The Kenwood’s Don Saunders is cooking up private dining rooms and a neighborhood lounge
When La Belle Vie, the state’s top fine dining institution for nearly two decades, closed in 2015, many were dumbfounded. Don Saunders, however, had an idea.
What Saunders, the chef and owner behind The Kenwood, didn’t have was the time and energy to open a full-service restaurant. Saunders rented out a private dining room in the celebrated restaurant when he got married and dropped by the lounge several times over the years. So when a resident group with the 510 Groveland building approached Saunders about taking over the space, he knew exactly what to do, and 510 Lounge & Private Dining was born.
“It popped in my head — not that I would go after the space, but whoever did — that it would be really smart to do private dining only in the formal dining room and keep the lounge,” he said. “It’s funny how it all came about because I had that thought instantaneously.”
The private-dining establishment will do much of what The Kenwood, a seasonal, European-minded restaurant in the eponymous neighborhood, can’t. Saunders said he gets many requests from wedding parties and others looking to rent out the entire restaurant, but he can rarely risk turning away regulars.
The Kenwood also doesn’t have a full bar or lounge, but the space under La Belle Vie had a reputation with locals. So while 510’s dining room will be private, the lounge will be open for shareable plates and cocktails.
“People really talk about the lounge space being really missed. People just die over the space,” he said.
The space, once home to 510 Restaurant before it was La Belle Vie, will see more modern touches as 510 Lounge & Private Dining. While they won’t touch the crown molding or terrazzo floors, Saunders said, they are, for example, painting the walls a monochromatic gray.
“When you go into a space with the reputation La Belle Vie had, you want to make it your own. We’re definitely adding quite a bit of color and pattern,” he said.
The space’s two dining rooms will seat about 64 and 48 for a total of 112 people. Under 510, the lounge will fit a bit more than La Belle Vie with seating for about 65.
In the private dining rooms the menu will be seasonal and flexible, Saunders said. Parties will have the option of tasting menus with five to nine courses, platters and more.
The lounge’s menu focuses on small, shareable dishes. It will have five sections, including caviar, oysters, cheese, charcuterie and another for other items like steamed mussels, grilled sardines and white bean hummus. Saunders has brought on DJ Keenan as head chef and Meg Alm as chef de cuisine.
Knowing that the two previous restaurants in the space garnered accolades, Saunders said he hopes the quality of service and the food will be at the same level of his predecessors.
“I just look at that as something to carry on basically. It’s a challenge, but one that I certainly welcome,” he said.
The full bar at 510 will expand on the wine and beer program at The Kenwood. While Saunders will only be conceptually involved in the cocktail program — he hasn’t had a drink in several years, he said — it will include a few signature seasonal cocktails from the mind of general manager Peter Beard, as well as classic drinks.
“We want to be the place that makes the best old-school old-fashioned [and] the best old-school sidecar,” he said. “Hopefully this place will be a complement to what we’re doing at The Kenwood.”
While it was “crickets for weeks” following Saunders’ announcement that he was going to take over the 510 Groveland space last fall, there has been an influx of attention recently, he said. Saunders has already received several inquiries to book the space, from weddings — from rehearsal dinners to receptions — to wine groups. Readers can make reservations with Aaron Dahl, private dining coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saunders said he expects to open 510 Lounge & Private Dining by this July.