Decorated in a soothing color palette of muted grays, dark blues and varnished wood, Sekoya is part of a wave of Silicon Valley restaurants that has opened in recent years, including nearby Ethel’s Fancy and Camper in Menlo Park. The sedate interiors pair with the nouvelle-ish cuisine to communicate the future tense of the region’s culinary language.
Sekoya’s shared plates menu neatly fits into the category of California cuisine. Each dish is haunted by the chilly spirit of minimalism. There isn’t a stray leaf of lettuce that doesn’t fall precisely into an exact and expected place. Even random elements are elegantly composed. Roasted grapes, the color of molten amethysts, remain on their short stems. They add a carefully composed pattern of dark purple polka dots to a largely barren plate.
The kitchen has taken the time to arrange each small grouping of grapes in close proximity to an enoki mushroom or to a portion of grilled quail ($12), ostensibly the lead character of the dish. All three ingredients rest in a centimeter high bath of jus. The best bite is either a grape on its own or combined with mushroom and quail. The quail itself had been seasoned by a chef with a very light hand; the skin revealing char marks from a grill that didn’t get sealed to a crisp.
Another starter got the tempura fried coating just right. Made with shimeji and maitake ($16), the combination of mushrooms took on the distorted, rocky shape of oysters fresh out of the fryer. The side dip consisted of whipped tofu, yuzu and sweet soy.
Shrubs are the trendiest mocktails going. Sekoya is currently serving a tropical one ($10), with watermelon, beet, passion fruit, lime and club soda. It’s a pretty red drink decorated with two green agave leaves that poke up from the glass like a pair of companionable rabbit ears. The first sip slides down the throat with a pungent vinegary tang akin to kombucha. Once the ice begins to melt, the dominant flavors become lime and the club soda’s bubbly minerals.
An order of grilled summer beans ($12), both green and yellow, arrived wilted and al dente hanging over the edge of a bowl. They floated above a cloud of whipped ricotta infused with long pepper and a chili-garlic oil. When compared with the green beans available at most Chinese restaurants (mercilessly sautéed to a delicious crunch), this dish tasted lackluster and underdone. The ricotta would have been a better match with a starchy vegetable.
Instead of crostini, Sekoya bakes banana bread doughnuts as the vehicle to mop up a chicken liver mousse ($18). Like the pattern of roasted grapes, five doughnuts and four whole blackberries sit atop a layer of creamy mousse the way that circles are indented into a die. Closer in appearance to tiny beignets, the banana taste is faint against the sugary coating.
A mustard greens and cabbage salad ($18) was the prettiest dish of the meal. Diced greens, pears, fava beans, and crispy white rice noodles form a tall column on a plate designed with the concentric rings of a sequoia tree. Though well-dressed and tasty, this was a less substantial version of a Chinese chicken salad without the heft of a protein to ground the dish.
Sekoya, open Mon to Wed 5pm–9:30pm, Thurs 5pm–11pm, Fri 11:30am–11pm, Sat 4pm–11pm, 417 California Ave., Palo Alto. 650.313.2413. sekoyapaloalto.com.