In the News

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IN THE NEWS

MODERN LUXURY SILICON VALLEY

5 Questions With Bistro Vida Owner Ali El Safy

The owner of Menlo Park’s beloved Bistro Vida dishes on his love of community, the new Bon Marché and his travel bucket list. Meeting Ali El Safy is akin to greeting the unofficial mayor of Menlo Park; he knows all, tells all and understands the calculus of what makes a great community. Which explains why Bistro Vida, his exceptional downtown venue (don’t miss the mussels, oysters or fresh fish), always feels like a homecoming.

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THE ALMANAC

A Portal To Paris: Strolling Through Menlo Park's Bon Marché Market

Bon Marché, downtown Menlo Park's new French-themed midweek farmers market, is heading into winter with earlier hours and a rotating cast of vendors. The brainchild of Bistro Vida owner Ali El Safy, Bon Marché launched Oct. 27 and is open Wednesdays from 3 to 7 p.m. on the 600 block of Santa Cruz Avenue.
A recent walk through the market found stalls selling classic French treats like crepes and macarons as Yves Montand singing "Sous le Ciel de Paris" played over the sound system.

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PUNCH

Outdoor Market: Bon Idea

The night before the debut of Bon Marché, a weekly pop-up artisan food and crafts market slated for Wednesdays in downtown Menlo Park, the concept's orchestrator jolted awake. It wasn't that Ali El Safy was nervous or forgot to relay a crucial note to one of the dozen vendors. In fact, it was the opposite emotion: The restauranteur was relentless with excitement.
For the past several months, Ali worked almost unitarily to organize and develop Bon Marché for the single block section on Santa Cruz Avenue in front of his restaurant, the downtown mainstay, Bistro Vida.

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SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

The Chronicle Food Team's Latest Installment on What's New on the Peninsula and in the South Bay

Every Wednesday from 3-7 p.m., a downtown Santa Cruz block transforms into a European-style open-air market with macarons, charcuterie, fresh bread and produce. Bistro Vida owner Ali El Safy is behind the new Bon Marché market, which opened in front of his restaurant last week, aided by the fact that Santa Cruz Avenue is partially closed to traffic because of the coronavirus shutdown.

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INMENLO

Bon Marché Street Market Opens Today In Downtown Menlo Park

Beginning today from 4:00 to 8:00 pm,  a new weekly outdoor street market opens in downtown Menlo Park in the 600-700 block of Santa Cruz Avenue. Called Bon Marché, the French-inspired market is the brainchild of Bistro Vida owner Ali El Safy, who hopes it will bring more people to downtown Menlo during in the middle of the week.

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THE ALMANAC

Downtown Menlo Park Continues To Get Better. Enjoy It!

While the pandemic has been hard on our downtown there are already many signs it will emerge much stronger. This has not just happened. For example, our city council closed the eastbound lane of Santa Cruz between Curtis and Doyle for street dining, created a temporary community plaza in front of Walgreen's and Starbuck's and - along with the Chamber of Commerce - supports new events and activities there.

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PALO ALTO ONLINE

Stroll The Streets Of Paris On The Peninsula With Bon Marché

A French-inspired outdoor market is coming to Menlo Park. Bon Marché will feature more than a dozen vendors for fresh produce, flowers, cheese, charcuterie, mushrooms, beer, wine, olive oil, honey and more.

The market will take place weekly every Wednesday, starting Oct. 27. It will run 4 to 8 p.m. at the 600 and 700 blocks of Santa Cruz Avenue, adjacent to Bistro Vida at 641 Santa Cruz Ave. Local high school students, who've been providing music in the area during weekend brunch hours, will also perform at the inaugural market.

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CLIMATE

Menlo Park On The Move: Downtown Shakes Off Empty Car Lot Blues

For a long time, downtown Menlo Park was a place where things didn’t happen.

