Tech industry backers lure top chefs to Silicon Valley
May 11, 2017
Updated: May 11, 2017 1:36pm
With nearly all of his restaurant experience concentrated in San Francisco, Joe Hargrave wasn’t necessarily looking to venture south to Silicon Valley to open a branch of his fun-loving Tacolicious.
So much so that Hargrave ended up opening a Tacolicious not just in downtown Palo Alto in 2013, but also in San Jose’s Santana Row in 2016.
The tech industry’s appetite for good food and its wealth of discretionary income has been a major driving force in the past few years in invigorating the restaurant scene in Silicon Valley.
Not long ago, the valley’s worldly workforce was left largely wanting in its hunger for distinctive dining. Just consider that when the Michelin Guide released its first Bay Area edition in 2006, only two Silicon Valley restaurants were honored with star ratings: Manresa in Los Gatos and Chez T.J. in Mountain View. Now, there are 10 Silicon Valley restaurants in that rarefied group, including Adega, the intimate, family-run Portuguese restaurant that just garnered the first Michelin star in San Jose. Moreover, when Taiwanese dumpling darling Din Tai Fung finally opened its first Northern California outpost last year, it did so not in San Francisco, but in Santa Clara.
Angel investor and serial Internet entrepreneur Oren Dobronsky saw the need in 2011, when he opened his first Oren’s Hummus in Palo Alto, where he lives. The Tel Aviv native had not been able to find decent hummus in the valley. He now has three locations in Silicon Valley and is considering opening one in San Francisco.
Chef Robbie Wilson, who trained under such illustrious chefs as Michel Troisgros, Tom Colicchio and Thomas Keller, opened his critically acclaimed Bird Dog restaurant in downtown Palo Alto in 2015 for one reason: Chamath Palihapitiya, venture capitalist, part owner of the Warriors and former Facebook executive, and his wife, Brigette Lau, also a venture capitalist and former Navio Systems engineer, agreed to be his investment partners only if the restaurant was in Palo Alto, where the couple lives with their kids.
Many of the investors in Protégé, the hotly anticipated restaurant by two French Laundry alums expected to open this fall in Palo Alto, also hail from Silicon Valley’s tech sector. Co-owners Dennis Kelly, a master sommelier, and Executive Chef Anthony Secviar are seeking to fill a void in this region for their style of dining — finessed, yet informal, New American cuisine driven by French techniques, seasonal ingredients and Spanish flair.
“We have a lot of friends in the area who go to San Francisco for this kind of food,’’ says Secviar, who lives in Mountain View. “Silicon Valley is ready for the restaurant scene to catch up with the rest of the Bay Area. The movement has already begun, and I think we will see tremendous growth in owner-operated restaurant openings in the next few years.”
That includes a Nobu restaurant, coming in June to downtown Palo Alto’s Epiphany Hotel. Additionally, Tim Stannard, founder of the Bacchus Management Group, which includes Spruce in San Francisco, the Saratoga in San Francisco, Mayfield Bakery & Cafe in Palo Alto, the Village Pub in Woodside, and the Bay Area’s Pizza Antica locales, will open the Village Bakery in Woodside later this summer. The cafe with a retail bakery, not far from where he lives, will serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.
This year, Chef Ray Tang also joined the growing list of San Francisco restaurateurs such as Gott’s (which opened in Palo Alto in 2013) and Delfina (which opened in Burlingame in 2013 and in Palo Alto in 2014) to plant stakes in Silicon Valley. In May, he opened the Catamount in downtown Los Gatos to serve his brand of New American classics as personified by his Presidio Social Club in San Francisco.
Tang, whose Hong Kong business partner works in tech, had been looking to open a restaurant in the South Bay for a couple of years, drawn by what he considered a dearth of urbane, moderately priced, farm-to-table establishments here. He also thought opening in the South Bay would be less of a headache.
“I wouldn’t want to open in San Francisco now because of all the costs,’’ Tang says. “There are more hurdles than I want to deal with. Getting a liquor license there alone would be a huge hurdle to overcome.’’
All of which makes Silicon Valley an attractive area for restaurateurs now, Hargrave says, and well into the foreseeable future.
“Bay Area residents like to comment that the end is near,’’ Hargrave says. “But the tech economy is just scratching the surface. We’re just getting going.’’
Bay Area freelance writer Carolyn Jung blogs at FoodGal.com and is the author of the “San Francisco Chef’s Table.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
hottest new restaurants
Adega. Pastry Chef Jessica Carreira and her fiancé Chef David Costa were adamant that their first restaurant be in the working-class Little Portugal neighborhood, where she grew up. The result is San Jose’s first Michelin-starred establishment that’s only the second Portuguese restaurant in the country to gain that coveted star. Must order: Bacalhau à Adega, seared codfish fillets served over handmade ravioli. 1629 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose; (408) 926-9075. www.adegarest.com
Bird Dog. These shareable plates are all about chef-driven, contemporary cuisine with inventive touches. The restaurant recently added lunch service, Monday through Friday. Must order: Wood-grilled avocado, its crevice filled with a pool of ponzu, and accented with freshly grated wasabi. 420 Ramona St., Palo Alto; (650) 656-8180. www.birddogpa.com
The Bywater. David Kinch of Manresa pays homage to his New Orleans culinary roots with his second restaurant that serves Creole and Cajun specialties. Must order: Fried oyster po’boy. 532 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; (408) 560-9639. www.thebywaterca.com
The Catamount. The 10,000-square-foot restaurant by chef Ray Tang features updated American classics such as roasts, house-made extruded pastas, and soft-serve. Must order: “Steam of the Day,” featuring fish or shellfish. 50 University Ave., Los Gatos; (408) 442-5533. www.thecatamount.com
Din Tai Fung. Unless you go on an off-hour, prepare to wait in a long line to get into Northern California’s only branch of this Taiwanese chain. That’s how legendary the dumplings are. Must order: Xiao long bao, soup dumplings with ethereal wrappers encasing a filling of juicy pork and hot broth. Westfield Valley Fair, 2855 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara; (408) 248-1688. www.dintaifungusa.com
Pausa Bar & Cookery. Italian-born chef-owner Andrea Giuliani believes in a very hands-on approach, making everything in-house, including salumi, mozzarella, pastas, gelati and the pizza dough crafted from imported Italian flours mixed with a special enzyme. Must order: linguine di grano arso, a briny tangle of manila clams, borlotti beans, Calabrian chile, bottarga and lemon zest. 223 E. Fourth Ave., San Mateo; (650) 375-0818. www.pausasanmateo.com
Sushi Yoshizumi. Place yourself in the hands of chef Akira “Yoshi’’ Yoshizumi at his omakase-only restaurant, where the menu changes daily, based on what’s available in season. Must order: Yohei Omakase, billed as the ultimate edomae sushi experience. 325 E. Fourth Ave., San Mateo; (650) 437-2282. www.sushiyoshizumi.com
Tacolicious. The Cal-Mex tacos are folded around abundant fillings in this light-filled space in the heart of Santana Row. Must order: Guaijillo-braised beef brisket taco. 300 Santana Row, San Jose; (415) 649-6077. www.tacolicious.com