Features & Columns

Maurice Carrubba Reinvents the Valley's Iconic Eateries

Maurice Carrubba takes the Warren Buffett approach to
resurrecting legacy brands and making them new again

Maurice Carrubba | Allset | Michael Mina's Tailgate | Nobu

Maurice Carrubba and his brother, Giuseppe, have reinvented Grandview Restaurant into a topflight venue and steakhouse. Photo by Greg Ramar

Maurice Carrubba checks his fitted black tuxedo one last time before the doors of the GrandView Restaurant swing open. He glides through the dimly lit foyer as a grand piano in the corner plays "Hotel California," and he stops to speak with a hostess in a natty blue dress, before leaning over the polished wooden bar behind her to greet the barkeep with a tap on the shoulder and a few words of encouragement. He continues on his route. Moving through the restaurant, whose walls are lined with portraits of old-time Hollywood stars such as Sofia Loren, Sinatra and The Rat Pack, the affable Carrubba makes sure to greet every employee by name and with a handshake. After a quick check of the kitchen and its staff, he makes his way to the patio and its sweeping views of Silicon Valley. The sun is just beginning to set, and Carrubba has barely had a moment to soak in the view from Mount Hamilton. But then a stray napkin in an otherwise flawless flower bed catches his eye, and then a rogue out-of-place chair. He finishes his nightly check and breathes a momentary sigh of relief. This too is short lived. The wine cellar surely will not organize itself.

Make It New
Maurice Carrubba and his brother, Giuseppe, are perhaps the most successful restaurateurs much of the Bay Area has never heard of. This is probably because their specialty isn't opening up trendy joints, but rather in taking old classics that have seemingly been around forever and reenergizing them. Established brands have recognition, history and soul, commodities in short supply in the new, new, new of Silicon Valley.

It's a tricky balancing act, as institutions become exactly that thanks to a loyal set of regulars who can become irritated at even the slightest change. Inevitably, however, changes must be made to spur new clientele. The Carrubbas' secret?

"Staff retention is key," Maurice says. "We always make sure to keep the chefs and also only add subtle changes to the menu. We like to keep 80 percent of the menu intact, if possible."

In the last seven years, the Carrubba brothers have acquired four vintage Silicon Valley restaurants: San Benito House in Half Moon Bay, which they bought from their father; The GrandView in San Jose; Osteria in Palo Alto; and La ForÍt, their newest acquisition, which can be found deep in New Almaden on the southeast corner of Quicksilver Park. Similar to the way Warren Buffett has acquired recognizable brands, each of the Carrubbas' restaurants are familiar and hold an element of timelessness. While Maurice seems content with his four gems and has no plans on any new acquisitions, he confesses, "I like to find them and they like to find me."

Grandview Restaurant's interior includes Old Hollywood and rustic themes—but the patio view from Mount Hamilton remains unmatched. Photo by Greg Ramar

The Carrubbas' father, Franco, originally purchased San Benito House in 2007. Built in 1905 as a hotel with one of the first watering holes on the West Coast, the unofficial motto of the bar is "Eat. Drink. Crash." The creed is understandable, as San Benito House has 12 available rooms for overnight, 18 rotating craft beers on tap, a whiskey list and a barbecue menu that features specialties such as the pulled pork quesadilla. There's also a 100-year-old Old World bread recipe that makes for some killer sandwiches in the adjoining deli.

Osteria, on the other hand, is a Tuscan original in downtown Palo Alto that has served the community for more than 30 years. Located in the bottom floor of the Cardinal Hotel, the restaurant is a perfect fit for a family with deep Italian roots. Their carpaccio appetizer and any of their veal dishes should be listed on every check.

La Forêt, an historic two-story hotel built in 1848 in New Almaden, was the first of its kind in California. The original chefs of the accompanying French restaurant, now in its 38th year, were retained after the Carrubbas' purchase, as was most of the menu—including their famous Grand Marnier Soufflé. La Forêt also stands apart, thanks to the wild game found on its tasting menu. After buying the restaurant in June and spending the summer to complete renovations, a grand opening is slated for this week.

