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French Laundry alums to open Palo Alto restaurant

Uploaded: Aug 24, 2016
A former head sommelier and sous chef from three Michelin-starred The French Laundry in Yountville are opening a restaurant together on California Avenue in Palo Alto.

Dennis Kelly, a master sommelier who worked at the renowned restaurant for a decade, and Anthony Secviar, who cooked there for six years, are opening Protégé Restaurant at 260 California Ave., Kelly and the building owner confirmed.

Kelly declined to share any details about the restaurant concept, writing in an email that it "would be premature for us to comment without having received building and health permits."

Earlier this month, they submitted an application to the Palo Alto Planning Department for a conditional-use permit to sell alcohol at the full-service restaurant, as well as for architectural review of proposed outdoor seating in the public right-of-way, according to plans posted on the City of Palo Alto’s website. The Protégé team hopes to install outdoor gas heaters and moveable planter box barriers as well as relocate existing doors, according to the plans.

Studio KDA, a Berkeley-based architecture firm, will design the project, according to the plans.

Kelly and Secviar are opening Protégé in the ground-floor space of one of the California Avenue corridor's newer developments. 260 California Ave., a 26,000-square-feet, three-story building with office space on the second and third floors, was first approved in 2012.


The future home of Protégé Restaurant on California Avenue in Palo Alto. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Tableau Software moved into the office space after the building was completed in January 2015, and property owner Mark Conroe has been searching for the right restaurant to occupy the bottom floor ever since, he said in an interview Tuesday.

"260 (California Ave.) really was meant to be high-end, exciting, kind of cutting edge, one of the best buildings in Palo Alto," said Conroe, president and CEO of Presidio Development Partners. "Therefore, I wanted a restaurant to fit that image."

Conroe said he first sought out San Francisco Italian restaurant A16 — one of his favorite restaurants in the city — and actually signed a deal to bring them to Palo Alto, but it fell through after A16 opened a second outpost in Oakland and decided against any further expansion.

A deal with another possible tenant, an Italian restaurant in Mill Valley, also fell through, Conroe said. After, he reached out to about 100 San Francisco restaurants as well as several on the Peninsula before Kelly and Secviar came along. He’s been working with them now for about a year, he said.

Conroe described the Protégé Restaurant concept as "approachable fine dining"— not too expensive, and not as high-end as Kelly and Secviar’s former employer, nor anything like the Michelin-starred restaurant that happens to sit across the street.

"It's really kind of like you can go in there for a hamburger, but it's done at a very nice level," Conroe said.

Conroe also owns a recently revamped building at 341 California Ave., which was first home to Le Boulanger's unsuccessful spinoff concept Fire, Oak & Barley. iTalico, an Italian restaurant from the owners of Terún down the street, just opened in the space in July.

Palo Alto will be getting a pair of seasoned fine-dining professionals with Protégé. Kelly served as The French Laundry's head sommelier from 2005 to 2015, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was one of only four people to be granted a master sommelier diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2012. Today, there are only 147 professionals who have earned this title in the United States, according to the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Secviar worked as sous chef at The French Laundry from 2005 to 2011, when he left to become chef de cuisine at Addison, a San Diego fine-dining restaurant. Secviar is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, and went on to work at several well-regarded restaurants in Spain, according to a biography posted on Addison's website. He staged at the Michelin three-starred Akelarre and Michelin one-starred Kokotxa (both in San Sebastian), and also cooked at El Bulli, a restaurant in Spain with three Michelin stars.

While the opening timeline for Protégé is subject to Palo Alto’s infamous permitting process, Conroe said the restaurant should be open in early 2017. (The restaurant's website, however, advertises a late 2016 opening.)

"The knock against the Peninsula," Conroe said, "is you have to go to the city to do something that's kind of cutting edge. I think a lot of restaurants have proven that wrong in Palo Alto and Woodside and Menlo Park."

Here's hoping Protégé does as well.

Comments

 +   24 people like this
Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Aug 24, 2016 at 9:53 am

Best of luck to this restaurant team, however they should get in their heads that they probably won't be opening until mid-2017 based on how the City of Palo Alto dickers with businesses.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by From Mtn View, a resident of Community Center,
on Aug 24, 2016 at 10:59 am

From Mtn View is a registered user.

No different in Mountain View. Your tax dollars at work.

I suppose this French Laundry spin off will be super high end (like Chez TJ), big white plates, small portions, astronomical prices and attentive, pretentious service; only for special occasions or expense accounts. But the high rollers in the area will keep it busy no doubt.

Personally I would prefer locally owned moderately priced California cuisine restaurants added to the mix, but unfortunately local restaurateurs who want to open his/her own restaurant, can no longer afford the obscene rents.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown, a resident of Ventura,
on Aug 24, 2016 at 11:18 am

Looking forward to another in a string of recent good additions to our local restaurant scene!


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Aug 24, 2016 at 11:30 am

A hamburger "done at a very nice level"?? Uh, that will be $20 please! And the strange thing is, people who complain about the high cost of housing will go there in droves. It might just help other restaurants like Pro Bono because it will make their prices look like a bargain.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Midtown, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 24, 2016 at 11:47 am

"Planter box barriers" on the side walk. Do they get to use the public space for free? Just block up the sidewalk, great idea!


 +   36 people like this
Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Aug 24, 2016 at 2:43 pm

@From Mtn View:

Did you even bother read bother to read Elena's post?

Specific relevant quotes are:

'Conroe described the Protégé Restaurant concept as "approachable fine dining"— not too expensive, and not as high-end as Kelly and Secviar’s former employer, nor anything like the Michelin-starred restaurant that happens to sit across the street.'

