…plus more from the week in Peninsula restaurants: MacArthur Park reopens, Maum chefs depart and Cali Dumpling arrives in Silicon Valley

Antonio’s Nut House reopened at 321 California Ave. in Palo Alto in late June with new outdoor seating. (Photo by Elena Kadvany)

As the last week has shown, it continues to be an era of uncertainty in the Peninsula restaurant scene. Restaurants regularly close and then re-open…and then close again as they struggle to stay afloat during COVID-19 (and the many other 2020 hurdles).

As news of these developments keeps rolling in, we have some new updates on the status of Antonio’s Nut House and MacArthur Park in Palo Alto, plus a shake-up at Maum … and even a few new openings amid the all the turbulence.

Patrons fill the Nut House’s outdoor patio shortly before last call on Saturday, Aug. 22. (Photo by Bill Johnson)

In the face of calling it quits, Palo Alto’s last dive bar, the beloved Nut House, sees a groundswell of local support

The outdoor patio at Antonio’s Nut House was full on Friday and Saturday nights, what were supposed to be its final days of business for the foreseeable future — so full the owners said that if the community continues to show up in force for the dive bar, they will be able to keep it open two days a week.

“The community loves this watering hole,” co-owner Ginger Montooth said on Saturday evening, uplifted by the full tables and line of people waiting to drink and eat at the California Avenue bar for the last time. She said at one point, people were chanting “Save the Nut!” Customers scooped up Nut House t-shirts, hats and beer mugs until they sold out.

Barely two months ago, the 49-year-old Antonio’s Nut House reopened triumphantly after a months-long closure with a new outdoor patio, new chef in the kitchen and hope for a reimagined future that included food pop-ups.

But amidst the economic losses of the pandemic and uncertainty about when the California Avenue dive bar would be able to serve people inside, the owners decided to close the Nut House again, announcing that the last day of business for the foreseeable future would be Saturday, August. 22. But a large and spirited showing this weekend give some hope that there is a way forward.

“We’re going to try and ask people there tonight: ‘Will you come back and support us Thursday and Friday nights?’” Montooth said. “That way we can run the air conditioning those days, have enough food to serve and do everything within the legal constraints … and maybe survive?”

The Montooth siblings, whose father Tony Montooth ran the Nut House until his death in 2017, had decided this week to close the bar for now after reopening in late June. They said they were losing money and couldn’t see a sustainable future without being able to serve customers inside the bar.

Montooth said outdoor dining has been going OK, but that business has fallen due to the summer heat wave (and now, poor air quality). Construction work on a parking lot behind the bar also negatively impacted business, he said. They ran through an $80,000 federal loan through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) quickly, he said.

Darius Johnson has been cooking at the Nut House since late June. (Photo via Darius Johnson’s Instagram)

When the dive bar reopened in late June, the owners brought in Darius Johnson, a self-taught chef and Palo Alto native, to run the kitchen. Johnson, for his part, said he’s going to go back to selling food out of his home, which he did before getting the gig at the Nut House.

Several notable tech entrepreneurs and longtime customers have informally offered to help save the Nut House, Montooth said, but nothing has come to fruition yet. (Social media posts showed Elon Musk was there on Friday night.)

Before the coronavirus hit, the siblings faced the looming deadline of a lease that expires in December. Montooth said they had money set aside in the hopes of securing a new location for the Nut House but have since spent that, along with much of their savings, to keep the business afloat since the shutdown started in March.

“We’re hoping that an angel investor will come and purchase the real estate so that the Nut House can live on for another 50 years,” she said. “If anyone’s going to buy this property, it’s our customers. They don’t want to lose that community, that watering hole, a place to go.

“There’s nothing else like it anymore,” she added. “This is the last man standing and the community really wants it to survive.”

UPDATE: As of Aug. 26, the owners of the Nut House said they again have decided to close the bar until further notice, citing hot weather, poor air quality and difficulty operating under public health restrictions.

(Image via MacArthur Park’s FB page)

Following outpouring from customers, Palo Alto’s MacArthur Park reopens for takeout

After an “overwhelming response” from customers who were dismayed at the news earlier this month that MacArthur Park would be shuttering until 2021, the longtime Palo Alto restaurant reopened for takeout only, said spokesperson Michael Davis.

“Our loyal customers were asking us to please keep curbside delivery and to go open,” he wrote in an email. “It’s so heartwarming to have seen all the support we have had over the years so for now we will carry on with this until we can open our in-dining again, when this pandemic is better controlled.”

MacArthur Park had announced that Saturday, Aug. 8, would be its last day of business until next year, citing “challenging economics” and the health and safety of customers and staff. Davis said the last two days of business, MacArthur Park’s outdoor patio was “packed.” They decided a few days later to bring back takeout.

The to-go menu includes several salads, tri tip, a full or half rack of baby back pork ribs, barbecued and fried chicken, burgers and kids’ dishes.

The 27 University Ave. restaurant, which opened in 1981, is serving food to go Tuesday–Saturday from 4–8 p.m., available via curbside pickup or delivery.

Cali Dumpling is expanding its frozen delivery service to the Bay Area. (Photo courtesy Cali Dumpling)

Dumpling delivery: Southern California company brings handmade xiao long bao, wontons to Santa Clara County

A dumpling delivery service started by two Southern California restaurant owners to raise money for furloughed employees during the pandemic is now serving the Peninsula.

Cali Dumpling is now delivering handmade, flash-frozen dumplings to cities throughout Santa Clara County, including Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara. (View the list of cities here.)

Candace and Allan Tea, who own several Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles and Orange counties, launched Cali Dumpling “overnight to help those in the hospitality industry get back on their feet,” the Cali Dumpling website reads. For the first few months, they donated all profits to their furloughed employees and others in the hospitality industry, totaling more than $20,000.

