Greg Kuzia-Carmel last week opened his third eatery within Menlo Park's city limits. Canteen, a wine, cocktails and tapas bar, joins Canteen Coffee Shop and Camper in the lineup of local dining options he runs.
"I'm bullish on Menlo Park," said the Redwood City resident, restaurateur and chef. "I love the people here. I love the community."
Canteen, which opened Jan. 25, is the first of a number of high-profile restaurants slated to arrive in Menlo Park's splashy new high-end development, Springline. Previously called Station 1300, the downtown Menlo Park development is adding nearly 200 apartments, 200,000 square feet of office space and eight food and drink options over a 6.4-acre property.
Kuzia-Carmel said he's excited about the developer's ambitions to foster a foodie hub at Springline.
"We're hoping they really do help create a Disney for adults — for culinary-savvy adults," he said.
The other restaurants planned there are Italian taverna Che Fico (where chef David Nayfield is a James Beard semifinalist for Outstanding Chef); Robin, offering high-end California-inspired omakase; Burma Love, the sister restaurant of Burma Superstar; San Francisco-based brewery Barebottle Brew Co.; Mírame, a Beverly Hills-based restaurant by chefs Joshua Gil and Matthew Egan offering "Alta Californian" cuisine; and San Francisco's Andytown Coffee Roasters. These restaurants are expected to begin opening in the spring and will continue to open through the fall, according to a Springline spokesperson.
Unlike other Peninsula restaurants that offer a more traditional fine-dining experience, including his Menlo Park restaurant Camper, Kuzia-Carmel wants Canteen to be casual and won't accept reservations.
"Fun is the underpinning of all the things we're trying to accomplish here," he said. "We wanted to go for something more fun, funky and unapologetically casual."
Kuzia-Carmel, who grew up in upstate New York, came to Menlo Park after working in Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain and a stint at Per Se, a Thomas Keller restaurant in New York City.
After experiencing a few too many polar vortexes back East, he said, he moved to San Francisco about nine years ago, where he worked as a chef at Quince and Cotogna. Over time, he began cooking for some families and events on the Peninsula, and through conversations with residents who were looking for some of the dining opportunities they missed from San Francisco, he found partners and an audience to start developing his own restaurant concept. Eventually he opened Camper in 2018 at the corner of University Drive and Santa Cruz Avenue in downtown Menlo Park.
Around the end of 2020, he said, he and his team began working with the Springline developers and the planning for Canteen began. At Canteen, he plans to offer a "complementary experience to what we're doing down the street," he said.
Since opening Camper a few years ago, he's seen a shift to a younger dining crowd, he said — one that's well-heeled, informed and well-traveled and goes out to eat multiple times per week — which has "(dumped) gasoline on that native smoldering fire that's already started here."
"The thing that has given me the motivation, energy and stamina to double down on my efforts has been that I enjoy operating in this neck of the woods," he said.
But in a region where many businesses make a name for themselves by moving fast and breaking things, he explains, working in the world of brick and mortar restaurants comes with its own challenges.
"It's a much more risky endeavor from an economic standpoint, and it's not for the faint of heart," he said.
The Canteen concept is a two-part venture, with the Canteen Coffee Shop open for breakfast and lunch inside the CANOPY co-working space accessible along El Camino Real. The cafe offers housemade pastries, products by The Midwife and the Baker and coffee from Sightglass Roasters.
The cozy restaurant space along Oak Grove Avenue is a wine and cocktail bar with a coastal and aquatic-inspired design offering tapas-style small plates, inspired by Kuzia-Carmel's background working as a chef in Spain. Among the small plates offered are local oysters with Koji and pomegranate seed mignonette; Sicilian tuna-stuffed peppadew peppers; cured snapper with Meyer lemon, sumac and creme fraiche; and fried chickpea panisse with habanero salsa brava. A shareable bone-in New York strip steak is also on the menu.
Each table has a surf fin with a QR code on it that allows customers to place their orders and have them brought directly to where they're sitting without having to flag down anybody or wait at the bar, he said.
The drinks menu includes a selection of French, Portuguese, California and Spanish wines. Cocktails include the Bicicletta Spritz with Campari, soda and sauvignon blanc; the Seville Sunset with Mommenpop Seville Orange, Manzanilla sherry and seltzer; and the Message in a Bottle, with makrut-infused rums, lychee, ginger and lime. Several types of craft beer and non-alcoholic mocktails are also on the menu.
Canteen's current hours are 4-9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with plans to eventually add daytime hours.
"I'm confident we're going to end up with a one-of-a-kind restaurant for a one-of-a-kind community down here," Kuzia-Carmel said.
Canteen, 558 Oak Grove Ave., Menlo Park; canteen.studio, Instagram: @canteenmpk.
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