At home at Cuisinett: Restaurateur dishes up French comfort food in San Carlos

Owner Geoffroy Raby and server Sarine Tchakmakjian welcome diners to Cuisinett.

For Geoffroy Raby, simple and accessible is the key to the French comfort food he serves at Cuisinett, the restaurant he owns in downtown San Carlos.

Cuisinett’s menu is a colorful, three-panel single sheet with less than 10 main dishes bursting with local ingredients. Customers walk right up to the cashier, place their orders and wait at small tables with an amalgam of benches and chairs. The small space is filled with rough-hewn pieces of wooden furniture that looks like it was taken from a farm on the French countryside. Cuisinett’s look, feel and tastes go against what many think of when they think of French restaurants, which is exactly Raby’s objective.

A native of Lille, France, Raby first came to the United States in 2001, intending to stay only a year but ultimately staying here to study marketing and finance at San Francisco State University.

“When I did market research, I became tired of the stereotypes people had of French restaurants,” he said. “[That] is one style, but we also have everyday food.”

Raby, who worked at San Francisco restaurants to support his studies, never shook this thought, or his growing interest in the restaurant business. He drafted marketing campaigns and business plans for restaurants. After he graduated, he worked to insure restaurants and lease restaurant equipment to owners.

Finally, he decided it was time to break the negative stereotypes for French restaurants himself. He began meeting with local chefs to discuss his concept — to introduce local diners to French food in a casual, affordable way.

“Everyone said, ‘there’s no way that’s going to work,’” he said.

Raby’s idea sat at a standstill until he met Guillaume Bienaime, then the executive chef at Marche, a French restaurant in Menlo Park. Bienaime was enthusiastic about the idea, and excited to use creativity in creating authentic, affordable dishes that would invite in newcomers.

Together, the two developed a main menu that features favorites like Cuisinett’s roasted chicken, which diners can pair with one of seven sauce options and five sides.

“If you want, it can be a different dish every time you come in,” said Raby.

Perhaps most beloved sauce to pair with the roasted chicken is the coq aux vin, a red-wine-based sauce that evokes hearty vegetable and chicken flavors. Raby and Bienaime adapted the French stew “coq au vin,” which traditionally uses stock made from a rooster and several seasonal ingredients. With the knowledge that traditional coq au vin ingredients may be difficult to source in California, the two adapted the stew recipe into a popular sauce made with local ingredients.

Raby makes sure that each diner’s restaurant experience is just as inviting as his menu. Diners who enter the bright restaurant, edged by the warm wooden tones of the furniture, are greeted by friendly wait staff or Raby himself, who says most of his customers are regulars. Servers appear within minutes with their orders, offering diners a quick, convenient dining experience with dishes that taste homemade.

And it seems like Raby has found the perfect location for the casual style of dining Cuisinett offers.

“We chose San Carlos because it is a young town,” he said. “It’s cool, and there are a lot of couples with kids,” he said.

Raby, 36, lives in Redwood Shores with his wife and 5-year-old twin sons. He can relate to working couples looking for an affordable weeknight dinner or parents who are looking for a place where there’s something on the menu for everyone.

“We’re not a good first date spot, and we don’t do well with large groups,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of my customers are regulars, and we’ve even seen some of the customers grow up with the restaurant.”

Raby’s regulars are professionals from nearby office buildings during lunch, and local couples and families during dinner. Though his menu includes a kids burger and grilled cheese for younger diners, Raby often sees parents introducing their children to new foods at his restaurant.

“We created the menu in the French way. In France, most kids eat what the adults eat,” he said.

Shai Attia is a San Francisco resident who comes to San Carlos often for business meetings. He has been one of Raby’s regular customers since the restaurant opened in 2011, and comes weekly. He orders a niçoise salad every time.

Next to a plate of crusty bread and olive oil, his salad is loaded. On top of mixed greens rests seared tuna, a diced boiled egg and an assortment of colorful vegetables.

“It’s the best niçoise salad in the whole world,” he said.

Attia says the salad is what drew him in, but companionship with Raby is what keeps him coming back.

“He’s a hard-working person,” he said, “young like me.”

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102

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