The posh locale brings speakeasy vibes to Northern California’s Atherton, also known as the country’s wealthiest city
Words by GEMMA ZOE PRICE
Cued by its historic 1930s setting, Silicon Valley’s new Michelin-aspiring restaurant Selby’s breathes new life into the glitz of speakeasy and supper club imbibing and dining, serving classic staples of post-World War II, Euro-centric menus (think oysters Rockefeller, lobster thermidor) with contemporary twists.
The expansive restaurant also has a role beyond satiating hunger: It’s been meticulously designed by Stephen Brady, formerly of Ralph Lauren and Williams Sonoma, as an all-occasion hangout for Atherton, situated 45 minutes south of San Francisco and within 20 minutes of Google, Apple, Facebook and Tesla. The building itself has been owned by the Franceschini family since one of their patriarchs opened Johnny’s there in 1938; later, it became home to Barbarossa, then Chantilly, which closed in 1974.
“Every community needs a clubhouse,” says Tim Stannard, CEO of Bacchus Management Group, which runs Selby’s alongside neighborhood gems The Village Pub in nearby Woodside and Michelin-starred Spruce in San Francisco’s Presidio Heights. “It’s great for communities to have that go-to place, and Atherton hasn’t had that for a very long time.”
A floating modernist geometric light sculpture by metalworker-designer Magnus Schevene floats below 40-foot-high ceilings, bathing tables and saddle tan leather chairs in a diffused amber glow, amplified by complementary polished brass sconces mounted on sleek, all-black paneling and dark green mohair walls.
Next to the welcome foyer, a 20-foot brass and crystal chandelier — another bespoke creation by Schevene — hangs over an elliptical white marble staircase which unwinds between gray, hand-waxed Venetian plaster walls to the second floor and a mezzanine lounge and balcony seating, two private 30-seat dining rooms and a smaller salon perfect for an intimate dinner. Or, a card game. A 60-inch round marble table and credenza for a wet bar of rare whiskies have been installed, all surfaces chosen to minimize reflections, with chips and a dealer available on request.
“Poker is popular within the local community, apparently,” Stannard says. “We might plan a card game for charity.” It’s likely the stakes will be high, as Atherton has topped Bloomberg’s annual index of America’s richest towns for the third consecutive year, reporting an average income of $450,696 for 2017.
As the influx of Silicon Valley wealth has jacked up land prices and local stores and eateries have been replaced by private equity firms and supercar dealerships, the Franceschini family members have been steadfast that this building remain a restaurant to serve local residents, past and present. Much in the same way Clark Gable and Eva Gardner might have dropped into Chasen’s or Romanoffs, walk-ins at Selby’s might include tech celebs such as Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg or former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
Much in the same way Clark Gable and Eva Gardner might have dropped into Chasen’s or Romanoffs, walk-ins at Selby’s might include tech celebs
The cozy bar, doubled in size to accommodate 48 guests, is a destination in itself. The bar back’s three, gold-leaf-inlaid glowing arches are a siren song for lovers of rare whiskies and bourbon; photos of Audrey Hepburn and Truman Capote from Brady and Stannard’s private personal collections form part of an amassing of more than 100 custom contemporary and vintage artworks — 1960s abstract expressionist pieces, intimate early 20th century sketches by Jack Freeman — extended throughout the restaurant.
The roving brass martini cart is another image plucked from a bygone era. Order a Vesper, which the menu bills as one of the “coldest on the West Coast” and is shaken tableside using Wheatley vodka and Beefeater gin chilled to minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dishes on Executive Chef Mark Sullivan’s menu are inspired by his deep dive into 1940s New York Times recipes and the cookbooks of Julia Child and James Beard, but with modern updates. The rabbit vol au vent is presented as a twist on a rabbit potpie and includes the saddle, loin and rack with Allemande sauce and peas and carrots.
The chef’s reinterpretation of veal marsala — traditionally floured or breaded, fried and served with a syrupy marsala wine reduction — is bone-in, French veal rib (flown in weekly), served with morel mushrooms foraged from Oregon and cooked lightly in butter with shallots and a light sauce.
Stannard says Sullivan, who opened The Village Pub 18 years ago and is now Stannard’s business partner, is cooking on the line alongside chef de cuisine Jason Pringle at Selby’s every night. “He’s usually pretty happy, but this is the happiest I’ve seen him in a long time,” Stannard adds.
3001 El Camino Real, Atherton, 650-546-7700.
Feature image: The walls at SELBY’S feature 100-plus custom contemporary and vintage artworks.
Aug. 19, 2019