French Laundry alums to open Palo Alto restaurant


A former head sommelier and sous chef from three Michelin-starred The French Laundry in Yountville are opening a restaurant together on California Avenue in Palo Alto.

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 Protégé Restaurant at 260 California Ave., Kelly and the building owner confirmed.

Kelly declined to share any details about the restaurant concept, writing in an email that it "would be premature for us to comment without having received building and health permits."

Earlier this month, they submitted an application to the Palo Alto Planning Department for a conditional-use permit to sell alcohol at the full-service restaurant, as well as for architectural review of proposed outdoor seating in the public right-of-way, according to plans posted on the City of Palo Alto’s website. The Protégé team hopes to install outdoor gas heaters and moveable planter box barriers as well as relocate existing doors, according to the plans.

Studio KDA, a Berkeley-based architecture firm, will design the project, according to the plans.

Kelly and Secviar are opening Protégé in the ground-floor space of one of the California Avenue corridor's newer developments. 260 California Ave., a 26,000-square-feet, three-story building with office space on the second and third floors, was first approved in 2012.

The future home of Protégé Restaurant on California Avenue in Palo Alto. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Tableau Software moved into the office space after the building was completed in January 2015, and property owner Mark Conroe has been searching for the right restaurant to occupy the bottom floor ever since, he said in an interview Tuesday.

"260 (California Ave.) really was meant to be high-end, exciting, kind of cutting edge, one of the best buildings in Palo Alto," said Conroe, president and CEO of Presidio Development Partners. "Therefore, I wanted a restaurant to fit that image."

Conroe said he first sought out San Francisco Italian restaurant A16 — one of his favorite restaurants in the city — and actually signed a deal to bring them to Palo Alto, but it fell through after A16 opened a second outpost in Oakland and decided against any further expansion.

A deal with another possible tenant, an Italian restaurant in Mill Valley, also fell through, Conroe said. After, he reached out to about 100 San Francisco restaurants as well as several on the Peninsula before Kelly and Secviar came along. He’s been working with them now for about a year, he said.

Conroe described the Protégé Restaurant concept as "approachable fine dining"— not too expensive, and not as high-end as Kelly and Secviar’s former employer, nor anything like the Michelin-starred restaurant that happens to sit across the street.

"It's really kind of like you can go in there for a hamburger, but it's done at a very nice level," Conroe said.

Conroe also owns a recently revamped building at 341 California Ave., which was first home to Le Boulanger's unsuccessful spinoff concept Fire, Oak & Barley. iTalico, an Italian restaurant from the owners of Terún down the street, just opened in the space in July.

Palo Alto will be getting a pair of seasoned fine-dining professionals with Protégé. Kelly served as The French Laundry's head sommelier from 2005 to 2015, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was one of only four people to be granted a master sommelier diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2012. Today, there are only 147 professionals who have earned this title in the United States, according to the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Secviar worked as sous chef at The French Laundry from 2005 to 2011, when he left to become chef de cuisine at Addison, a San Diego fine-dining restaurant. Secviar is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, and went on to work at several well-regarded restaurants in Spain, according to a biography posted on Addison's website. He staged at the Michelin three-starred Akelarre and Michelin one-starred Kokotxa (both in San Sebastian), and also cooked at El Bulli, a restaurant in Spain with three Michelin stars.

While the opening timeline for Protégé is subject to Palo Alto’s infamous permitting process, Conroe said the restaurant should be open in early 2017. (The restaurant's website, however, advertises a late 2016 opening.)

"The knock against the Peninsula," Conroe said, "is you have to go to the city to do something that's kind of cutting edge. I think a lot of restaurants have proven that wrong in Palo Alto and Woodside and Menlo Park."

Here's hoping Protégé does as well.

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by midtown
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 25, 2016 at 6:30 pm

Protege sounds like a welcome addition to California Avenue, but I think that it will top-out the ability of California Avenue to support viable restaurants and restaurant parking. The "second downtown" of Palo Alto may soon consist of restaurants to the exclusion of other traditional business. Hey, I love to eat good food but I'm growing weary of colliding with eaters at sidewalk tables, turning sideways to get past, waiting for others to get by, dodging waiters, being buffeted by sound and music, and the whole "city" scene.So YES, a GOOD eatery will hopefully drive out the bad. California Avenue needs a fine restaurant that's not overpriced for the neighborhood.
Think about the marketing strategy for South Palo Alto.
We're not all high-income techies.
The first market at the Alma Street and East Meadow failed badly when they missed the market. They thought everyone could by $75 a pound imported cheese.
They were out of business in six months.
Let's hope that Protege doesn't miss the market. I'd enjoy a good place to meet and eat. A good place in which we can talk to our table-mates without overpowering music. A place where the waiters are REALLY waiters and if you come often they remember your preferences if nit your name even if the tip goes up.
I'm not talking about the neighborhood bar.
I'm talking about a place to bring guests and talk business when we can hear each other. I'm talking about a place where the acoustics let us get to know each other or talk over old times.
If you want a success, let us do business without the artificial music noise.
We who invest don't want another yuppies bar.
I hope someone listens for a change!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

If you do nothing else, do These Three Things
By Sherry Listgarten | 36 comments | 2,047 views

Lentil Brownies
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 480 views

Finding Balance
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 278 views


Vote now!

It's time once again to cast your vote for the best places to eat, drink, shop and spend time in Palo Alto. Voting is open now through May 27. Watch for the results of our 2019 Best Of contest on Friday, July 19.