You won’t need a menu at the latest restaurant to open at the Springline development.
The lineup of restaurants at Menlo Park’s Springline development includes several buzzy and familiar names like Canteen, the sister restaurant of Camper’s Greg Kuzia-Carmel, and San Francisco’s Barebottle Brewing Company and Burma Love. But one element sets the newest addition, Robin Menlo Park, apart: It doesn’t have a menu.
The sister location of one of San Francisco’s most renowned sushi restaurants, Robin Menlo Park opened Sept. 21 in the midst of Springline’s grand opening festivities. Other restaurants that have opened at Springline include Andytown Coffee Roasters, tapas bar Canteen, grab-and-go cafe Proper Food, Burmese restaurant Burma Love and Barebottle Brewing Company. Remaining eateries coming to Springline include Italian restaurant Che Fico, which plans to open this fall along with Italian market Il Mercato di Che Fico, and contemporary Mexican restaurant Mírame, opening in 2024.
The Robin Menlo Park team includes chef Adam Tortosa, operations and managing partner Michael Huffman and strategic partner Lloyd Sacks. Tortosa previously worked for sushi chef Katsuya Uechi, who owns a series of sushi restaurants in the Los Angeles area, and “Top Chef” champion Michael Voltaggio’s acclaimed Los Angeles restaurant Ink. He left to open 1760 in San Francisco, working as executive chef and later joining Akiko’s Sushi before opening the original Robin location in 2017.
“Robin’s kind of a combination of that traditional sushi and the way we like to take care of the fish and prep the fish and the base of it, but with more new American flavor combinations,” Tortosa said. “Before we opened Robin, you can go to a high-end sushi restaurant and not always have the best time. It’s kind of sterile or intimidating…we were looking to serve elevated fun, but still in a fun, relaxed environment.”
A year after opening in San Francisco, the Robin team began talking about expanding. They knew they didn’t want to open another omakase restaurant in the city and potentially take away from the original location, so they started to look elsewhere. Menlo Park “felt like a really good fit,” Huffman said.
“A lot of our guests and regulars in San Francisco live or work in this community…we knew there would be a lot of overlap, but it’s far enough away to establish its own identity and serve different guests,” he added.
Like the San Francisco location, Robin Menlo Park is menu-less, with the offerings left up to the chef each night as is the custom with omakase dining. But don’t expect traditional Japanese sushi at Robin.
“We’re definitely not trying to transport you to Japan,” Tortosa said. “It’s certainly an inspiration, an ode to Japanese precision and execution and quality, but in a more approachable, fun and super contemporary environment.”
“Every bite is a composed dish as far as the different flavors, different textures,” he continued. “Typically in high-end sushi, the flavor with the fish is usually soy sauce or maybe lemon and salt. We’re not trying to mask the fish, but we’re trying to use these other flavors to heighten the fish.”
Dinner ranges from $109 to $189 for 12 to 18 dishes. Patrons will see items like a nori chip with wagyu beef tartare, Asian pear, pickled shallots and a piece of uni on top; toro with pistachio crumble, soy sauce and wasabi from Half Moon Bay; and A5 Japanese beef with frozen foie gras, Meyer lemon and Maldon salt.
Local fishermen bring in California halibut and black cod, but a lot of the fish comes from Tokyo. The seafood is complemented by California farmers market produce, Huffman said.
“If you come to Robin three times in the next six months you’ll have three different experiences,” he said.
Unlike the original location, Robin Menlo Park has a shared liquor license at Springline that enables the restaurant to serve spirits without having to commit to a craft cocktail bar, which they didn’t have room for. That means additions like a Suntory whisky highball machine and a highball-inspired cocktail program along with Japanese whisky, wine and sake.
The new restaurant is also a slightly bigger space, with a private dining room that seats eight people, a sushi bar with 14 seats and a 34-seat dining room. Robin Menlo Park worked with Lundberg Design as the architect, and the result is a space that’s “dark and moody but it’s slightly more elevated (than Robin in San Francisco),” Tortosa said. The private dining room is lined with portrait illustrations of people and pets affiliated with the Robin team, including Tortosa’s mother, the inspiration behind the Robin moniker (it’s her middle name).
When Robin first opened in San Francisco, people were “panicking” about the lack of a menu, Huffman said. For those who may feel similarly about Robin Menlo Park, Huffman says the omakase experience is about putting trust in the chefs.
“It’s very much about trusting the kitchen to create a great menu for you,” he said. “We’re trying to create a dining experience that’s fun and different and hopefully an adventure for our guests.”