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Publication Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Fabbro's closing; John Bentley's takes over Fabbro's closing; John Bentley's takes over (September 25, 2002)

By Jane Knoerle

Almanac Staff Writer

John Bentley's popular Woodside restaurant is moving to Redwood City. Chef-owner John Bentley has bought the Fabbro restaurant property at 2915 El Camino Real from the Fabbro family, which has operated the Italian family restaurant for three generations.

Fabbro's will close on Saturday, October 5, and John Bentley will take over November 1. After some cosmetic improvements and "re-building the bar," the new restaurant is scheduled to open in January. Meanwhile, Bentley's in Woodside will remain open until the first of the year.

Mr. Bentley says, "Although I absolutely adore the Gilberts (his Woodside landlords) -- they've been wonderful -- I knew I would never be able to own this property and I want my own space." He says he and his wife, Patti, thought long and hard about making such a big move.

"I only hope to do half as well with my name as the Fabbros have done with theirs in the community," says Mr. Bentley.

The new site will have seating for 100, plus seating for 20 in the bar. A private room upstairs seats 60. The Woodside restaurant seats 66, with less than 800 square feet of dining space.

Since it opened in a 1920s-era former firehouse seven years ago at 2991 Woodside Road, John Bentley's has become a destination restaurant noted for outstanding "New American" food and friendly service. Locals enjoyed the cozy atmosphere, and even asked to be seated in the "starlight room" -- actually an outdoor covered patio.

John Bentley's is noted for such entrees as broiled salmon with tarragon-port wine sauce, seared day boat scallops with purple mashed potatoes and saffron fume, and grilled double-cut pork chop with apricot-cherry chutney and garlic mashed potatoes.

Diners know to save room for such desserts as banana napoleon with chocolate and caramel sauce, apple tart with sun-dried cherry ice cream, and warm chocolate souffle cake with espresso anglaise.

Mr. Bentley was a first-in-his-class graduate of the California Culinary Academy some 20 years ago. He held numerous chef positions before opening his own place. He worked at Lipizzaner and the Clift Four Seasons Hotel, both in San Francisco, and was executive chef at Los Altos Bar and Grill for six years.

He hopes to move most of his staff to the new locale, but says that, with expenses tight, he'll be spending a lot more time in the kitchen.
End of an era

After nearly 70 years in the restaurant business, Fabbro's closes October 5. George and Mary Fabbro first opened a bar, then a cafe, in 1933. George Fabbro was well-known as a bootlegger and owner of a local speakeasy during the Prohibition years.

In the 1950s their son, Frank, took over and established the restaurant as one of the Peninsula's more popular dining spots.

Frank's son, Michael, became proprietor four years ago and brought in chef Marcos Belfiore in 2000.

In its heyday, the restaurant was a popular hangout for San Mateo County's judges and lawyers who worked at the courthouse, and it is still frequented by San Francisco 49ers.

"It's time to move on," says Michael Fabbro. "Maybe the days of a small family-run Italian restaurant are over."

He says he plans to do some traveling and is not ruling out getting back into the restaurant business, in perhaps Menlo Park or Redwood City, with Chef Belfiore.

For the holidays, Mr. Fabbro and Mr. Belfiore are building a client list for private parties, cooking classes and at-home dinner parties.


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