Our Town is Your Town Too…

Town…

I love the word and the meaning. Your Town. My Town. Home.

We’re about a week away from opening. Construction is (mostly) done. We’ve started hiring. (Still looking for some great, experienced, servers). We’re on our way.

A bunch of people have asked about our story. Why here? Why now? Why this place? I think it’s a great story.

When the opportunity arose, I simply had to pursue it.

Cucina Rustica, now Town, is a beautiful place. In my mind, it is the jewel of the La Crescenta restaurant community. The kitchen is large and spacious and extremely well appointed. The bar, full liquor license, and dining room, all provide the building blocks of what I believed could be a great restaurant.

The owner had decided it was time for him to leave the restaurant business behind, but he didn’t want to sell his place to just anyone. He had put his heart and soul into building it – and he has a lot of experience with more than 20 restaurants in his history. He built it for himself and for his family. The design, materials and attention to detail show his passion.

Over a four month period, my friend, Albert, and I, talked about the place and the process. I shared my vision with him and I think he saw my passion.  I’ve had success in business, and failure, and I understand hard work. He also knew that I appreciated what he had built here and that I would honor him and his family with the legacy in what would become Town. When he offered to sell me the restaurant, I accepted.

Town sits near the corner of Honolulu and OceanView in the Montrose Shopping plaza. It is at the epicenter of the heart of the Crescenta/Canada community. It’s dining room opens to ever-busy sidewalks. Sitting at the bar, catching up on the day’s activities and planning what’s next, I watch 100s of people walk by every morning. I can’t wait to give them their place.

That’s really how we see it. When Angela and I and Richard and Kim and Dave and Kathy and Kate and our other partners get together and think about our place, we can’t help but anticipate the day, not long from now, when we’ve been open for a little while and the kinks are ironed out and on a given weeknight there are people laughing and talking at the bar, or enjoying a local game, and the dining room is full, and the kitchen is loud and busy.

That’ll be a great day and a great beginning to what we hope is a long story where our Town, truly is your Town, too.

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Town is Hiring!

We’re looking for some great folks to join our team. Town is a high energy environment and we value our staff, understanding that building a great business is a group effort. We’re looking for experienced food service professionals, servers, kitchen staff and bartenders. I’ve tried to describe a little more of what we’re looking for below and if you want to throw your hat in the ring, drop us a line at jobs@townkitchenandgrill.com and we’ll set up a time to talk.

Head Chef

In a restaurant, everything begins and ends with serving great food. We have a lot of specific thoughts about our cuisine and we’re really focused on an enjoyable dining experience built from a series of simply prepared dishes. We want to be welcoming to people with dietary challenges – whether real or imagined – and offer a menu with the breadth to serve these needs, but we are realistic about the capabilities of a new kitchen and we’ll be focused on maintaining a small enough menu to ensure initial success.

We have three qualifications for this position.

  1. We want someone who makes great food.
  2. We want someone who understands the business of a restaurant.
  3. We want someone who can contribute their own ideas to make us better.

If you’re prepared to run a high energy kitchen, nurture a great staff and help us build a great place, and you have at least four years of experience working in a restaurant kitchen, ordering, provisioning, problem solving and creating, we want to hear from you.

Bar Manager

This is an integral and important position at Town and we have very specific ideas about the kind of person we seek. We want those who visit our bar, whether for drinks or for dinner, to have a great experience. We want to offer some fun specialty cocktails, but we want to excel at the standards.

Our Top Three Qualifications for this Position Are:

  1. Three to Four Years Bar Tending, Bar Management experience.
  2. An understanding of the business of a restaurant bar, profitability, vendor management.
  3. A solid understanding of wines, recommendations and pairings.

Along with the appropriate food service certifications, we seek someone who will bring their own ideas to the table, helping us to build a great business.

Servers

If you LOVE service we want to talk to you and we know exactly how important you are to the success of our restaurant. At Town, you’ll be part of a team who understands that you’re on the front line.and you need the support of everyone around you and we’re here to help you succeed.

Top Three Qualifications for Servers

  1. A love of food and service and a drive to provide a great experience to our guests.
  2. An understanding of food, diet, allergy and other conditions commonly encountered and an ability to handle them in a way that leaves the guests feeling honored.and well served.
  3. A problem solving nature and the ability to contribute as an integral part of the complicated process of food service.

You should also have, or be able to immediately retain, servsafe certification. Experience in food service is a big plus.

