A taste of the inventive and exciting things to come at Lokal; the long-awaited opening to the general public could happen as early as next week.
When a new restaurant arrives with as much anticipation as Lokal has, it’s easy to wonder how it will live up to the hype.
But in just one night recently, the Carmel Valley creation of Brendan Jones and Matthew Zolan easily surpassed the promise of months of frothy press reports and social media frenzy with a menu that was both mind-bendingly creative and incredibly delicious. And whereas the food was full of exciting surprises (including six dishes on the prix fixe menu instead of the advertised three), the service had the assured calm and pleasant lack of surprises of a restaurant that’s been open for months, if not years. So if the night was any sign of things to come, Lokal should quickly establish itself as one of the area’s most beloved restaurants after it opens to the general public as early as next week.
Lokal’s opening has been stalled for some seven months due to permitting and construction delays, but the restaurant was able to christen its kitchen on March 28 with a private party put on by Edible Monterey Bay. The event was the first of the magazine’s new monthly Popup Supper Club series, and in advance sales, the first seating of 42 tickets sold out in five days; smaller second seating sold out shortly thereafter.
So it was no surprise that the excitement of those who were quick enough with their PayPal buttons to gain entry created a happy and party-like buzz that lasted throughout the night.
The revelations began at the get-go with a two-tone, two-temperature Hot and Cold Gin Fizz that Jones adapted from a recipe served at Ferran Adria’s avant garde restaurant elBulli in Roses, Spain—which was considered one of the best restaurants in the world until Adria closed it last year and moved on to other projects. (Jones himself apprenticed with elBulli protégé Andoni Luis Aduriz at his Mugaritz in Errenteria, Spain, which itself was ranked third in the world by Restaurant magazine on its 2011 best restaurants list.)
The drink consisted of an intensely chilled and bright lemony gin reduction topped with a steaming pillow of fluffy egg white. Prepared with lemons from Jones’ mother’s own Carmel Valley tree, and eggs from Bob Harris, a regular at the Monterey Bay Certified Farmers’ Market at Monterey Peninsula College, the flavor was exquisite and the play in contrasts grabbed the full attention of my distracted palate—just as an apéritif should.
Zolan and Jones’ last venture together was a popular bar in Prague called Osmicka, and they very nearly moved back to the Czech city last year to open a restaurant there before taking over the former Chattterbox (see http://www.ediblecommunities.com/montereybay/blog/blog/local-ingredients-are-next-up-in-carmel-valley.htm). So it seemed fitting that the second course was Czech in its starting point, a buttery, spicy dark zelnacka, or cabbage soup. Just on its own, the soup, which was made from cabbage from Mariquita Farm, would have been surprisingly exotic and flavorful, but Jones upped the ante by using it as a platform to continue the hot-cold theme, topping each bowl with a large scoop of his own golden, seed-flecked mustard ice cream. The combination was sublime—and well paired with a delicious 2009 Chock Rock Pinot Noir.
Next, the meal might have come down to earth with its salad course, prepared with Coke Farm artisan greens, sliced pears and wisps of crisped parsnips. But even the salad was fantastic and playful, featuring a delicate yuzu dressing that enhanced rather than overpowered the ultra-fresh ingredients, and in a reference to Jones’ time at the molecular gastronomy-practicing Mugaritz, featured a foamed Point Reyes blue cheese.
Jones’ own favorite dish of the night was a ceviche of juicy California snapper, kumquats and tangerines served with sliced avocados, frisée and cilantro. The dish’s unexpected kick came from bright shards of cracklins—made not from pigskin but rather, crisped mole sauce. Beware that the combination, pared at the supper club with a Chesebro 2009 Arroyo Seco Vermentino and a Chock Rock 2010 Santa Lucia Chardonnay, could become addictive.
Jones, whose approach is to make all of his ingredients work together to elevate a single star in each dish, was concerned that the beef short ribs that followed were too “busy,” in his words. But to this diner, they were deeply flavorful and meltingly tender, as were the accompanying tiny roasted turnips, carrots and fennel, and a savory fettuccini handmade locally by Carmel’s Pasta Palate. The ribs were served with an appropriately rich and delicious 2009 Grenache-Syrah blend from Chesebro, its Las Arenas-Cedar Lane Vineyard-Arroyo Seco.
For dessert, Jones served a ice cream flavored with bay laurel from the Carmel Valley yard of his dad, Cachagua General Store and Moveable Feast Head Chef and Founder Michael Jones, sandwiched between housemade chocolate chip cookies. The effect might have been heavy, but instead the bay gave the ice cream a bracing lightness and provided a perfectly simple yet unique and delicious ending to an almost over-the-top meal.
“I feel like I’m on a hike,” said Local Catch Monterey Bay Co-founder Oren Frey, smiling as he savored his bay-laced ice cream-and-cookie combination.
Just as his father does at the Cachagua General Store, where Jones is also a chef on Monday nights—and just as one would expect from a restaurant named Lokal, Czech slang for local—Jones used local and organic ingredients as much as possible in preparing the meal.
So what will be on the menu when Lokal opens to the general public? Expect some dishes that will be twists on familiar and popular ones that Jones cooks at CGS, like roasted bone marrow, grilled sardines, ribs and steak tartare. But also prepare for entirely new dishes—like steamed pork buns—that will be both elaborate and simple. But mostly, expect the unexpected, and prepare to be blown away.
SARAH WOOD—founding editor and publisher of Edible Monterey Bay—has had a life-long passion for food, cooking, people and our planet.
She planted her first organic garden and cared for her first chicken when she was in elementary school in a farming region of Upstate New York.
Wood spent the early part of her career based in Ottawa, Canada, working in international development and international education. After considering culinary school, she opted to pursue her loves for writing, learning about the world and helping make it a better place by obtaining a fellowship and an MA in Journalism from New York University.
While working for a daily newspaper in New Jersey, she wrote stories that helped farmers fend off development and won a state-wide public service award from the New Jersey Press Association for an investigative series of articles about a slumlord who had hoodwinked ratings agencies and investment banks into propping him up with some early commercial mortgage securitizations. The series led Wood to spend several years in financial journalism, most recently, as editor-in-chief of the leading magazine covering the U.S. hedge-fund industry.
Wood could not be happier to now be writing and editing articles about the Monterey Bay foodshed and the amazing people who help make it so vibrant and diverse. And, after spending much of her adult life gardening on fire escapes, she’s very glad to be planting in the ground again.
Wood lives with her husband, Rob Fisher, a fourth-generation Californian, and young daughter in Carmel Valley. Their favorite meal is a picnic dinner at Pt. Lobos State Reserve.