First Look: Porta Blu, Facebook’s new Mediterranean neighbor

When you’re Facebook and you’ve tallied $1 billion worth of current and former construction in Menlo Park east of Highway 101, well, your employees are going to want a local hangout. You know, something outside the office.

The folks behind the newly opened 11-story Hotel Nia saw that need ahead of time and now have filled it. The signature restaurant, Porta Blu, aims to capitalize on the Silicon Valley concept of synergy by melding Mediterranean dishes and seasonal California ingredients.

THE VIBE: Truly, if Highway 101 weren’t a mile or so away, you might think you’re at a Mediterranean resort. Porta Blu’s dining room, with its high ceilings, displays a chic and exotic look created by designer Colum McCartan: The namesake blue doors don’t assault you at eye level; instead, they cleverly hang many feet above — horizontally instead of vertically. A series of Persian rugs — coiled from the ceiling — similarly provide interest. Tables are thoughtfully set apart to allow for discreet business and personal conversations. And massive doors swing open from the dining room to the patio, bringing the outdoors and fresh air inside.

THE FOOD: Shareable Mediterranean dishes dominate the menu developed by executive chef Eric Cousin and chef de cuisine Michael Riddell. The mezze plate ($14) is the starter to order. Besides hummus, baba ghanouj, marinated feta and pickled vegetables, it comes with an irresistible muhammara, a red pepper and walnut dip. After that or a flatbread ($14-$17). it’s on to the chicken, fish, vegetable or lamb tagines with cous-cous ($22-$38) or the grilled chicken kebab ($24) or the Portuguese ameijoas na cataplana ($24, clams with ham, chorizo and tomatoes). Make sure to order the Mediterranean rack of lamb ($36) rare or medium-rare. Neither you nor the kitchen should go beyond that anyway, because the delicious pomegranate molasses glaze burns quickly.

The dessert menu is Med-focused, with three fruit-based offerings and a chocolate budino. The super-moist citrus and olive oil cake with citrus compote ($10) is a refreshing way to end the meal here.

This being a hotel restaurant, Porta Blu serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Head for the expansive Verve coffee bar for your morning fix.

PERFECT FOR … Facebook employees (OK, that’s a given). And commuters. If the approach to the Dumbarton Bridge looks too jammed up, this is a nice place to set up your laptop (or not!) and chill until traffic calms down. And Peninsula residents looking for a change of pace.

NEED TO KNOW: Porta Blu validates for three hours of valet parking. Just pull up to the front of the Hotel Nia. Otherwise, self-parking is in a garage next door.

DETAILS: On Monday through Saturday, Porta Blu serves from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday hours are only slightly shorter, 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. The restaurant is located at 200 Independence Drive, Menlo Park. Reservations: 650-304-3800; www.portablurestaurant.com.

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