French Evolution: La Foret Returns
Local Favorite La Forêt Restaurant Reopens Blending Vintage and Nouveau
Located along a serene creek in the quaint community of New Almaden, La Forêt served as a favorite destination for fine French dining in the south San Francisco Bay Area for nearly 40 years, until the longtime chef and owner closed the restaurant in early 2017. Under enthusiastic new ownership by a pair of brothers and experienced restaurateurs, Giuseppe and Maurice Carrubba, the romantic fine-dining restaurant now stands to provide longtime regulars and a new generation of guests with many more years of memorable meals.
Housed in a historic building, La Forêt’s past is deeply connected to the surrounding community. Just prior to the height of the gold rush, a small village of miners was established around the New Almaden quicksilver mine, which is the oldest and most productive quicksilver mine in the United States. The building, California’s first two-story hotel, was constructed in 1848 and served as a boarding house for the quicksilver miners. The boarding house operated through the 1930s when it closed and became Café Del Rio, which was a popular dining spot for the next nearly 40 years.
In 1978 John Davoudi purchased the building and opened La Forêt, named for the lush forests in the surrounding area. John began his role at La Forêt as the manager, but under the tutelage of the restaurant’s two French chefs he mastered the elements of classical French cuisine, particularly fine sauces, and eventually assumed the role as executive chef. As chef, John took pride in only using the highest-quality ingredients. The menu featured fine meats and fish served in the style of classical French cuisine. Wild game specials, such as elk, became a renowned mainstay on the dinner menu, as did the Grand Marnier souffle on the dessert menu. La Forêt quickly gained local recognition for its exceptional food and fine dining experience, making the restaurant a local favorite for celebrating special occasions.
Hampered by a back injury, John decided to retire and close the beloved restaurant in 2017. Upon hearing of the restaurant’s pending closure, countless longtime guests approached John encouraging him to find new owners who would maintain the restaurant’s storied legacy. Enter Maurice and Giuseppe Carrubba.
The Carrubba brothers have been involved with the restaurant industry since they were teenagers, building experience in their family’s Bay Area restaurants. They now own several restaurants including Osteria Toscana in Palo Alto, San Benito House in Half Moon Bay, Mount Hamilton Grandview in San Jose and most recently La Forêt. As their restaurant business grew, the brothers developed a passion for restoring and reviving historic restaurants. Maurice describes himself as the brother involved with the creative aspects of the restaurants, including the menu and decor. Giuseppe leads the operational duties. With the Mount Hamilton Grandview, the pair spent seven months renovating the historic restaurant and developing nearby land into a farm to create a seed-to-table relationship with the farm and restaurant.
Maurice was not familiar with La Forêt prior to the restaurant’s sale. He learned about the restaurant’s pending closure from a concerned friend and longtime guest of La Forêt. The friend put Maurice and Giuseppe in contact with John to discuss the details of purchasing the restaurant. From the get go, both parties say they could tell the relationship was the right fit. The brothers shared their vision for the restaurant’s revival with John. Similar to their reopening of Mount Hamilton Grandview, they wanted to build on the traditions of excellence that had been established and bring a modern twist to the menu and atmosphere. John and longtime La Forêt guests visited the Carrubbas’ current restaurants to vet them and came away with the confidence that Maurice and Giuseppe had the right experience, and heart, to be the new owners.
Maurice took several months to give the historic building a makeover, with slight renovations made to the dining rooms and entrance. During his renovations, he found several menus from the original Café Del Rio, which now serve as decor. In addition to an elegantly renovated bar and reception area, Maurice and his team developed a craft cocktail program and spruced up the current wine list with European varietals. A newly installed tap system for wines by the glass allows them to offer premium wine selections such as Stags’ Leap and Caymus Vineyards by the glass.
Perhaps the most delicate part of the transition was developing the menu and taking care to honor the dishes that built the restaurant’s reputation. Maurice and Giuseppe tapped their longtime restaurant consultant, David Page, to lead the menu development. They kept the majority of the kitchen staff who have more than 30 years of valuable experience preparing La Forêt’s sauces and dishes. Page, who had been a longtime guest of the restaurant, explained they are modernizing aspects of the classically French menu, but want to be respectful to those who have been loyal customers to the restaurant for so long. New additions to the menu are based on the success of weekly specials such as a bone-in veal chop with a foie gras and porcini mushroom butter. The team says they are still working to find the perfect balance of classic favorites and new dishes for the menu.
When John opened the restaurant in the ’70s, local sourcing was just blossoming as a culinary trend. Under the Carrubbas, the menu is centered around using the best possible ingredients available. They’ve added Grandview Farms and local produce purveyors to the list of vendors supplying the restaurant. Grandview Farms provides lettuces and herbs, fresh eggs for soufflés and handmade pasta and grass-fed beef from a herd of cattle they raise on Mount Hamilton.
La Forêt reopened on October 19, 2017, and the new owners say they feel blessed to be apart of such a celebrated restaurant that is a special place to so many. “You can feel it when you walk through the doors, it is a blessing for us to be able to get introduced to this place,” said Maurice. His brother added that owning historical restaurants such as Mount Hamilton Grandview and La Forêt is much more than a business. “You’re kind of buying into relationships—buying is almost the wrong word—you’re getting something that is more than a business. You’re carrying the torch for years and years of relationships and connections.”