At the recently opened The Courthouse 2021 restaurant in downtown Redwood City, it pays to be a regular. That’s because loyal customers receive an exclusive black stainless steel VIP card. Think of it as the equivalent of an Amex Black Card—minus the annual fee. Instead, the coveted card affords patrons such perks as preferential reservations for regular dining, as well as for special wine or cigar dinners. There’s also complimentary tastes of high-end wines, along with membership in a wine club that allows the purchase of bottles at cost, plus 10 percent.
But diners can’t get one just by buttering up a server. The cards can be issued only by one of the owners, the director of operations or the chef. “We want to go the extra step to make people feel more special,” explains executive consulting chef Munther Massarweh about rewarding devoted locals. It’s just one way The Courthouse 2021—so named because it is steps from the historic domed county courthouse building—aims to distinguish itself. Word appears to be spreading fast, what with 16 private parties booked the week before it even bowed in late April.
The upscale restaurant, which features prime steaks, seafood and an array of 21 appetizers, was opened in part by Maher Fakhouri, co-founder of the Bay Area’s Crepevine restaurants, who also co-owned Mandaloun, the former restaurant on this site. His partners, who also worked with him on Mandaloun, are Mark Khoury, an IT consultant whose father owned a Mediterranean cafe in San Francisco; and Fadi Hanani, an IT services manager at Cisco. They join a growing list of Silicon Valley tech people who are not only investing in new restaurants, but actually taking a hands-on approach to running them. “In the tech industry, there’s only so much you can grow, so you try to be as entrepreneurial as possible,” Hanani says. “There is so much stress in IT. This is such a relief to that. The first time I opened a restaurant, there were a lot of challenges. But it was really rewarding too.”
If restaurateur and IT specialist weren’t enough, Hanani also has carved out a third career—as an Arabic singer for weddings and other private events. Although he was prompted in 2010 to open his first restaurant, Sahaara Mediterranean Cuisine in Burlingame, as a venue to showcase his showmanship, he has no plans to croon at his newest establishment. He’s leaving the entertainment to local jazz bands instead.
Designer Michael Brennan, who made a name for himself working for legendary San Francisco restaurant designer Pat Kuleto, redid The Courthouse 2021’s 66-seat interior to evoke an old-world law library, with stone archways, leather- paneled walls, a wood-plank ceiling and a wrought-iron chandelier. At the entrance to the 34-seat bar are two lounge areas: one with high-top tables and a fireplace, the other with a fountain. A 75-seat covered back patio features a fire pit and its own bar. The open kitchen sports a mesquite-and-oak-fired grill, wood-burning rotisserie and pizza grill. “We don’t call ourselves a steakhouse,” says Massarweh, who also owns Nico’s 1508 restaurant in Berkeley and was the youngest executive chef appointed in the history of Chicago’s famed Pump Room. “But we are very serious about our steaks.”
Indeed, the prime steaks, sourced from an exclusive Chicago purveyor, are wet-aged for up to 45 days before being served. There’s everything from a bone-in filet mignon to a 42-ounce tomahawk. The fried chicken is brined for 48 hours before being cooked to order and served on a wood plank with green-bean casserole, a jar of gravy and buttermilk cornbread slathered with honey-truffle butter. In the aptly named Courthouse Vegetable Tower, 10 different types of roasted vegetables are stacked into a mini skyscraper, splashed with 50-year- old balsamic vinegar and finished with butternut squash puree. For something really over the top, there is a caviar service that comes complete with a test tube of truffle creme fraiche and a test tube of Russian vodka. For dessert, the s’mores sundae hits a sweet bull’s-eye with graham crackers and homemade marshmallows over gobs of vanilla ice cream drenched with chocolate sauce, rum whipped cream and bourbon-soaked cherries.
The wine list has 150 offerings, with more to come. Negronis are aged in a sherrylike, six-cask solera system to allow the aperitif to mature in flavor over a three-week period. House batch cocktails come to the table in their own bottles with labels that play up the courthouse theme, such as Moot Point Margarita and Hung Jury Manhattan. Monday through Friday (3 to 6pm), oysters are $1 each and select appetizers are half price. This happy hour is dubbed VIP Hour. But, don’t worry: No special black card is required to partake. 2021 Broadway St., Redwood City, 650.367.7974
Originally published in the June issue of Silicon Valley