The year in dining | January 6, 2017 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - January 6, 2017

The year in dining

A look back at the Midpeninsula's top food news of 2016

by Elena Kadvany

In many ways, 2016 was a year of recognition, second acts and upscale dining for the Midpeninsula restaurant scene.

In Palo Alto, newcomer Bird Dog made headlines locally and beyond for bringing innovative dining south of San Francisco. Local, national and even international restaurateurs continued to look to Palo Alto to expand their businesses, from the second outpost of a popular San Francisco wine shop, Biondivino, to Wahlburgers, a burger chain owned by actor Mark Wahlberg and his family. Second acts from established restaurants, including California Avenue Italian favorite Terun and longtime brewery-restaurant Gordon Biersch, found their own success. Notable high-end restaurateurs, including Nobu Matsuhisa and two French Laundry alums, announced plans to open in Palo Alto.

In Mountain View, 2016 saw the return of the popular Gochi Japanese Fusion Tapas, which had closed the previous summer due to an impending redevelopment. Several national and international chains also moved in, including Eureka!, Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot and Dong Lai Shun. Zagat highlighted Haochen Liu of Kumino, a new Asian-fusion restaurant, as one of its "Under-the-Radar Chefs to Know in the SF Bay Area."

This year, Los Altos regained Chinese standby Hunan Homes, which reopened, but lost community fixture Main Street Cafe. And Midpeninsulites quickly became hooked on the carefully crafted bread and baked goods from Manresa Bread, the bakery spinoff from the Michelin-starred Los Gatos restaurant of the same name.

Read on for more of the highlights of this year in dining, from the most exciting opening of the year to the chef to watch in 2017.

MOST EXCITING OPENING OF 2016: After a liquor-license suspension, a change in ownership and nearly three years of renovations, the British Bankers Club, also known as the BBC, quietly reopened in Menlo Park just before the end of the year. The historic building at 1090 El Camino Real has been completely revamped, with a sleek new interior, black-and-white tiled floors, maroon tufted booths and a long bar, multiple floors and a rooftop for dining and drinking in the future — though the historic exterior brick architecture and signage remain. A soft opening menu includes dishes such as charcuterie, hamachi crudo, red-and-gold beet salad, pan-roasted scallops and hibiscus-brined pork porterhouse. The restaurant, described on its website as a "contemporary tavern," is owned by Rob Fischer, who also owns Palo Alto Creamery, Gravity and Reposado in Palo Alto, and Scratch in Mountain View. Tylor Urias, formerly the chef for Spencer's for Steaks and Chops at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in San Jose, is heading up the BBC's kitchen. For now, the restaurant is serving dinner only; lunch service is expected to start later in January.

YEAR OF POKE: 2016 was undoubtedly (and for some, tiredly) the year of poke. The traditional Hawaiian seafood staple, cubes of raw fish marinated and often mixed with sauces and other toppings, became the food-trend du jour throughout the Bay Area this year. The Midpeninsula was not immune, with four dedicated poke eateries opening in Palo Alto and Mountain View (following one that opened in 2015). There's pokeLOVE at Town & Country Village, Poki Bowl near California Avenue, Go Fish Poke Bar at Stanford Shopping Center and Pokeworks on Castro Street in Mountain View. Go Fish owner Jerome Ito also plans to open a second outpost in Redwood City in 2017.

STRANGEST TAKEOVER: Who could have predicted that Mark Wahlberg would buy a Palo Alto seafood restaurant this year? The owner of University Avenue seafood restaurant Sam's Chowder House announced unexpectedly in December that the restaurant had been sold to Wahlburgers, a Boston-based burger chain owned by none other than Mark Wahlberg and his two brothers, Paul and Donnie. Wahlburgers, which now has locations in Massachusetts, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Canada, was started in 2011. The promised Palo Alto outpost is one piece of a larger expansion effort the Wahlbergs are pursuing.

SHORTEST LIVED: It took only five months for the owner of Mountain View Asian fusion restaurant Izzo to call it quits. Frank Chang closed the 246 Castro St. restaurant, which was the second outpost after the original in San Jose, this fall. The concept — Taiwanese and Asian-fusion cuisine — was "not taking off fast enough," he said in a previous interview. Izzo was the second fusion restaurant in a row to fail at that location, following Cijjo, a "global tapas" restaurant.

FAREWELL TO AN INSTITUTION: Palo Alto said sayonara this year to Homma's Brown Rice Sushi, which had served brown-rice nigiri, rolls and vegetarian sushi in a no-frills setting for 30 years. Owner-namesake Masakazu Homma, who got sick last year, finally caved to his family's requests for him to retire. Homma sold the 2363 Birch St. restaurant to a couple who plan to remodel the space and open a Japanese restaurant, according to Homma's son, Nao. A construction worker said in late December that the new restaurant should open within the first month or two of 2017.

TOP PENINSULA FOODIST POST OF 2016: The most-viewed story on the Peninsula Foodist blog this year was on the opening of Dan Gordon's, the reinvented version of longtime brewery-restaurant Gordon Biersch in Palo Alto. It was followed closely by the opening of iTalico, the sleek new sister restaurant to California Avenue Italian favorite Terun.

FOOD BOOM AT STANFORD: 2016 was the year that Stanford Shopping Center became a dining as well as a shopping destination. Five new eateries opened, with more on their way in the new year. The new additions indicate a slant toward more healthful eating options (though McDonald's remains). Shoppers can now stop for a snack — or a full meal — at Tender Greens, True Food Kitchen, Go Fish Poke Bar, Pink Posy bakery or Terrain Cafe. Expected early in 2017 are 3potato4, which serves vegan baked french fries, and Japanese dessert chain Minamoto Kitchoan.

CHEF TO WATCH IN 2017: Those who waited in line at one of pastry chef John Shelsta's Palo Alto pop-ups this year can attest to the quality, care and love poured into his baked goods. The Menlo Park native started selling his buttery croissants, doughnuts, savory tarts and other pastries sporadically this year at pop-ups, often selling out quickly. Now that Shelsta's most recent employer, Howie's Artisan Pizza in Redwood City, has closed temporarily, he could be headed toward opening his own bakery.

MOST ANTICIPATED OPENINGS OF 2017: Hands down, the most anticipated openings of the new year will be in Palo Alto: upscale Japanese restaurant Nobu and Protege, a new project from two French Laundry alums.

Rumors swirled for much of 2016 about whether Nobu was truly moving into The Epiphany Hotel, meaning the end of the hotel's current restaurant, Lure + Till. It wasn't until late November that the hotel put the rumors to rest. Lure + Till officially closed on Jan. 2 to make way for Nobu, which is opening in the summer. When it opens, keep a look out for former Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who bought The Epiphany last year and previously partnered with Nobu Matsuhisa to build a hotel on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.

And if previously sleepy California Avenue's transformation hadn't already been obvious, it was confirmed this year by the news that a former head sommelier and sous chef from three-Michelin-starred The French Laundry in Yountville would open a restaurant there in 2017. 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 Protege Restaurant at 260 California Ave. They're taking over the ground floor of a new building whose owner was eager to find a restaurant tenant fitting of the "high-end, exciting, cutting edge" space. The restaurant's website says they're "pushing (as hard as we can) for an early 2017 opening."

Staff writer Elena Kadvany can be reached at


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