Lokal plates buzz-worthy grub worth waiting around for, plus so much more.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
You never see it on menus, but you feel it when you look at the right ones. You can’t buy it at the flyest farmers markets, but it’s an ingredient in all the best dishes. You know it’s not the primary inspiration for rants by rogue local chef Michael Jones, but it certainly is a byproduct. It’s an ingredient called excitement.
And it’s another Jones, Michael’s son Brendan, who has excitement stewing at brand-new Lokal Restaurant (659-5886) in Carmel Valley Village. Veterans of the legendary Cachagua General Store Monday night dinner will recognize the items he brought over, most indulgently the bone marrow with foraged mushrooms ($12), most classically the baby beet salad with clouds of airy goat cheese-coconut cream ($9.50), most stylishly the sardine bocadilla with mojito aioli ($9). They might also recognize a similar chaotic ambiance… and the ire flashing on the other Chef Jones’ blog after an elderly financial analyst dining at at Lokal on Friday stiffed the staff ($40 tip on a $350 bill) after sending salads back for being too big and the rare duck ($16) for being, yes, rare. For math knuckleheads, that’s about 11 percent for a table of seven. And for those not keeping up with the Joneses, they like folks who disrespect staff less than Safeway produce.
“I am not using the ‘C’ word to describe this douche bag,” he posts. “Under duress.”
It gets better/worse on his blog, where he names the guy and his workplace.
“He left $40 on a $350 check,” Jones posts. “The single mothers who were his waitresses, his skilled and dedicated wine steward… took it in the ass.”
To the alleged culprit’s credit, he concedes his was a “pain-in-the-ass” table and identifies Jones as “nuts,” just not in the good-crazy way I do. (He also claims he has the receipts to show he has always tipped 20 percent previously – “If I haven’t,” he says, “I’ll buy you dinner.”)
“I find this offensive,” he adds. “They should say, ‘Maybe we did something wrong.’ I was pissed off at them. My wife was saying, ‘They’re new, you’re too harsh,’ but… I had some serious problems with [the experience].”
Before it was taken down, you could pull up the diatribe instantly at cachaguastore.blogspot.com, but you’re going to have to wait longer for Lokal food if your visit parallels ours. (They’re open for dinner Thursday-Saturday; breakfast and lunch during the week.) In fact, I started eating the centerpiece. Fortunately it was cilantro and oregano.
“You have to endure,” one local told me. “The food better be good.”
It certainly is, and mint – and cucumber-infused water plus hyperlocal, barely marked-up wines distract pleasantly.
Eventually, the excitement started cracklin’ – though the flat cracklin’ discs on the big-sliced ceviche ($12) were one of the few misses. A superior Caesar salad ($8.50) arrived as scorched sheaths of romaine with great dressing and greater asiago wafers. Basic mac-and-cheese balls ($8.50) dropped next. Butternut squash tempura ($8) with marshmallow cream and pumpkin seeds followed with flair. Then “soil and roots” ($9) with salty sea greens, roasted carrots and parsnips over coffee-dusted Israeli couscous – a buttery-sweet “whoa” that worked – and asparagus ($11), a charred seasonal treat elevated to electrifying by a poached egg, long strips of fresh feta and subtle cayenne foam.
The tartares are tops, in the TunaX3 ($13) and the melt-in-your-muzzle beef ($10) with tarragon ice cream. For the chicken “wings” ($13), Brendan uses “meat glue,” Saran Wrap and sous vide to provide evidence he’s taking his smart-sourcing birthright and adding enough experimental gastronomy to make it fun without getting gimmicky.
The mood in the chalkboard-and-recycled-wood interior matched the excitement on the table and in the service.
Mike laments, “There used to be societies that valued the work, intelligence, insight and energy of their young people.” Good news, chef: There still is. The society that is our small-but-salivating foodie scene will find Lokal to be required eating, and required excitement.
• Upscale outfit 400° Gourmet Burgers & Fries (244-0040) has set an open date: this coming Wednesday, May 23. House-blended beef patties, local produce, signature sodas and shakes, tasty variations of French fries, salads, wine by the glass or half bottle and nice beers. Hit the blog for menu highlights and lamb-chop proof while Chef’s Jason Balestrieri’s creations will be damn good.
• Digging the new project from Charles Phan, in town for Cooking for Solutions this weekend (see story, p. 18). Wo Hing General Store (415-552-2510) occupies Slanted Door’s O.G. spot in S.F. with more affordable plates that occupy my imagination – where else can you get chopped yuba, the Japanese Zen haute-cuisine delicacy created from lifting the film that comes off the top of boiling soy milk, served with mixed mushrooms ($10)? Five-spiced local squid in a crazy light tempura ($12)? Tender Fanny Bay oyster crepes ($15)? Exotic and intense bitter melon with salted quail egg ($8)?
• Fun and promising pop-up coming in the middle of the field with Casanova Chef John Cox and his team, Georis Wines and Pezzini Farms Friday, June 1, to boost Rancho Cielo ($125).
• This week’s Sign the Mayans Might Be Right: A new bourbon-flavored personal lubricant called Whiskeylube – described by its hypesters as “the most American thing in the history of the world” – is made by French Canadians. More on the blog.
• Dinner in the Vineyard starring Cal Stamenov to benefit MEarth sprouts at beautiful Bernardus Saturday, June 9 ($150; $100 deductible). Last year’s was a stunner. www.mearth.info/div
•Carmel Valley’s Merideth Canham-Nelson is living the dream, and now shares the epic existence, Teachings from the Tap: Life Lessons from our Year in Beer ($16), beertrekkerpress.com. More on the blog.
•Chesapeake crabs… back at Christopher’s on Lincoln (626-8000). Yum up.
•“The excitement of learning separates youth from old age,” someone once said. “As long as you’re learning, you’re not old.”