A look through the Menlo Park Historical Association archives crammed into a basement room at the Main Library yields articles about renewal plans dating to the late 1960s. Most of them never got off the ground amid public sentiment to maintain a residential, low-density vibe. The city didn’t go along with Stanford University’s plan to widen Sand Hill Road to four lanes and extend it to El Camino Real, so unlike neighboring Redwood City and Palo Alto, there’s no easy way to get from Highway 101 to Interstate 280. Several proposed parking garages along Santa Cruz Avenue weren’t built. Three hazardous at-grade railroad crossings were never replaced. But finally, downtown is getting a new look.

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THE ALMANAC

Menlo Park's Bistro Vida Celebrated As Small Business Of The Year

Bistro Vida in Menlo Park has been recognized as the 13th Senate District's Small Business of the Year. The bistro has been much more than a place to eat. Especially during the pandemic, it's become a place for people to gather outdoors.

"We're different, very homey. You feel like this is your neighborhood place, where you would like to come hang out. When you come in, everyone knows each other. It's like (the TV show) 'Cheers' - the homey place for everybody," owner Ali El Safy says...

Bistro Vida is one of the countless local businesses that changed operations in light of COVID-19.

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THE ALMANAC

Menlo Park's Bistro Vida Celebrated As Small Business Of The Year

Eat, play, dance: Restaurateur offers space for community to gather.

Bistro Vida in Menlo Park has been recognized as the 13th Senate District's Small Business of the Year. The bistro has been much more than a place to eat. Especially during the pandemic, it's become a place for people to gather outdoors.

"We're different, very homey. You feel like this is your neighborhood place, where you would like to come hang out. When you come in, everyone knows each other. It's like (the TV show) 'Cheers' - the homey place for everybody," owner Ali El Safy says.

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IN MENLO

Bistro Vida In Menlo Park Named The 13Th Senate District's Small Business Of The Year

Named by Senator Josh Becker as the 13th Senate District’s Small Business of the Year, Bistro Vida in downtown Menlo Park is being celebrated today in the capital as part of an annual salute to small businesses throughout the state.

“Bistro Vida and its owner Ali El Safy are standouts for recognition as the 13th Senate District’s Small Business of Year,” said Senator Becker, D-Peninsula. “Community spirit is part of Bistro Vida’s DNA. That’s been clear since Ali opened the doors in 1998.

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SENATOR JOSH BECKER

Ali El Safy & His Bistro Vida Honored As Small Business Of The Year

SACRAMENTO – Named by Senator Josh Becker as the 13th Senate District’s Small Business of the Year, Bistro Vida of Menlo Park is being celebrated today in the capital as part of an annual salute to small businesses throughout the state.

“Bistro Vida and its owner Ali El Safy are standouts for recognition as the 13th Senate District’s Small Business of Year,” said Senator Becker, D-Peninsula. “Community spirit is part of Bistro Vida’s DNA.

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THE ALMANAC

Downtown Menlo Park Is Not Simply Recovering. It's Emerging With Greater Vibrancy.

The positive signs are impossible to ignore. Downtown Menlo Park is now re-opening in ways that offer residents and visitors many more reasons to enjoy it than existed before COVID-19 virtually shut it down.

This trend represents what I hope is just the start of a major transformation of downtown Santa Cruz. While it would remain important for running errands, for grocery and specialty shopping and for personal services, downtown could also offer a whole lot more. Ideally, it would become a hub for outdoor dining, regular small-scale entertainment, and frequent social activities.

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THE ALMANAC

Golden Acorn Awards Highlight Pandemic Contributions

Menlo Park's leaders celebrated on Thursday a year like no other by recognizing the pandemic response contributions of local businesses, nonprofits and public servants during the annual Golden Acorn award ceremony.

Conducted live on YouTube, the event featured a keynote address from Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO and Menlo Park resident Ahmad Thomas, who reflected on the region's resilience and hopeful outlook. The event, hosted by the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce, was emceed by Menlo Park City Councilman Ray Mueller.

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IN MENLO

44Th Annual Golden Acorn Awards Set For May 20

At the 44th annual Golden Acorn Awards, the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce is focusing on Excellence During Crisis, community contributions in support of COVID-19 relief. Efforts in the fields of Business Excellence, Community Service, Leadership, and the Unsung Hero will be celebrated.

