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"The Almanac" Review | "Palo Alto Weekly" Review

CORPORATE CHEF – John Sakrison of Menlo Park specializes in the care and feeding of VC’s
By Jane Knoerle at The Almanac

Trained as a professional chef, John Sakrison of Menlo Park wears many hats, besides a chef’s toque.

In 2002, he and his wife, Carla, purchased Quadrus Conference Center and Catering on Saga Lane, just off Sand Hill Road. Today he juggles operating Quadrus Café, scheduling events in the conference center, and sending our vans to cater to the needs of venture capitalists, the denizens of “Wall Street West.”

Sand Hill Road is just the route to Woodside, Portola Valley or Stanford Shopping Center for most of us, but Mr. Sakrison knows it as the venture capital center of the world. “There are billions of dollars involved on the street (Sand Hill Road),” he says.

Venture capitalists and Stanford University are Quadrus Conference Center’s biggest clients.

PARTNERS' DAY – Mr. Sakrison’s job calls for 12-hour days, but “Mondays are really crazy,” he says. “I’m here at 5:30am.” The reason is that Monday is partners’ day. Venture capital partners gather for their weekly meeting, which is usually followed by a substantial lunch.

“The food goes to them. They don’t go to the food,” says Mr. Sakrison. He sends three catering vans out filled with chafing dishes of food to be served buffet style.

Some firms provide not only a Monday lunch but a Quadrus-catered meal five times a week. Lunch might be a “gourmet deli buffet,” which includes filet mignon, Portobello mushrooms and oven-roasted turkey, or “anything with guacamole.” On-site lunches are preferred because they add to productivity and provide privacy, says Mr. Sakrison.

There are a few no-no’s for VC lunches: no bones, no skin, no shellfish, no food requiring use of hands, no raw onions and light on the garlic. Roast chicken is one of Mr. Sakrison’s favorite foods, but only boneless, skinless chicken breasts are served in the catered lunches. Dessert is usually cookies or fruit.

Big names and big money are part of the Sand Hill Road mystique. Mr. Sakrison is discreet about his clients, but does admit cooking for Dick Cheney, Al Gore, and Colin Powell. Barack Obama recently attended an event at the conference center and a private luncheon was served off-site for Hillary Clinton.

The center’s Web site quotes Al Gore as saying the hilltop site is “one of the most beautiful conference centers I’ve ever been to.” Nestled on an oak-studded hilltop, Quadrus Conference Center also displays one of the finest private art collections in the country, the Anderson Collection. How many conference rooms can boast massive artworks by Frank Stella on their walls?

The center’s doors open onto a deck overlooking the Sharon Heights hills, with Stanford’s Hoover Tower in the distance.

Mr. Sakrison likes many aspects of his job, including the commute. “I can walk or bike to work,” he says. He and his wife bought their home in Sharon Heights three years ago.

The Quadrus complex was the first office development to be built along Sand Hill Road in the 1960’s. It was built on 21 acres by Saga Foods, a company that provided food service to colleges and universities throughout the United States. Saga was purchased by the Marriott Corporation in 1986. The next year the corporation buildings were sold to the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation and renamed Quadrus.

QUADRUS CAFÉ – What was once the Saga test kitchen is now Quadrus Café. It serves as a convenient lunch spot for complex employees, but is also open to the public. Employees from SLAC and nearby offices and Sharon Heights neighbors often drop in.

The large menu offers soups and salads, pastas and entrees, sandwiches and desserts. The tostada salad ($11.25), Chinese chicken salad ($9.50), and chicken salad with field greens, pecans, apples and currants ($10.75) are customer favorites.

“Protein-protein-protein” (with a nod to the Atkins diet) is a selection of grilled chicken and salmon, served with cottage cheese, fruit salad, and mixed nuts ($13). Persian chicken kebabs with vegetables and hummus are $12.50.

Mr. Sakrison, who has cooked at Restaurant Lulu in San Francisco and Stars in Oakville, gets to show his creativity at dinners and receptions in the conference center. One of his show stoppers is a mashed potato bar. Four kinds of potatoes (white truffle oil-flavored, roasted garlic, Yukon gold, pesto) are scooped into martini glasses and served with a variety of toppings: carmelized onions, crème fraiche, chives, mushrooms, bacon and cheese.

Another knockout presentation is dim sum, featuring several kinds of dumplings and stuffed crab claw.