'"It's really kind of like you can go in there for a hamburger, but it's done at a very nice level," Conroe said.'

As for Mountain View being the same as Palo Alto, clearly this is not the case as new restaurant openings happen much faster than those in Palo Alto. That's why Elena specifically refers to Palo Alto's permitting process as "infamous."

Do all of us a favor and actually read the article next time before commenting. Then we don't have waste time reposting half of what has already been covered.

Thank you.


 +   25 people like this
Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Aug 24, 2016 at 3:17 pm

@From Mtn View:

Exhibit A: How long has Ike Shehadeh been trying to open his sandwich shop at 401 Lytton Avenue, the site of previously operating cafe?

Answer: well over 14 months.

Web Link

Fourteen freaking months for the City of Palo Alto to dicker over permits for a sandwich shop. In a location that also sold sandwiches.

That is an example of why the City of Palo Alto's permitting process is "infamous." ***BECAUSE IT IS.***


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Don, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Aug 24, 2016 at 4:01 pm

Gale Johnson, wrote:

"And the strange thing is, people who complain about the high cost of housing will go there in droves. It might just help other restaurants like Pro Bono because it will make their prices look like a bargain."

If people go to the new restaurant in droves, and it helps other restaurants, it'll be a win on two fronts. Good point.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Former City Boy, a resident of Barron Park,
on Aug 24, 2016 at 6:27 pm

So our restaurants in PA, after so many years, are still Evvia, Sundance and that fusion place. Baume is like your brain on drugs. Vayan con dios!


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 24, 2016 at 6:35 pm

Last time I was out for a meal on Cal Ave, as we left around 11.00 pm on a Saturday evening, Cal Ave was deserted and it looked and felt as if we ought to look over our shoulders in case we might be mugged.

If this restaurant is to do well, I would expect that a better ambience on the whole of Cal Ave is necessary. There is a buzz that other areas have which is definitely missing here.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Dabs, a resident of College Terrace,
on Aug 25, 2016 at 7:41 am

FOR THE LOVE OF BABY JESUS WILL SOMEONE PLEASE OPEN A LEGIT AL PASTOR TACO STAND WITH $2 TACOS!


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Aug 25, 2016 at 8:15 am

@Dabs:

That's hard to do around here with the skyrocketing commercial real estate prices. You might be able to find some in Watsonville, Modesto, Stockton though. Or try a taco truck.

Good luck.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Don, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Aug 25, 2016 at 9:25 am

Dabs wrote:

"FOR THE LOVE OF BABY JESUS WILL SOMEONE PLEASE OPEN A LEGIT AL PASTOR TACO STAND WITH $2 TACOS!"

El Grullense on El Camino does a nice job with tacos al pastor. They're not exactly $2 (they're $1.65).

Web Link


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Aug 25, 2016 at 2:14 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

C'mon folks. Those other ideas are so trite and Un-American. Tacos?? That's food from south of the border, for peasants. This new place is talking about good gringo food, the real All-American favorite...$20 hamburgers. I can't hardly wait for their opening. Just kidding, of course, and I love tacos, especially the ones I make at home.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Downtowner, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Aug 25, 2016 at 4:20 pm

Great! Let's hope the menu offers something more interesting than $20 burgers. There are enough of those places around already. At that rate, a couple of burgers + 2 soft drinks, tax, & tip pushes 75 bucks. I'm sure the sommelier will recommend burger-appropriate wine, so more like $125.

I still miss Waco Taco for the best shrimp enchiladas around.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Really, a resident of another community,
on Aug 25, 2016 at 9:44 pm

It amazes me how all of you come out of the woodwork to complain. Zero in on something you think you dislike about a story. I saw this and literally jumped for joy. As a true foodie, and long time resident of Palo Alto, I'm excited about this opportunity for our community. These two gifted gentlemen are bringing thier concept to Palo Alto and we are so lucky they chose us. Tuck your back country BS in your pockets and move to the boonies if you want a cheap burger and a $1 taco. There is a jack in the box on El Camino that's open all night.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Common sense, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 25, 2016 at 10:39 pm

Welcome to Town Square, Really from another community. Similar comments often greet announcements of new restaurants here. And on other local online media too, when restaurants are discussed. A few people can't wait to register strong judgments of restaurants they've never tried (or in cases like this one, even restaurants that haven't opened, and won't for months). Restaurant stories seem to draw out that behavior. No need to be amazed or troubled, though -- such a tiny sampling of self-selected opinions isn't even slightly representative either of the general public or of customers likely to experience the restaurant in question. It's more like a gathering at a neighborhood bar or coffee shop, where the usual suspects vent their usual opinions.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Gen. W>T> Sherman, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 26, 2016 at 9:05 am

Isn't this the developer who promised that his tenants would help Cho's and Homa's? He should run for President


 +   2 people like this
Posted by NoTrueFoodie, a resident of Blossom Valley,
on Aug 29, 2016 at 3:00 pm

@Really. That's right. As us true foodies know, the measure of a restaurant is not its ingredients, flavor or popularity, but the price of its dishes and the density of its pretense. If all these local bumpkins want to eat food with only single digit prices, they can just go suck cheek-whiz straight out of the can like the backwater swine they are and leave the real food for those of us who can appreciate a $100 hamburger lunch for two. It's their own fault for daring to live somewhere as expensive, I mean high quality as the peninsula. Am I right?

In all seriousness, I actually look forward to seeing what talented people like this can bring to the restaurant scene. I really hope it is good and original and approachable. But to imply that you can't get 'good' food without it being expensive and that everyone else should leave PA to the *real* foodies like you? Asinine.



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