Food & Wine

Selby’s Amps Up Continental Cuisine

By Carolyn Jung

Restaurateur Tim Stannard envisioned modern-day Hollywood glamour. “We wondered what it would look like if you came in and saw Cary Grant.”

When Tim Stannard stepped inside the ivy-covered Redwood City building that’s housed a host of restaurants over 81 years, he was greeted by a dated chintz interior, a throwback to a long-gone era of continental dining. But as the Bacchus Management Group founder peered closer, what began to reveal itself to him was a different age reimagined all together, one he hoped could propel this space to newfound glory.

“This may sound cheesy, but when you walk into a new project and stand inside, it tells you what it wants to be,” he says. “This place had an old classic feel, as if you’d just walked into a Thin Man movie. We wondered what it would look like if you came in and saw Cary Grant. What would you be eating and drinking? And how do you take that feeling and make it authentic to today?”

The vision that beckoned was Selby’s. The swank restaurant, which opened in late July on the edge of Atherton, recalibrates continental cuisine with contemporary flair and modern-day Hollywood glamour. Named for a nearby tree-lined street, it’s by the same restaurant group behind the Village Pub in Woodside and Spruce in San Francisco. Like its fine-dining brethren, Selby’s, too, is aiming for similar Michelin-star status, along with a potential Wine Spectator Grand Award. Indeed, Selby’s boasts a wine selection of 4,000 labels, which Stannard touts as one of the largest opening wine lists in the country.

During four months of construction, the interior was gutted, then gilded. Gold-leaf ornaments the bar back arches as well as restroom ceilings. Gold also accents the matchbook covers — yes, matchbooks. Walls are cloaked in plush dark-green mohair. Carrara marble graces the bar top, a new sculptural elliptical staircase and a roundtable in the upstairs poker room – one of four private dining rooms — accessible by a back staircase for those who want to shuffle cards discreetly.

Local artist Magnus Schevene, who designed the dramatic cascading chandelier at Bacchus’ Saratoga in San Francisco, outfitted Selby’s with two creations: a 20-foot-long polished brass-and-crystal chandelier that dips into the stairwell, and a 200-pound dining room fixture that’s all geometric angles.

Six table side carts roll through the upstairs and downstairs dining areas, including one that delivers “the coldest martini in the West” with frozen bottles of gin, vermouth and vodka. The carts added a logistical component to the menu, which is completely à la carte. “It’s an added challenge,” says Executive Chef Mark Sullivan. “But there’s something very authentic about it. It makes for a deeper and richer experience.”

A spice-crusted crown of duck for two is a signature. Dry-aged on the bone for three weeks, it arrives cloche-covered, then is carved table-side. It’s a more compelling duck à l’orange for a new generation. “There’s a movement today in which chefs think they can’t do what’s already been done,” Sullivan says. “I want to do what was done and turn it through a different lens.”

That means piccata with a classic lemon, butter and caper sauce adorning sweetbreads; and duck-egg noodles and robiola cheese ravioli, rolled and cut just before service for maximum suppleness. Prime beef, dry-aged 21 to 28 days by specialty purveyor Flannery, shines in a porterhouse and a 22-ounce cowboy steak. Flannery also created the coarsely ground custom blend of prime New York steak, short rib and brisket for the Black Label burger that’s lavishly garnished with Epoisses and black truffles.

Desserts get the star-cart treatment, too, with a flambéed baked Alaska that was test-driven at the Village Pub before becoming exclusive to Selby’s. Executive Pastry Chef Janina O’Leary ups the flames with cherries jubilee and bananas Foster, spooned atop cheesecake or chocolate crémeux. Bread doesn’t get short shrift, either, not with baked-to-order popovers.

Stannard didn’t go looking for Selby’s; it came looking for him, when the Paolino family, who purchased the property in 1938, reached out after Chantilly restaurant closed there. “We had just finished the Saratoga and the Village Bakery & Café. We weren’t looking for a new project,” he says.“But there are some things you just don’t say no to.”

Not a wedge salad. Iceberg, cut into slabs instead, is lightly brined and then dressed with oven-dried tomatoes, cider vinaigrette, blue cheese dressing and farm-fresh eggs.

Fun Facts

Gold-flecked desserts.“I joke that I always have gold leaf in my bag, so we will have some gold-leaf desserts,” says Executive Pastry Chef Janina O’Leary. “I can’t have the ambiance show me up.”

Most expensive bottle of wine. 2009 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti ($20,000)

Art to spot. A rare photo of an 18-year-old Audrey Hepburn, one of her first commercial images.

Selby’s 3001 El Camino Real, Redwood City; 650-546-7700; selbysrestaurant.com

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