Our foodie friends who live on the San Francisco Peninsula had been emailing and tweeting about a hot new restaurant in San Carlos, the residential town of about 30,000 in San Mateo County. Johnston’s Saltbox has been the place to go since it opened in April, they testified. One reason is the quality of the fare; another is the generous portions. Plus, executive chef Jennifer McAteer Johnston (co-owner with husband Sean Johnston) has worked with celebrity chefs-restaurateurs Jeremiah Tower and Bradley Ogden, a nice entry on her résumé.
We were in the neighborhood last week and tracked down the Saltbox, named after the type of wood-frame, pitched-roof building in which it’s housed. It’s a small place with a big deck. Lunch, dinner and brunch menus (which change every two weeks) push-pinned into a bulletin board out front were intriguing: fried chicken sandwich with honey and pickled zucchini; halibut with almond couscous; house-smoked trout tartine (open-face sandwich); brioche with pork belly.
The problem was with the sign on the front door: “Closed July 4-July 11.” Darn! We had violated our own Rule No. 1: Always call first. A longing peek through the glass door revealed a handsomely appointed space.
On Monday, I reached Sean Johnston by phone. He grew up in coastal Ireland, working in his family’s pub.
“We represent a seasonally changing farm-to-table menu, (sourcing) much of our organic produce from our rooftop garden,” he said. “We really do honor being a neighborhood restaurant that people can walk to, so we don’t take reservations.”
We’ll be back. Johnston’s Saltbox, 1696 Laurel St.; (650) 592-7258, www.johnstonsaltbox.com. Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays. Dinner: 5:30-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Brunch: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. weekends.
So there we were, on the streets of San Carlos, still hungry. We wandered around and found the dubiously named Mediterranean Delite, which turned out to be a great find. We stepped inside and were greeted by good smells and wall murals depicting desert oases, pyramids and ancient walled towns.
The lengthy menu of Mideastern fare showed the usual suspects – meat and veggie kebabs, falafel, lamb chops, baba ghanoush (eggplant) and shawarma (beef, lamb and chicken). We got no further than the plump, dark chickens going round and round inside a rotisserie.
We shared a plate of succulent, well-seasoned fowl accompanied by fluffy basmati rice, Greek salad and a basket of pita bread ($11). A mint-topped glass of “fresh squeezed mango and guava juice” was an ideal complement ($3). 1620 El Camino Real; (650) 654-9172, www.mediterraneandelite.com; 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays.
Our recent travels took us to other destinations and dishes:
Gadzooks! There’s seared duck breast ($30) on the dinner menu, along with pork tenderloin in chipotle-boysenberry glaze ($20). Despite that, the restaurant is really a casual place known more for its hand-crafted milkshakes ($7), homey breakfasts (biscuits ’n’ gravy, $7) and burgers.
Our lunch go-to’s are the Messy Tessie (named after the legendary lake monster Tahoe Tessie), a big burger filled with cheese and fixins’ ($14), and the Farmers Market, a veggie sandwich with mozzarella cheese and balsamic vinaigrette ($12). 760 Highway 50, Zephyr Cove, Nev.; (775) 589-4906, www.zephyrcove.com.