Selby’s Sizzles — Even Before It Opens
You know a restaurant has got it going on when nearly all of its 48 main dining-room seats are already booked solid for the next two months and its private dining rooms already are sought after for Christmas soirees — and it hasn’t even opened its doors yet.
Such is the case of the hotly anticipated Selby’s in Redwood City on the edge of Atherton, which officially opens to the public on Tuesday, July 23 to serve dinner nightly.
It’s the latest project by the Bacchus Management Group, which also operates nearby Michelin-starred The Village Pub in Woodside, The Village Bakery & Cafe in Woodside, Pizza Antica in San Jose’s Santana Row, and Mayfield Bakery & Cafe in Palo Alto; as well as Michelin-starred Spruce, and The Saratoga, both in San Francisco.
The 10,000-square-foot property on El Camino Real has been various restaurants since 1938, most recently Chantilly’s. For more than a year, including four months of construction, the Bacchus Group labored to completely transform the interior into a sumptuous establishment, as I saw when I was invited in as a guest of a media preview dinner last week.
Dark emerald mohair covers the walls not only to add luxury, but act as a sound dampener. I dare you to not spend at least a few moments caressing the walls (yes, really) that feel like plush velvet to the touch. Real gold leaf glitters on the back wall of the bar, as well as the ceiling of the restrooms. There’s even a secret poker room upstairs that doubles as a private dining room.
Interior designer Stephen Brady, who has done all the Bacchus restaurants and formerly launched Williams-Sonoma Home, went all-out for old-school glamour that evokes the dining scene of the 1930s and 1940s.
The preview dinner began with glasses of Champagne, and noshes that included an outstanding tuna tartare accented with house-fermented chili sauce, atop buttered toast.
Bacchus Executive Chef Mark Sullivan and Chef de Cuisine Jason Pringle, formerly of the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, are on a mission to reboot continental cuisine to make it relevant again. That means table-side service, a wine cellar with upwards of 20,000 bottles, dry-aged meats (including a “40/40 Porterhouse that translates into 40 ounces aged 40 days for $165), hand-made pasta, and even a martini cart.
Yes, when you order a martini, bottles of gin and vodka are removed from the freezer and placed on a cart that rolls to your table. These martinis are not shaken over ice. Instead, they are poured straight into glasses, making them probably three times more potent than a regular martini since there is no dilution from the shaking over ice. So, do exercise caution. One may be all that you can take — and still walk a straight line afterward.
But when it comes to the burnished, just-out-of-the-oven, Gruyere popovers, you might be hard pressed to stop at just one. They are enormous and arrive warm as part of Selby’s gratis bread service. Tear into the crusty exterior to find the airy, nearly hollow cream-puff-like interior.
Dinner began lavishly with a generous quenelle of Keluga caviar crowning a cured Hokkaido scallop ($75). Or in my case, with lobster substituted owing to a newly diagnosed allergy to scallops (the tragedy!). With a mother of pearl spoon to scoop up the tiny charcoal-hued eggs in a velvety cream sauce, the dish set the tone for the posh experience to unfold.
Olivier’s Salad ($17) was originally created in 1870 at the Hermitage Hotel in Moscow. Nicely chilled, it’s a beautiful array of precisely cut cucumber, potato and beets with an upright soft-poached egg standing in the center, its top lopped off to reveal a deep orange yolk.
Butter — loads of it — starred in the Alaskan halibut ($41) with a tile-shaped fillet draped with crisp, thin potato “scales.” The moist, flaky fish lay atop Robuchon mashed potatoes that alone tasted like they contained an entire stick of butter. Red vermouth butter sauce finished the dish. Yup, more butter.
A Jiffy Pop-side of wild mushrooms en papillote ($21) was torn open at the table by the server to unleash the aroma of garlic and sherry.
A few of the dishes will be carved at the table, including a signature dry-aged roasted crown of duck for two ($98). The duck is dry-aged for 17 days, then marinated in lavender, cumin and caramelized honey. Sullivan said that he had seven chefs do tryouts for this restaurant. When Pringle came in and made this dish, Sullivan said he was practically hired on the spot. It’s definitely a showstopper dish — with the flesh cooked just through without being so rare that it borders on slimy as some chefs are wont to do, and the skin as crisp as can be with all the fat underneath rendered. Summer plums are macerated in Sauternes to provide the perfect sweet-tangy fruitiness for which duck just cries out.
Tokyo turnips and their greens ($15) in Meyer lemon butter arrive alongside in a little covered coquette, tasting so sweet.
Three-milk robiola ravioli ($19) is an appetizer on the menu. As dreamy as it is, you probably want to share this dish because it is super rich, not only with the creamy, nutty, slightly funky oozy cheese filling, but with the ample puddle of butter sauce that accompanies it loaded with a sharp hit of black pepper. A server grates more cheese on the dish at the table because resistance is simply futile.
At this point, you may be wondering how you can eat dessert. Don’t give it a second thought. Just suck it up and go for it because Executive Pastry Chef Janina O’Leary’s creations are worth loosening the belt for.
Old-fashioned cruellers with lemon-vanilla bean glaze ($12) boast the requisite twists that create all those great crisp edges. The doughnuts are light and airy, and thankfully not crazy sweet.
The Chocolate Midnight Cake ($13) is three deep, dark devil’s food cake layers interspersed with chocolate buttercream. The top is a smooth gloss of dark ganache with a glittering bit of gold leaf. A mound of salted caramel has a divot to hold fudge sauce. It’s a wicked good cake, all soft and sensuous. It’s even made with olive oil, so you can trick yourself into believing it’s healthy for you in order to finish every forkful without regret.
Tiny strawberry tarts and white peach-bellini bon bons arrive next, if you still have room for more chocolate.
The old Chantilly’s used to have a tradition of presenting a long-stemmed rose to each female diner at the end of the night. Because that is “The Bachelor”-like too cheesy and not very PC these days, Selby’s updates that practice by presenting each diner with a little box wrapped with a Tiffany-blue ribbon. Inside is a two-bite Bundt cake finished with a rosewater glaze. The cake stays plenty moist to enjoy the next morning. The rosewater is fairly imperceptible except for its faint pink color. But with such a strong-tasting ingredient, it’s best to err on that side rather than add so much as to make it overpowering.
Brady says he wanted to design a dining room that’s elegant and comfortable like being in someone’s house, where hours while away without notice.
He and the Bacchus group have certainly succeeded in designing just that feeling of warm, well-appointed opulence that makes leaving so hard. Now, all that’s needed is just a little luck and patience to get a reservation to get in when it opens. On a bright note, though, walk-ins are taken on a first-come, first-serve basis in the bar-lounge.
More: Dinner at The Saratoga
And: A Visit to Spruce