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John Gurnee, previously at Wayfare Tavern, joins LB Steak in Menlo Park

Uploaded: Oct 25, 2013
John Gurnee, previously chef de cuisine at Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco, is now heading the kitchen at LB Steak in Menlo Park.

The Sacramento-born chef said he's bringing a fresh perspective to LB Steak, with a focus on all things seasonal and sustainable.

"Obviously we have the steakhouse thing going on. So we're kind of leaving that alone, but incorporating a deeper understanding of freshness and market-driven vegetables in to the menu."

An example? One of Gurnee's favorites on the menu right now is an heirloom apple and chestnut soup, which comes with whipped crème fraîche, an olive oil poached apple and crispy Serrano ham. The soup is made from "cool, different apples" that a guy from San Mateo drops off at the restaurant, sometimes along with herbs and flowers.

Gurnee said the restaurant also sources much from local farms (including sturgeon from a friend's fresh water farm outside Sacramento, served grilled with a cauliflower puree, chanterelle mushrooms and brussel sprouts).

Though Gurnee was raised in Sacramento, the LB Steak position is a return to roots in a way, too. His father and uncles went to Menlo School and his grandmother lives in Los Altos.

He said he grew up watching his grandmother and mother cook and has worked in restaurants since he was 15 years old.

"Every other job I had in high school or college was in food service. It's that second family that you adopt working in a restaurant."

He went on to graduate with honors from the California Culinary Academy and worked at two San Francisco establishments – Jianna and Campton Place – before returning home to Sacramento, where he worked at Café Bernardo, Sammy Chu's, and Mason's.

In 2010, he opened his own spot, Kupros Craft House, a gastro pub in his hometown. The restaurant's slogan – "farm to fork with a state of great comfort" – reflects his approach at LB Steak as well.

Gurnee spent the last two and half years at Wayfare Tavern, celebrity chef Tyler Florence's flagship restaurant in San Francisco's Financial District. Though a good experience, he characterized his time there as busy ("it's one of the most booked restaurants on Open Table"), and said he was ready for a change of pace. He knew LB Steak's owners, Roland Passot and Ed Levine, previously. They "tapped (him) on the shoulder, so to speak."

Gurnee is also incredibly active on social media; his Instagrams are drool-worthy. Eat your eyes out and follow him at @johngurnee.

LB Steak: 898 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park. 650- 321-8980

Comments

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Oct 25, 2013 at 9:14 pm

I hope he improves this place. We were very disappointed when we ate there. Meat was ok and sides were bathed in salt. Basically the food was mediocre. Not close to what they were charging for it.


Posted by Better choice, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Oct 26, 2013 at 5:17 am

I think owner/chef should really consider moving away from the "steakhouse" angle. Outdated, stodgy notion and not the right choice for menlo park. A more casual tavern-type approach is a far better option. Wayfare is great but just a little to formal for MP, in my view. Couples and families should feel more comfortable going to the place. If you nail the format in that location, you will have a major hit on your hands. The best approach, by far, is a much more family oriented place generally but if that is not of interest, take it one notch up. You should change the name as perceptions are hard to change. Good luck.


Posted by Peter Russell, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Oct 26, 2013 at 6:09 am

I had dinner there last night and the foods and service were excellent. In addition, the restaurant was bustling. When the establishment first opened, it was less than stellar. Over the last several months, LB Steak has greatly improved and I am at least a once per month customer. The foods are seasonal, there are numerous fish and shellfish options and open table rankings have greatly improved. This establishment is adding life to Menlo Park's sleepy downtown which well help contribute to less vacant retail and less thrift stores. The buzz is very positive and our family are proud to be appreciated customers.


Posted by Elena Kadvany, a resident of another community,
on Oct 26, 2013 at 8:17 am

Menlo Voter, Better Choice: I think Peter Russell gave you your answer! I haven't eaten at LB Steak (definitely shrugged it off as a stuffy steakhouse non-addition to downtown MP when it opened) so I can't properly judge, but from talking to Gurnee yesterday it sounds like he's really turning things around there. He's leaving the steak stuff alone, because that's in their name, but I really don't think it's going to be the restaurant specialty anymore (was it really ever?). Menlo Park is really lucky to have him; LB Steak could turn into a great neighborhood spot with him at the helm (though it's a bit pricey to really be one).


Posted by Better, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Change the name, make it family oriented and avoid the heavy-saucy approach to food. Out of place in Menlo. We hear zero buzz about the place and don't know anyone who has been there. Re-open under a new name, lighter fare, family friendly. Winner. Seems like a good chef so leverage his talent into a winner.


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