Chef Robert Sapirman has circled the Bay Area in the past year, only to wind up not too far from where he once was.
Bay Area foodies may remember him as the long-time head chef of Parcel 104 in Santa Clara. He departed that upscale restaurant in the Marriott Hotel to open Vesu in Walnut Creek, only to see that restaurant shutter a year later.
Now, for nearly six months, he’s been the executive chef of Citrus in the Hotel Valencia in San Jose’s Santana Row, just a few miles from – you guessed it — Parcel 104. The eight-year-old Hotel Valencia, known for years far more for its lively bar scene than its restaurant food, is in for a transformation. By the end of the year, not only will the lobby and other public areas of the hotel get a freshened look, but Citrus will debut a new concept. Sapirman, long known for his commitment to stellar ingredients, was brought in specifically to try to put Citrus on the map for discriminating foodies. Under his direction, expect the restaurant’s current steakhouse concept to give way to a more dynamic one of global tapas.
Recently, I had a chance to sit down with the 37-year-old, New Jersey-born and Fort Lauderdale-reared chef who now oversees the food for not only for Citrus, VBar, and Cielo wine bar, but banquets and room service for the 212-room hotel.
Q: Is your food here similar to what you were cooking at Parcel 104?
A: It’s similar in that it’s ingredient-driven. I try to seek out the best ingredients that I can. My passion now is global tapas. I did a little of that at lunch at Parcel 104 before I left. Vesu also was a great platform for that.
Q: Are you hoping to change the perception that the Hotel Valencia is all about the bar scene?
A: Absolutely. We have a handicap in Citrus in that we’re surrounded by other restaurants. We need to make you come up to the second floor here. Plus, the perception is that restaurants in hotels are not good. I know we struggled with that at the Marriott, too.
I hope to fill this 62-seat restaurant every night and to get people up here to love my food. That’s what every chef wants, right? I hope to make the restaurant as busy as the hotel is, so that when people call for a reservation, there won’t be any.
Q: How will you differentiate yourself from the other restaurants at Santana Row?