The award ceremony will take place virtually on Thursday, May 20, at 5:00 pm. The keynote speaker is Ahmad Thomas, CEO, Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG).

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PALO ALTO ONLINE

Al Fresco Eating: Peninsula Cities Debate Post-Pandemic Outdoor Dining

In June of 2020, as it became clear how significantly California's restaurants were going to be impacted by the pandemic even after the initial shutdowns were lifted, the Peninsula's municipalities began exploring how they could help restaurants in their communities survive. Across the Peninsula and the state, the solution to a ban on indoor dining took similar shape: bringing dining rooms outside.

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PUNCH

The Beat On Your Eats

Slice off a piece of Paris in downtown Menlo Park at the beloved Bistro Vida. The long-time eatery worked with the city to build an exceptional outdoor dining space for customers to enjoy in both warm and cold weather, but for owner Ali El Safy, the ideal atmosphere isn’t complete without music. Expect to hear local and celebrated jazz singer Rebecca DuMaine on Friday and Saturday nights while Sunday afternoons feature standards from the young Almost All Khaki Band. The cuisine covers poultry, meats, salads and fruits de mer, leaving the sole missing ingredient: your good vibes.

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THE ALMANAC

Santa Cruz Avenue Closures To Remain In Effect Through End Of Next January

Three downtown street segments in Menlo Park will remain closed to encourage outdoor dining until the end of January 2022, following a unanimous vote by the City Council Tuesday night.

The northbound lane of Santa Cruz Avenue headed toward El Camino Real will remain closed on both the 600 block and the 800 block, or from Curtis Street to Doyle Street and from Evelyn Street to Crane Street. In addition, Ryan's Lane will be closed in both directions from Crane Street to Escondido Lane to provide a new outdoor dining area between Ann's Coffee Shop and Ristorante Carpaccio.

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IN MENLO

Chalk Granny Brings Valentines Day Cheer To Bistro Vida In Downtown Menlo Park

Mary Kay Mitchell, who calls herself the Chalk Granny, was busy at work soon after Bistro Vida opened for lunch at 11:00 am today. Her task: Drawing chalk hearts that people could write a message or put their initials in using the box of colorful chalk she had on hand as part of the Valentines Day celebration .

“This is a tribute to Ali [owner of Bistro Vida, pictured with Mary Kay right] who has had such a positive attitude throughout the pandemic,” she said. “He’s brought a lot of creativity to downtown Menlo Park.”

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IN MENLO

Local Favorite Rebecca Dumaine Will Be Singing At Bistro Vida

Bistro Vida owner Ali El Safy let us know that singer Rebecca DuMaine, who has deep roots in the community, will be appearing at the restaurant

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THE MERCURY NEWS

Fleeing Restrictions In The Rest Of The Region, Bay Area Residents Swarm To San Mateo County

When five Bay Area counties issued a new stay-at-home mandate earlier this week, Yash Sinha already had a standing date with a friend for dinner.

Instead of canceling, Sinha, who lives in Cupertino, drove 20 minutes north to a restaurant in Menlo Park where they could still sit back and enjoy the splendor of being served a freshly cooked meal on an outdoor patio.

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THE ALMANAC

Menlo Park: Council Creates Program To Help Struggling Restaurants Offer Outdoor Dining

For some Menlo Park restaurants that lacked outdoor eating areas when the pandemic struck, help may be on the way.

The Menlo Park City Council on Tuesday night voted unanimously to create a new grant program to help restaurants install outdoor eating areas. The program set aside $100,000, to give a maximum of $10,000 to up to 10 restaurants throughout the city. Restaurants do not need to have a full kitchen to be eligible, and will be favored if they have not received any aid previously.

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PALO ALTO ONLINE

Indoor Dining Has Returned To San Mateo County, But Restaurant Owners Are Split On Reopening

Within hours of Wednesday's announcement that indoor dining could resume in San Mateo County, Bistro Vida was serving diners inside the Menlo Park French restaurant for the first time in three months.

