Relish’s wild mushroom tart ($14).
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The interior’s wood accents are inspired by Khin Khin Slone’s native Burma.
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Fried brioche topped with foie gras ($20).
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Relish Gastro Lounge has launched in the former Sent Sovi spot in Saratoga.
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Executive Chef Timothy Uttaro now heads the kitchen.
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The dessert selection frequently changes, with a panna cotta ($10) recently on the menu.
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Every evening for nearly 13 years in this iconic Saratoga spot, chef-owner Josiah Slone meticulously crafted fine-dining dishes at what was his very first restaurant, Sent Sovi. But after assuming a much different role this year, he began stepping through these doors much less frequently—not to cook, either, but just to eat like a regular diner.
Josiah, who studied electrical engineering at UCLA and has been programming computers since the second grade, has embarked on a new phase, just as his restaurant has. The serene Sent Sovi, which he famously bought from chef David Kinch—who went on to establish the Michelin three-starred Manresa in Los Gatos—morphed this year into the decidedly casual Relish Gastro Lounge.
Josiah is now working as a flavor analytics consultant for tech food startups, having ceded operations of the new restaurant to his wife, Khin Khin Slone; and the cooking, to his former Sent Sovi sous-chef, Timothy Uttaro. “It was hard for me to step back after all these years,” Josiah says. “But coming back in [to visit] was easy because I’ve never been a chef here at this restaurant.”
In fact, it was his wife who first recognized the need for the transformation. In 2012, she came up with the notion to turn Sent Sovi’s private dining room into a relaxed lounge with bar bites and wines by the glass. What started out as only one night a week soon grew so popular that it eventually expanded to six nights a week. With younger families moving into the area and a clientele increasingly disinclined to dress up for languid three-hour meals, she knew the time had come to take the next logical step.
“Sent Sovi was our first child,” says Khin Khin, who is also mother to her and Josiah’s 3 ½-year-old son and still works as a tax accountant on the side. “For me, Relish is an extension of that family, but my own version of what I want the restaurant to be. It was hard when Sent Sovi closed, but after seeing our ideas come alive, it’s exciting to have something different now.”
Different, it is. The crisp white tablecloths have given way to bare reclaimed wood tables, as well as a herringbone-patterned focal wall. Josiah helped with much of the work, even pouring and polishing the 18-foot-long, 3-inch-thick concrete bar that dispenses 20 wines by the 1-, 3- or 5-ounce pours, as well as 24 beers on tap from kegs stored in a walk-in upstairs in what used to be his wife’s office.
Beverage Director Lynne Bryant, who worked with the Slones at Sent Sovi, is on hand to steer diners to pairings such as the cherry-inflected North Coast Brother Thelonious Belgian-style abbey ale with a firm wedge of caramelized Bellwether Farms’ Carmody cheese with dried fruit and toasted artisan bread.
Hewing to social media’s increasing importance these days, Khin Khin let the public choose the name of the new restaurant after narrowing it down with Bryant to three possibilities. They’re glad the votes favored their personal top pick, a name they hope inspires people to come inside “to relish the moment,” she says.
To entice folks to do so, the menu skews more upscale than a typical gastropub with selections such as Hudson Valley foie gras on fried brioche, coriander-crusted filet mignon and deviled eggs dressed up with caviar and white truffle. There are lamb sliders, but surprisingly no bona fide burger. “We want people to come in and try as much as possible,” Uttaro says. “That’s why we don’t have a burger or pasta on the menu. We don’t want people to eat just one giant plate of food.”
Uttaro does double-duty, also making the desserts, including a bruleed white chocolate-goat cheese panna cotta. But multitasking is second nature to someone who grew up in the hospitality industry and has worked every station imaginable. His father was the maitre d’ at legendary Casanova in Carmel, where as a kid, Uttaro often greeted and shared a bite with high-powered clientele like Clint Eastwood, Don Johnson and Leon Panetta.
Riveted by the energy of the back of the house, Uttaro started washing dishes and helping prep ingredients at age 14. He later moved to Lake Tahoe to become a banquet chef and then open a brew pub on the California-Nevada border, before returning to the Bay Area to cook at 231 Ellsworth in San Mateo. Now, he’s more than ready to tackle the challenge ahead at Relish. “We’re not trying to follow in the footsteps of the previous restaurants here,” Uttaro says. “We’re doing our own thing. It’s a new chapter in the story.”
RELISH GASTRO LOUNGE
14583 Big Basin Way, Saratoga, 408.867.3110
Dinner: Sun.–Thu., 5–9:30pm; Fri.–Sat., 5–10:30pm
Shareables: $5–$20; entrees: $21-–40; sweets: $9–$10
Signature dish Tempura-style, beer-battered shrimp and chips with fennel-tatsoi slaw and housemade malt vinegar syrup ($26).
Happy hour specials $2 off all IPAs on Mondays, 5–9:30pm; half off all wines by the glass on Tuesdays, 5–9:30pm; $2 off any beer on Thursdays, 8–9:30pm.
Special last bottles Three premium bottles of wine remain available from the Sent Sovi cellar, including a 2011 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder ($150). Once those are sold, they will be replaced on the wine list by a few other prestige varietals.
Monthly prix fixe dinners Continuing a Sent Sovi tradition, Relish will feature a monthly themed five-course tasting menu inclusive of beverages. Each menu will spotlight a particular ingredient such as chocolate, mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes or duck.
Originally published in the May issue of Silicon Valley