback to Tuban’s kitchen and he erased the bowl from our tab. Where chaos dared to rear its rude and ugly head, Sand Hill Kitchen rescued us with a restorative meal at the epicenter of a serene and forgiving universe.
Open Mon to Fri 7:30am-2pm
2400 Sand Hill Rd, Menlo Park, 650.304.3966