Owner Ali Elsafy said about 20 people dined inside on Wednesday night, some of whom explicitly asked to eat indoors. He said it was awkward at first, as waiters and customers navigated social distancing requirements, but he was eager to reopen the Parisian bistro-style dining room. For him, takeout and eating outside just isn't the same experience.

"The whole ambiance of the restaurant is inside," Elsafy said. "Our bread and butter is the inside."

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PALO ALTO ONLINE

'The First Big Exhale In Awhile.' After Months Of Takeout, Restaurants Reopen For Outdoor Dining

On the first days Santa Clara and San Mateo counties allowed restaurants to reopen for outdoor dining over the weekend, Mountain View's Castro Street, Palo Alto's University and California avenues and Menlo Park's Santa Cruz Avenue no longer felt like ghost towns, with many people enjoying their first sit-down restaurant meal in nearly three months.

Santa Clara County allowed outdoor dining to resume on Friday and San Mateo County on Saturday. Many restaurants, fighting to survive only on takeout when shelter-in-place orders were first issued in March, rushed to adapt their businesses to the new guidelines. They set socially distanced tables with bottles of hand sanitizer, implemented temperature checks for employees, required reservations and swapped printed menus for digital ones.

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IN MENLO

Local Restaurants Offer Various Options For Outside Dining As Well As Take Out And Delivery

Last week, health officers in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties amended the shelter-in-place order to allow outdoor dining service with certain precautions. Tables must be arranged to ensure that no customer is sitting within six feet of any other customer at a separate table, and no more than six customers — all from the same household — are allowed at single table. Bar areas remain closed. Restaurants offering outdoor dining must offer service alternatives, such as take out or delivery. Last week, health officers in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties amended the shelter-in-place order to allow outdoor dining service with certain precautions.

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THE ALMANAC

'Every Seat Outside Would Help.' Cities Consider Closing Streets To Traffic...

Cities up and down the Midpeninsula are considering temporarily closing their downtown streets to traffic to give restaurants and other businesses more outdoor space to safely serve customers when they're allowed to reopen.

The cities, including Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Redwood City, San Carlos and San Mateo, are at various stages of decision-making: In a few scenarios, leaders are entertaining concrete proposals, while in others, grassroots community discussions haven't yet been formally taken up by elected officials.

For restaurants, additional seating and space to reassure diners that eating out is safe could mean the difference between surviving or folding during this next phase of the shutdown.

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THE ALMANAC

Santa Cruz Avenue Success Story

Ali and Bistro Vida have taken great advantage of the new outdoor pads. During recent warmer days it was an oasis for us to drop anchor at dusk on the couches for some refreshment.

Ali and I have a habit of gently insulting or kidding each other. For example, seeing an imaginary cockroach on the desert tray in response to learning that there are no tables available. Ali came to the US from Egypt 25 years ago with no funds (so he says). I’ve followed as Ali steered his son Zane into the best schools in our area.

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MENLO PARK CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

Downtown Spotlight – Bistro Vida

Bistro Vida is a French café established in 1998 by Ali Elsafy in downtown Menlo Park. After living in France and going to cooking school there, Ali left his successful restaurant, La Luna, and created Bistro Vida.

Ali portrays himself as a man of diverse character. He has lived in New York and France, and has learned to speak French, Arabic, Italian, and not to mention, English. Since beginning his career in the food industry, Ali has always found it difficult to find employees for his restaurants, however he has enjoyed meeting the people of Menlo Park, his clients, the parents from his children’s schools, and the business owners in the area.

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THE MERCURY NEWS

Menlo Park Street Cafes Are Becoming A Downtown Scene

“Menlo Dark” no more?

Menlo Park is hoping its new and expanding downtown street dining program will help it shed that unflattering moniker.

Six restaurants on Santa Cruz Avenue have recently converted roughly 20 parking spaces to street cafes complete with enough tables and chairs for a total of 169 patrons.