SHARON HEIGHTS HOMEOWNERS PRESIDENT – Sharon Heights residents were treated to these goodies and more at the recent Sharon Heights Homeowners Association Christmas Party hosted by Mr. Sakrison. He has been the association’s president for the past two years.

The Sakrisons are typical of many of the younger couples moving into Sharon Heights. They have two small children, ages 2 and 6. “We’re trying to rebuild the association and get the new people involved,” he says.

On weekends when the pressure lets up at Quadrus, Mr. Sakrison sometimes cooks at home. He often fixes roast chicken. “I start it out at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 325 degrees. I like to put fresh herbs (thyme or marjoram) and lemon slices under the (breast) skin.” He picks the Meyer lemons from trees in his backyard.

Come Monday morning, however, he’s back at Quadrus before dawn, pulling muffins out of the oven for an early morning breakfast meeting, checking out the catering trucks as they head down to Sand Hill, and generally seeing to it that his VC clients will eat well during the coming week.

“I have a lot of pride in taking care of the VC’s,” he says.

Restaurant Review: A capital enterprise for lunch.
By Ruth Schechter at Palo Alto Weekly

There are lots of enticing goings-on up on Sand Hill Road, the heart of the area's venture capital enterprise. But even if you don't know a start-up from a stalemate, there's no reason why you can't at least eat like a venture capitalist. Quadrus Cafe and Conference Center is located at ground zero of this industry, nestled behind a compound of shiny, modern office buildings and beautifully landscaped property. Discreet signs point the way, so pay attention or you might find yourself making a full circle right back out of the industrial park and back into the public domain. The cafe is small — just 20 or so tables — but an adjacent tiered patio virtually doubles its size. High-set windows line the sides of the high-ceiling room, and plate-glass doors open out onto the patio, creating a sense of airy spaciousness. Framed black-and-white photographs show famous faces and quiet naturescapes for an additional visual appeal.

White linens cover the tables, and little vases of fresh flowers make for a slightly formal feel, although the cafe has no pretensions toward being anything other than a lunch spot for the denizens of the nearby office buildings.

The menu includes an interesting selection of salads ($8-$9.15), pizzas ($8) and sandwiches ($6.50-$7.85), along with weekly pizza, entree and sandwich specials. We tried the chicken salad ($8.95), a generous mound of moist chicken atop a bed of crispy-fresh mixed greens, pecans, apple slices and currants. Our margherita pizza ($8.15) was somewhat less successful, made with a too-heavy hand with the basil and a too-parsimonious hand with the mozzarella cheese.

The chicken and vegetable stir-fry ($9.50), a menu staple, was a great hit. Big chunks of chicken were sauteed with carrots, squash, peppers, kim chee (Korean-style fermented vegetables) and other vegetables over a bed of fluffy, long-grain rice. We also sampled one of the week's specials.

The salmon salad sandwich ($7.95) was made up of chunky pieces of fish with lots of red onions and tomatoes in an oversized onion roll and served with fresh melon, pineapple and grapes. There are no alcoholic beverages served (after all, this is a corporate lunch spot), but the selection of libations ranges from sodas to specialty iced teas to fresh orange juice ($1.35-$2.75).

Desserts are all made in-house and definitely deserve a mention. The cafe cookies ($2) were soft, moist and delightfully oversized. The lemon angel pie ($4.50) was terrific: airy, lemony chiffon served in a crust made of meringue. We decided we would return just for this dessert and the cafe's fine house blend coffee.

Table service is pleasant and accommodating, and our waitress gave no hint of the pressure inherent in serving 150 customers who all arrive within a three-hour lunch period. The clientele is by and large from the immediate corporate vicinity, and the place was filled with serious, suit-and-tie professionals, many of whom were going over paperwork during their lunches. (This is not a place to bring the kids.)

People hear about the Quadrus cafe mostly by word of mouth, and its brisk, businesslike tone is certainly set in large part by its clientele. I wouldn't suggest you drive across town for a visit, but for those who work in the vicinity, the cafe provides a quiet, pleasant spot for a bite in a setting several notches above the usual lunch spot.

Atmosphere: Definitely geared for the nearby business community, with an open, "let's-do-lunch" setting put together with extra polish.

Highlights: Crisp salad concoctions with interesting ingredients; piping-hot sandwiches; sophisticated weekly pasta and sandwich specials.

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