Go Away, Gastropub

I ran into a chef friend of mine at my son’s baseball game the other Sunday. I asked him what he was up to, and after a harrowing tale about his time as private cook for an online poker billionaire, he confessed he was putting wheels in motion to open a restaurant.

I asked him when, where and what. He wasn’t sure, but said he was scanning food trends for inspiration.

“Don’t do a pork belly bahn mi,” I said.

Gastropub burger with truffle fries

As serendipity would have it, I had also been discussing the possibility of opening a restaurant with a friend. A unique opportunity had arisen, and we were exploring it. Which got me to thinking about what kind of food I would serve. I would not serve a pork belly bahn mi.

I actually found myself thinking more about what I wouldn’t serve than what I would. And my main epiphany was that I would strictly avoid anything you might’ve seen on a gastropub menu — or EVERY gastropub menu — over the past half decade. What might that include? The most clichéd, overdone food trends ever:

• The aforementioned pork belly bahn mi, or anything in fact featuring pork belly (other than authentic Japanese ramen)
• Anything with sriracha — especially clever applications like srirachi aoili or sriracha ketchup leather
• Eggs where you weren’t expecting them (i.e. on a hamburger)
• Gourmet hamburgers (on brioche or pretzel rolls, with aioli, sriracha, bacon “candy”, bacon “jam”, pork belly, etc., or wagyu or sliders or classic with American cheese and iceberg)
• Fried brussel sprouts
• “House-cured” pickles. Fried “house-cured” pickles.
• Any kind of mac n’ cheese — especially lobster, bacon or truffle
• Sweet potato fries or truffle fries (your choice) served in cute little mesh metal baskets
• Tacos you would never see in Mexico (those served on Chinese steamed buns, those with Korean ingredients, those featuring black cod or pulled pork, ahi-mango combinations, etc.)
• Poké
• Roasted or fried cauliflower
• Wedge salad with bacon and blue cheese
• “House-cured” charcuterie boards (served on a wood plank with “handcrafted” mustard and “house-cured” pickles)
• Pot pies — chicken, turkey, pork belly or otherwise
• Grilled cheese sandwiches with weird cheeses

Not long after my vacation to Quebec a couple years ago, in which I catalogued fondly all the poutine I had tried, I was disheartened to see poutine suddenly proliferating on gastropub menus.

Typical gastropub in Any City, USA

When gastropubs first began appearing with the likes of Santa Monica’s vanguard Father’s Office, I was enthusiastic about the trend. It represented a vast improvement of the collective idea of a bar menu. And I’m not going to claim that I don’t enjoy a pork belly bahn mi or plate of fried brussel sprouts with my limited release double IPA. But people, really! Are there still chefs and restaurateurs out there who think they’ve struck an inspired new culinary vein in their re-interpretation of a deviled egg? Do we need another rustic tavern with gaslights and “Peasant” or “Table” in the name? Have we had enough of housemade tater tots?

No?

Okay… I’m gonna get myself a double IPA.

The bearded hipster who serves you at the gastropub

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New Year’s Eve 2014

Our annual New Year’s Eve dinner with a small handful of friends commenced at 6 p.m. on December 31st with a matsutake and lardo pizza and copious amounts of champagne.

Through the several hours of the carefully planned and sourced meal, we would dine our way through seven courses (pizza not included), six or seven bottles of pinot noir and a magnum of Francis Ford Coppola-autographed 1980-something Neibaum-Coppola cabernet (you can’t keep that stuff forever), some French and Australian wines, a bit of mescal and more. A bit foggy as I write…

Here are some of the highlights. Happy New Year! And see if you can find the Monty Python joke somewhere in there…

The menu

The menu

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New Year’s Eve Dinner 2012

Another year come and gone. And with it, another of my New Year’s Eve dinners — a tradition that’s been going on for as long as I can remember.

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Each year I push myself a little further, and this may have been the best meal yet. Even the strange inspiration to accent vodka-cured ivory salmon and caviar with a black licorice reduction was delicious. More

Feeding the Ghost of Steve McQueen

Fois gras ravioli with pickled fennel, shimeji mushrooms and marscapone cheese — at Chez McQueen

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Here’s the way I like to imagine it:

McQueen is out on the deck drinking his whisky, his khakis rolled up and his feet on the railing, watching the sea crash on the rocks just below. He’s surprised to find a stranger at his stove cooking, but only shrugs. After a bit he comes in to freshen his drink, and asks me what the hell I’m doing in his kitchen. More

Happy Birthday to Me

What to get the guy who has everything for his birthday? Something that will not take up space, and that preferably disappears quickly. Why, food and drink, of course!

Pork belly confit with fava beans

“It’s your birthday. We should be throwing a party and cooking for you,” said my friend Nat when I invited him to my very small birthday celebration. One should do exactly as one chooses on their birthday, I reassured him. And for me, that meant not going to a club or out to a fancy restaurant, but surrounding myself with my kids, a few close friends, and some really good food and wine. More