“I grew up eating dumplings as an after-school snack and remember how comforting it was. I always wanted to start a dumpling delivery business and with the pandemic putting all of our other projects on hold, we finally had the time to devote to getting this off the ground,” Allan Tea said.

(Photo courtesy Cali Dumpling)

(They also started the delivery company shortly after getting married since their honeymoon was also put on hold.)

Cali Dumpling is now a for-profit business that’s “slowly but surely expanding throughout California,” Tea said. He said they “couldn’t ignore Santa Clara County’s predominant(ly) Asian population” as an expansion area.

The dumplings are made at a production facility in Southern California. Bay Area orders will be transported via shipping pallets in a freezer truck to a local delivery team.

Cali Dumpling makes 12 dumpling varieties, from pork and chive dumplings to xiao long bao and pork-shrimp wontons, all handmade from Tang’s family recipes, which according to the Los Angeles Times she keeps safe in a binder in a locked room. Each comes in a pack of 30 with instructions on how to boil, steam or pan-fry them. The website also includes recipes for dipping sauces.

Cali Dumpling charges a $10 flat delivery fee, which goes directly to the drivers. Customers must place orders by 8 p.m. the night before their desired delivery date. For more information, go to calidumplingnorcal.com.

(Image via Yelp)

Owner of Redwood City’s La Casita Chilanga expands with new Mexico City restaurant

Jose Navarro, the owner of La Casita Chilanga in Redwood City, has opened a new restaurant inspired by Mexico City fare cooked by the women of his family.

La Cocina de la Abuela, which means “grandmother’s kitchen” in Spanish, opened in early August at 314 Arguello St. in Redwood City.

Navarro said the new restaurant was inspired in part by his mother-in-law, who would often prepare extensive meals for him and his wife when they came home from working at the restaurant. She’s now regularly making dishes at La Cocina de la Abuela. He’s also drawing on recipes from his grandmother and mother, who owned restaurants in Mexico City.

La Cocina de la Abuela’s specialty is tacos los mamalones, a large, handmade corn tortilla topped with cheese, sautéed potatoes, nopales (cactus), salsa and breaded steak. Navarro said his sister, who runs a street food stand in Mexico City, sells about 1,000 of these tacos every day.

There’s also cochinita pibil, the Yucatan-style pork that Navarro marinates overnight with achiote and other spices and cooks in banana leaves until it’s so tender “you don’t have to use utensils to cut it,” Navarro said. He uses his mother’s recipe, which she honed while living in Yucatan, he said. You can get cochinita pibil on tacos, topped with pickled red onions and habanero, or as a plate with rice, beans, pico de gallo and choriqueso (chorizo with melted cheese) or cactus salad.

The menu also includes other kinds of tacos, gorditas, aguachile, ceviche and guisados.

Navarro said everything is made fresh to order, including the corn tortillas.

He took over the Arguello Street space in December and said it was challenging to keep his other restaurants afloat while paying rent on an empty space. He’s excited to be open but said downtown Redwood City is still quiet, with offices closed and fewer people going out to eat.

“But I hope it gets better,” he said. “That’s why I’m here and my mom-in-law — working together.”

La Cocina de la Abuela is open for takeout and outdoor dining Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Michael and Meichih Kim, now the former Maum co-chefs, photographed in 2018 at the Los Altos Hills farm that grew produce for the Korean restaurant. (Photo by Veronica Weber)

Maum’s Michelin-starred chefs ‘part ways’ with owners, adding uncertainty to future of Palo Alto Korean restaurant

Two months after pivoting to a retail operation and a year after winning their first Michelin star, the co-chefs of Maum in Palo Alto, Meichih and Michael Kim, decided to “part ways” with the Korean fine-dining restaurant.

The couple announced their departure in identical Instagram posts.

“Maum was a labor of love, 7 years in the making. Maum was the creation of patience, dedication, perseverance, and passion. And most importantly, Maum was the people: our generous partners, dedicated team, local purveyors, supportive friends and family, and of course, our wonderful guests and patrons,” they wrote. “We are proud of the elevated Korean cuisine we brought to Silicon Valley.”

Meichih said she didn’t have any further comment beyond the social media announcement. They’re “closing the books on this chapter and thinking of what’s next,” she wrote in an email.

The restaurant’s weekly newsletter on Aug. 16 said that “as we continue to learn more about operating during this pandemic, we have been forced to go in a different direction to try and achieve sustainability under these unpredictable circumstances. With this change, we will be parting ways with Chefs Michael & Meichih Kim.”

Charles Chen, a consultant with Maum, said in an interview that the decision was a financial one as the long-term future of the University Avenue business remains uncertain.

“Those are questions that internally we’re still trying to answer,” he said. “Obviously from a financial perspective, things generally aren’t great right now … whether or not it’s going to make sense as a sustainable business — that’s what we’re trying to establish.”

Meichih and Michael Kim talking with us for a Q&A last year. (Photo by Veronica Weber)

This marks another major, pandemic-forced change for Maum, which is owned by venture capitalist Brian Koo and his wife Grace. The restaurant fully shut down at the start of shelter in place in March, briefly reopened for takeout in May and then shifted into selling Korean cooking essentials, meal kits, specialty food items and produce from its private farm in Los Altos Hills.

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Elena Kadvany

A writer with a passion for investigative reporting, telling untold stories and public-service journalism, I have built my career covering education and restaurants in the Bay Area. My blog and biweekly newsletter, Peninsula Foodist, is the go-to source for restaurant news in Silicon Valley. My work has been published in The Guardian, Eater, Bon Appetit’s Healthyish, SF Weekly and The Six Fifty.

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