One of the restaurants, Bistro Vida, expects to stay open until midnight three nights a week thanks to the program, which is a partnership between the city and its merchants.

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IN MENLO

Chef Marine Thomas Brings French Flair To Bistro Vida In Downtown Menlo Park

Bistro Vida chef Marine Thomas has been at the helm of the Menlo Park restaurant for six months now, but the Parisian transplant it still getting used to her new country. “I’m still learning about how the seasons here affect the produce,” she said. “It’s different than in France.”

Proprietor Ali Elsafy “discovered” Marine when she was at La Rollange, a restaurant near his Montmartre neighborhood, which was awarded a Michelin star. Over a two-year period, he talked to her about opportunities on the San Francisco Peninsula, eventually helping her with the immigration process.

“She’s wonderful and she’s great,” Ali said. “She’s come into an existing business and can take it to the next level.

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SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER

Bistro Vida A Slice Of Paris In Menlo Park

After dining at Paris’ La Rollange restaurant, Ali Elsafy, owner of Menlo Park’s venerable Bistro Vida, was so smitten with his meal, he asked the restaurant’s chef if she would be willing to move to the United States and take over the kitchen of his restaurant. The answer was yes.
Marine Thomas is adding some ambitious dishes to the eatery’s classic menu (cassoulet, steak frites, coq au vin) and showing her creative side with a weekly four-course, $75 “menu du chef.”

A recent meal started with pâté de campagne, followed with a scallops composition, then a main plate of lamb en croûte (puff pastry), and mango rice pudding for dessert.

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MOUNTAIN VIEW VOICE

Menlo Park's Bistro Vida Gets A Michelin-starred French Chef

Here's a first: A Michelin-starred chef from Paris is coming to Menlo Park this month to work a two-year stint at downtown French restaurant Bistro Vida.

Marine Thomas of La Rollange, a French tapas bar in Montmartre (sister restaurant to a well-known restaurant named La Table d'Eugène), will touch down in the United States June 5.

Almost two years ago, on a friend's recommendation, Bistro Vida owner Ali Elsafy went to La Rollange and "left blown away," he said.

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IN MENLO

Authentic Macaroons Become Signature Dish At Bistro Vida In Menlo Park

Restauranteur Ali Elsafy, owner of Bistro Vida in Menlo Park, saw a void and jumped in. Noticing that there wasn’t an authentic macaroon to be found locally, he enrolled at Ecole Lenotre in Paris to learn how to make them just as the French do.

“A macaroon made right has an interior texture that’s soft and a crunchy meringue exterior,” he said.

The cookies are baked at Vida and come in a variety of flavors — pistachio, coconut, coffee, passion fruit and chocolate hazelnut. “We don’t have all the flavors every day, but mix them up,” he said. “They’ve really become a signature dish here.

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IN MENLO

Burgers In Menlo: Bistro Vida

Bistro Vida caught me off guard. With its pepper red awning, petite outdoor tables, and the glow of a smoldering ember, I thought I had stumbled into a place in Paris. So with the streets of Paris and its food on my mind, I hung up my coat, sat down and ordered a burger. I’m glad I did.

At first glance, the patty appears normal enough. Hand shapen, it has definite grill marks and sits between a super soft sesame seed bun slathered with mayonnaise. At first bite, however, the instant burst of flavor will leave your mouth tingling and lead you to understand that this is no ordinary all-beef patty.

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IN MENLO

My Style: Ali Elsafy, Restauranteur

Born in Cairo, Ali Elsafy came to the Peninsula in 1979 after living first in Paris and then New York City. He was waiting tables at a restaurant in Palo Alto and frequented La Luna in Menlo Park on his days off or after his shift. Lucky circumstances allowed him to eventually buy that restaurant and then open Bistro Vida on Santa Cruz Avenue in 1998. “I always wanted to have my own little bistro,” he said. “Now, over the years it’s acquired its own patina.”

We talked to Ali recently about his personal style during a recent evening at the Bistro.

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