As for the GrandView Restaurant in San Jose's east foothills, the old roadhouse built in 1884 has long been known more for its views than its cuisine. After acquiring the property in 2015, the Carrubba brothers kept the bones but gutted the exterior and interior, turning the restaurant into a fine-dining establishment with an old Hollywood vibe that now offers daily live music, a top-notch bar, an expansive wine list and a much-improved menu that features in-house dry-aged steaks, house-made pastas and farm-to-table sourcing. On a recent tour of the restaurant and neighboring farm, which is where Grandview gets all of its produce, fruit and eggs, executive chef Miguel Velasquez recommends the Tomahawk Steak, while Maurice suggests a more family-style approach when ordering at the Grandview.

"There's no one thing that you would order," he says. "It's like how many things are you gonna order?" When pressed further for a favorite, Maurice relents and says it might be the Lobster Carbonara.

Meanwhile, Enrique Matias runs the bar program, and he's created a specialty craft cocktail called the Génépi, which changes weekly depending on the fruits available at the nearby farm.

The Carrubbas' motto for fresh and local doesn't get much closer than Grandview's setup. Photo by Greg Ramar

Of all the improvements, however, it's the restaurant's namesake that continues to give GrandView an unparalleled draw. Spectacular sunsets, starry night skies and the lights of the Bay Area's largest city can be seen from every table. Few things beat a great view, but an amazing view and excellent food and drinks are an unmatched one-two punch.

Old School
Born and raised in Sicily until the age of 8, Maurice's family has been in the restaurant business since he can remember. He worked in many of his family's establishments across Europe, as well as on a restaurant project with Jonathan Robinette, the former director of the California Culinary Academy. But the best education Maurice ever received, he says, came from working in his mother and grandmother's kitchens. "That's some real old-school training," he says with a wry smile.

The lessons continue, though, as the family's newest enterprise—GrandView Farms—was launched two years ago just a stone's throw from the restaurant. While other places tout farm-to-table, Maurice calls GrandView's program "seed-to-table."

The impressive 60-acre ranch, which sprang up virtually overnight, grows 50-60 percent of GrandView's produce and meat, while also supplying a small percentage of Osteria's as well. The farm features: chickens to supply eggs for fresh pasta and baked goods; citrus and stone fruit orchard; vegetables such as tomatoes, beets and carrots; greenhouses for herbs; and they even have their own herd of Black Angus cattle. Maurice estimates that within the next two to three years the farm will supply 100 percent of the four restaurants' food. The plan is to also start producing their own wine in the next four to five years.

None of this is to suggest there haven't been difficulties, as trial and error come to be a farmer's most trusted friend. The Carrubbas have become experts on the soil and climate, due to the higher elevation. Last winter's heavy rains actually hurt in some ways, but they did benefit on-site wells. This past year the farm harvested 7,000 pounds of tomatoes, and by next year, Maurice estimates, that number will be closer to 10,000. The high cost of farming has come with peace of mind.

"You get to put something out on a plate that you would serve your family," Maurice says.

One can't help but walk away from GrandView estates impressed, not just as a foodie but as someone who also cares for the local environment. The Carrubbas have taken "locally-sourced" and environmental stewardship to a higher plane, as all of their vegetables are grown sans pesticides to allow customers to eat "clean and green." And in the process, they have resurrected historic venues while preserving them for future generations.

"When you think about it, we have acquired these staple old landmarks and we just want to continue the tradition," Maurice says. "More than anything, I want to share these places with people."

Osteria
247 Hamilton Ave, Palo Alto. 650.328.5700
The Grandview Restaurant
15005 Mount Hamilton Rd, San Jose. 408.251.8909
La Foret
21747 Bertram Rd, San Jose. 408.997.3458
San Benito House
356 Main St, Half Moon Bay. 650.726.3425