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Sekoya Lounge & Kitchen.
Sekoya Lounge & Kitchen brings a wide array of bombastic food and craft cocktails to California Avenue.
Hardy Wilson

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Sekoya Opens on California Avenue With Lamb Tartare and Chicken Liver Mousse Doughnuts

Steve Ugur, co-owner of San Mateo’s Pausa, hopes his new Palo Alto restaurant and cocktail destination makes a splash in Silicon Valley

Paolo Bicchieri is a reporter at Eater SF writing about Bay Area restaurant and bar trends, coffee and cafes, and pop-ups.

A moody yet vibrant restaurant debuts today in Palo Alto with hopes of earning both top-tier accolades and cred from neighbors. Sekoya Lounge & Kitchen opens for business on Tuesday, August 15, making it both the latest addition to the California Avenue corridor and a much-needed late-night restaurant option in the area.

Sekoya is the newest restaurant from Steve Ugur, the co-owner of San Mateo’s Pausa, and he’s running this restaurant alongside his uncle Sean Ugur, a restaurateur in his own right who was a part-owner of Cafe Pro Bono just a few blocks away on Birch Street for 18 years. With luxurious dishes such as chicken liver mousse served with savory doughnuts, gorgeous drinks, and an overarching tree theme running throughout, the new restaurant has Ugur feeling confident about the future. “A Michelin Bib, definitely,” Steve Ugur says. “If we got a star it would be completely on accident since we have a smash burger on the menu. We want to be an approachable spot.”

Sekoya Lounge & Kitchen. Hardy Wilson
Sekoya Lounge & Kitchen. Hardy Wilson

The menu comes from chef Jason Johnson. French and Mediterranean food is the main attraction, but Johnson’s menu pulls from many cuisines. A binchotan grill, for instance, is set up in the kitchen and is a highlight for Steve given his experience and love of meat preparation — the skewers on the menu, such as the beef tongue, benefit from smoke-infused flavor. The restaurant’s lamb tartare is nutty and creamy, served alongside snappy lavash crackers. The sea bream, meanwhile, is deboned, lathered in brown butter, and butterflied with the head on, kept intact for serving. He says only he and one other Londoner chef — whom he wouldn’t reveal — are the only two deboning fish in this specific way. “That’s a secret,” Johnson says.

Erik Rivera, formerly of San Jose’s Dry Creek Grill, nabbed the bar manager role and wants Sekoya to be as much a drink destination as Trick Dog is in San Francisco. The cocktail program features tiny, edible pinecone garnishes, plus syrups and bases made of components such as spirulina algae to create a cerulean blue color. There’s also a heavy focus on upcycling and dehydrating ingredients for inclusion in drinks, such as strawberries reimagined in the style of a Fruit Roll-Up, then used as a garnish. All the drinks, with the exception of the rotating slushie and milk punch options, are named after California mountain passes. The Little Pigeon is a bright nonalcoholic riff on a paloma. A high-elevation wine list, with grapes from both Europe and California, comes directly from Steve for the terroir heads out there.

Sekoya Lounge & Kitchen. Hardy Wilson
Sekoya Lounge & Kitchen. Hardy Wilson
Sekoya Lounge & Kitchen. Hardy Wilson

The restaurant is sprawling and versatile with Venetian plaster and archways giving a classic, elegant feeling to the space. Moroccan-style rugs lie beneath colorful lounge seating, creating a casual cocktail bar atmosphere for happy hour meet-ups. Each table in the restaurant highlights a different tree; there are English elm tables in the center of the lounge area, with warm walnut-topped tables on either end. For a fancier experience, guests can sit at the tremendous all-wood tables in the back or front, the latter of which is a gorgeous tree trunk shaped by Nashville furniture maker Sawdust & Whiskey.

Regardless of the upscale cuisine and design, Steve wants to make sure guests don’t see the restaurant as pretentious or inaccessible. As of August 25, the restaurant will be open 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays, what the team calls “Friday all day” as they serve the dinner menu all day long, aiming to attract the work-from-home crowd. Down the road, the team is excited to start dry-aging, too, which is front and center at Pausa. In Steve’s mind, the restaurant and bar will become a true neighborhood place. “We want guests to enjoy,” Steve says, “and indulge.”

Sekoya Lounge & Kitchen (417 California Avenue, Palo Alto) is open from 4 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, from 4 to 11 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, and from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday. Reservations can be made through OpenTable with seats available for walk-ins, as well.

Sekoya Lounge & Kitchen

417 California Avenue, Palo Alto, California 94306 Visit Website
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