Just what the doctor ordered
The folks at nearby Stanford Hospital flock to Tootsie's for the artful salads and stellar bruschetta
You see a lot of scrubs and stethoscopes at Tootsie's. Do not be alarmed. They migrate, like penguins, from Stanford Hospital, and if you worked nearby you likely would too. Tootsie's in the Stanford Barn is a lovely nesting place.
The current hospital construction across Welch Road makes it a little less lovely, but still you can gaze across lavender bushes and olive trees while nursing a terrific cappuccino or glass of wine. The menu is inspired by the chef's roots in Bologna, the culinary capital of Italy, and by his work at Mario Batali's Del Posto in New York City. Like Batali, Rocco Scordella focuses on freshness and simplicity.
Take the salads. Four of my favorite things are packaged in the insalata di tonno ($8.50): peppery arugula, fresh fennel, tuna and voluptuous cannellini beans, brought together by a light, vinegar-free lemon dressing. Tootsie's is very good about not drowning its salads, so you can taste each ingredient, and they're large enough for a meal. And, the salads vary tremendously, also changing with the seasons. Fennel shows up again in the Agrumi ($8.25) with citrus segments, red leaf lettuce, radishes and capers, but otherwise there's very little repetition. You can come back again and again and have something different.
Which people do. Tootsie's gets a line out the door at noon. Many people call in their orders ahead of time, especially in the colder months. Most of the seating is outside.
Sandwiches come with house-made chips or a sprightly mixed green salad drizzled in balsamic vinaigrette. It's tricky for restaurants to make their own chips. So often they're a little spongy by the time they get to you. Tootsie's are cool, but remain mostly crisp besides showing a little skin and flecks of fresh oregano.
The short-rib sandwich ($9.75) is thick with meat, given a little edge by a topping of pecorino cheese.
Bruschetta ($7.95) changes personality every day, but the foundational bread is toasted enough not to get soggy, and thick enough not to be a cracker, or just the stale slab many restaurants call bruschetta. A recent topping of the day mixed zucchini coins with caramelized onions and capers, with cheese melted on top. With the accompanying salad, it's a wonderful lunch.
Scordella's crew comes in at 4:30 a.m. every morning to bake focaccia, pizza and pastries including the signature bomboloni (filled doughnuts). Which is why they sometimes run out. Fresh ricotta pancakes ($9.75) are available until 11 a.m. weekdays and all day Saturday.
Tootsie's is almost 4 years old. I am not the only one who has driven past the cute brick building thinking it was a candy shop, a shoe store or something to do with California Cafe. Scordella has heard this complaint before, but the name came with the lease. Tootsie was Leland Stanford Jr.'s dog.
700 Welch Road, Palo Alto
Hours: 6:30 a.m.-4 p.m weekdays. "Apertivo" (beer and wine, appetizers) 4-7 p.m. Wed.-Fri. Brunch 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat. Closed Sun.
Credit cards: yes
Alcohol: beer and wine
Outdoor dining: yes
Party and banquet facilities: no
Bathroom cleanliness: good