While most of the Bay’s time-honored weekend retreats demand a trek across the Mojave or a hike over the Sierra Nevadas, nixing that half-day commute is just the beginning of the best part of South Bay’s newest staycation.
Cruising up the 101, driving reverse traffic against a southbound parking lot, our destination is a weekend away; an escape from from the hum of the city and that incoming email notification. Just 24 minutes out of downtown, my best girl friend and I take a seat at the cocktail bar and both order the Upside-Down Old Fashioned. A pair of glasses for each of us hit the bar, one of Sazerac Rye and one holding a hunky three-layered ice cube. This classic cocktail has a fresh and creative twist – a theme that will weave its way through our whole weekend.
Hotel Nia is the closer-than-our-commute luxury getaway in Menlo Park. An inspiring tapestry of sculptural interiors and delightful design details. All the property’s practical amenities have been considered, then, upgraded to be 10x more interesting and engaging. Like the string-patterned carpet that winds up the lobby’s staircase, ending with a big ball of yarn at the head of the steps. Or the rows of Moroccan rugs and cobalt doors float off the restaurant ceiling. Hallways are a mirage of foliage shadows that (upon very close examination) are actually colossal rolls of custom wallpaper. It’s attention to detail. It’s priority of play. It’s high function with fantastic form.
But back to that cocktail lounge.
Cocktail sip number one of our stay: A classic mix of whiskey and just-melted bitters enhanced by the glow of a fire pit outside and the promise of an appetizing lineup of mediterranean-inspired menu items. We order the Bar Mezze: Hummus, Muhammara, Baba Ghanouj, Carrot Slaw, marinated olives, and a pile of warm pita. Porta Blu – Hotel Nia’s signature restaurant and cocktail lounge – flows seamlessly from cozy pockets of indoor dining into patio seating and a sprawling courtyard dotted with fruit trees, croquet, and intimate nooks made for roasting s’mores and shaking on billion dollar deals.
As we move fireside and settle into our seats, that frozen booze cube softens into layer 2 of 3: pineapple extract. There’s a surrealistic sense about these green courtyard grounds; a dreamlike ambiance courtesy of fading Friday light, a scattering of glowing orbs, and setting sunlight casting striped, geometric patterns across the infinity pool framed by a plush mix of loungers. It seems even the shadow art was taken into consideration. As the bottom of the mezze platter bowls start to appear, the Rye has melted into final layer three – a surprise of cherry sweetness with a fresh maraschino to drain the glass.
The craft of these cocktails is only rivaled by the quality of the cuisine. Porta Blu offers a cross-cultural menu featuring authentic, simplistic Mediterranean fares and ingredients commonly found (and locally sourced) throughout California. The restaurant is helmed by Bay Area native Chef Michael Riddell, hailing from the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay. A tableside welcome from the chef, the next dishes that descend before us are equally impressive works of art. Better than avante garde culinary acts – plate presentations that are too often served with a side of how-do-i-dig-into-this self-doubt – the dishes that descend before us are meant for digging in the moment and our waiter kindly bows out. The plates are awesome in their composition and contrast, mixing earthy textures and vibrant palettes; pomegranate pops on eggplant while goat cheese greets balsamic and strawberry. This is well worth the short drive just for dinner.
The hotel’s luxury suites, outdoor pool, and retro Verve coffee bar offer the same detailed attention-to-experience and oasis-like ingredients. The pool is open exclusively to hotel guests and boasts its own unique bar and menu. Hotel Nia’s (pet-friendly!) rooms are a quiet refuge of plush white beds and locally-sourced minibars. The deep soaker tub is complemented by a luxurious rainfall shower; mine is instantly fogged with the aromas of a Lush bath oil (courtesy of Stanford Shopping Center 2 miles down the street). This room was made to unwind into late evenings and even later mornings. It feels a transcontinental flight away.
#ContentPick Drink Recommendations:
- Morning: Trade your mimosas for a Mangonada, a colorful kick of mango and tajin
- Afternoon: Bright and refreshing for an afternoon round of croquet, try the Beet & Basil Gin Fizz with Hendricks Gin, beet, honey, basil, lime, and egg whites
- Evening: The showpiece of the cocktail menu, the absolute must is the Upside-Down Old Fashioned featuring Sazerac Rye and the upside-down cube with layers of cherry, pineapple, and bitters
#ContentPick Menu Selects:
- Morning: Ricotta Lemon Pancakes & Smoked Salmon with bagel and cream cheese
- Afternoon: Pitman Farms Chicken Skewer with tzatziki, watercress, and pita
- Evening: Niman Ranch Rack of Lamb with pomegranate molasses, mujaddarah, and mint & the Brandt Farms Grilled Ribeye with acebollada and fried potatoes
Just one evening made obvious why this place was named 2018 “Best Boutique Hotel” in the South Bay by San Francisco Magazine and awarded the Silicon Valley Business Journal’s “Best Hospitality Project.” A whole weekend here? We’ll cheers to that all staycation long.
Written by Rah Riley
Photographed by Amy Navarrete