Foodanthropy has arrived in Palo Alto.
It's not some trendy new hybrid dessert, but rather, the marriage of two worlds -- food and philanthropy -- in an unusual new downtown restaurant.
alkymists is the brain child of Thierry Fassiotti, a native of France with a still-strong accent and a different view of the world. alkymists is not only a restaurant, but also a place where he will host free monthly brunches for low-income, battered or homeless women and their children. He plans to teach them about nutrition and how to eat healthily on a budget, and hopes to partner with local organizations to do so.
The kitchen will be serving up world fusion food, and will also serve as a space for the alkymists "culinary program" -- cooking classes and internships for these women to provide them with experience and references to help them get jobs.
Restaurant staff have been hired not on the quality of their resumes (whenever someone comes in for an interview, Fassiotti puts the resume aside and simply has a conversation with them) but rather, on personal connections.
"If you believe that hospitality and philanthropy can be one, then let's talk," Fassiotti said he tells applicants.
Fassiotti was brought in by Palo Alto Grill owner Luka Dvornik to flip the space at 140 University Ave., and took the opportunity to launch a deeply personal project. The restaurant officially opened for business this Wednesday.
Fassiotti was born in France to a father from North Africa and mother from Seville (hence the world fusion concept). During Fassiotti's childhood, the family operated a hotel restaurant/bar.
"I grew up in this business," he said. "My parents were very generous philanthropists. They helped a lot of low-income families find jobs through our business, so I'm doing exactly the same."
Fassiotti said his life's work has been dedicated to food and philanthropy. He managed restaurants in Paris, and after moving to Los Angeles, worked at Wolfgang Puck's foodie haven Chinois on Main and at Mario Batali's Osteria Mozza, among other prime establishments. Philanthropic organizations he has supported in the past include Restaurants du Coeur (Restaurants of the Heart) in France, which feeds low-income and homeless people; Meals on Wheels; 1736 Family Crisis Center in Los Angeles and Save the Children. Fassiotti also said he himself was homeless for a year in Paris.
At alkymists, Fasiotti has honored the first philanthropic organization he ever worked for -- called Dragonfly -- with a small dragonfly icon that appears throughout the restaurant: on table corners, walls, the bar and the top of each menu.
As a women-centered philanthropy, alkymists is also a tribute to Fassiotti's late mother, he said. The name is his take on "al ci mi" (pronounced "alchemy"), which means "her near me" in Esperanto. In the women's bathroom at alkymists, you'll find 30 photographs -- portraits of women from around the world -- wrapping around the walls. The men's bathroom did not get the same attention.
Fassiotti has brought in Jared Combs, a 33-year-old Los Angeles native and Le Cordon Bleu graduate, to head the kitchen. He's cooking up an enormous range of food, from pork belly tacos with curried corn and fried pork manchego dumplings to pizza, sandwiches and short ribs. Pita bread is baked in house (as all bread will be), and served with pistachio baked bean hummus, roasted bell pepper romesco and olive tapenade.
The 100-seat dining room has been redone, by Fassiotti and staff themselves, to do away with what he called the "masculine" color scheme and feel of Palo Alto Grill. The walls are now a deep terracotta red. The lighting has been softened. Fasiotti has also added a large communal table and "lounge" area where diners can peruse books or sit and chat while waiting to be seated.
The bar top is stamped with Fassiotti's own blueprint-like sketches of place settings. With Palo Alto Grill's full liquor license, Fassiotti is experimenting with liquor-and-herb mixtures, stored in large glass jars on shelves behind the bar. Each mixture has been assigned a number, based on the number of ingredients inside, which will correlate to the "number nine," for example, on the cocktail menu. At a soft opening last week, bar manager Kelly Boisvert (a holdover from Palo Alto Grill) was serving bourbon with orange peel, black pepper and clove; vodka with mint, lavender and basil; and rum with sage, rosemary and coriander. (Warning: Ordering these mixtures straight-up or on the rocks is not for lightweights.)
"Our glory is going to be our cocktails," Boisvert said, but they'll also have six types of beers from Schubros Brewery in San Ramon and a range of wines, also from a single winery. (They're waiting to sample wines sent over from a South African winery that is run exclusively by women.)
140 University Ave., Palo Alto
Dinner: Sunday to Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m.
Weekend brunch: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.