We’re also going to be hiring bus and expeditor staff and greeter/seater staff and I’ll be posting something when these positions are open.

Fun stuff!

Holy Cow, I’m Buying a Restaurant!

Yup, you read that right. Along with Angela and a series of very close friends, probably an over abundance of bravado, certainly no small amount of fear and trembling, the enthusiastic support of my sons, a pocket full of recipes and all the energy and passion I can muster, I’m buying a restaurant.

Let’s back the tape up a little. During the last several years I had the great privilege of running a company that served professional photographers. I tried to teach them a thing or two and help them out while I was there, but in all honesty they were an inspiration to me.  In fact, for a long time I’ve been deeply inspired by people who establish and run small, community focused businesses, drawing on their passion and drive to forge a career that provides more than a paycheck. My sister quit a career in academia to start her own quilting store in her hometown of Berlin, Wisconsin. She has never looked back. In part, this decision is due to what I’ve learned from all of you.

I won’t yet say exactly which restaurant it is, but I will tell you it is in my own hometown (Montrose) and it is a place in which I have eaten many times. In fact, the current owner and I started the conversation about what is about to transpire one night when I was having dinner with Angela and the boys.  None of us thought seriously about the comment I made that if he ever decided to sell the place I’d love to buy it. Well, here we go.

I will also tell you the restaurant will be called Town. It’s a name that appeals to me. The full name is Montrose Town Kitchen and Grill, but we’re all hoping you’ll just call it town. The menu will feature Pastas, Pizzas and Grilled items and it has an intense focus on fresh, local sourcing and on serving the culinary needs of anyone who walks through the door. People make choices about the foods they eat and don’t eat for a lot of reasons and I strongly believe they should never feel those choices are a burden to their host. With dishes for Vegetarians and Vegans and those with the dietary restrictions of Paleo, Gluten Free, Dairy free, diets, etc., we’re pretty sure anyone who walks through the door will find something they want.

I’ve spent many more dinners than I care to count sitting at bars in restaurants around the country chatting with bartenders about the news of the day. Frankly, that’s become my preferred place to sit in nearly any restaurant, so it won’t be a shock to my friends that the bar at Town will become a gathering place where guests will be able to sit and chat or watch a game, enjoy a great, easy meal, laugh and feel welcome.

I need to thank my family and close friends for their support and encouragement. As the next weeks go buy you’ll be seeing more updates here and elsewhere as we make progress.

We take possession of the place on January 1st.

Happy New Year!

November 28th. Two Years. Remembering a friend.

This post doesn’t really belong in a cooking blog. Not really. But when Don was here he was one of my only followers and he would ask me questions and respond to posts on a regular basis.  So I write this here as a way to thank him for that. I was always pretty intimidated to know he’d be reading a post. He would have laughed if he knew that. He’d be okay that this was here. I hope you are too …

I came late to the game so I didn’t know Don all that well.  At least, not as well as so many others. With that said, both because Angela and I are very close to Kate and because many of my friends were very close to Don, I am always aware of the significance of November the 28th.

In truth, I wish I’d been there when some unknown number of 40 something year old men decided there was nothing better to do than lay down in the middle of Foothill Blvd one night. I’m guessing that Taylors may have had some influence. I’d still love to see the look on the poor Sheriff’s face when he realized that the group of people standing in front of him bore no resemblance to a group of over-partied local high school students. I’m sure there were great stories back at the station about that.  I’d also like to know how Jeff’s phone ended up in the fire, but I hear there is still some pain in that story so I don’t ask.

It’s been two years since Don left. The newspaper said he’d lost his battle with cancer. That always grates on me. He didn’t lose the battle. To the end he remained more concerned about those around him than about himself. He remained funny, interested in people’s lives and fiercely devoted to trying to save his own. Cancer may have claimed his life, but it never claimed his spirit. I don’t think he lost.  I think he won.

Two years is a long time. Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes times two. How do you measure a year? How do you measure two?

It is hard not to ask the inevitable questions. Why? Honestly, I don’t think there is a good answer and I’ve consciously stopped asking the question. For many who suffered through the same illness, a tougher question, why not me? One thing I know is that Don would not approve of the question. He would never have traded his life for anyone else’s. He’d point down the road and ask you how you’re doing and what you’re excited about and what’s next and he’d be excited to hear the stories.

I’ve felt a transition in myself through these last months. I find myself not so much discouraged by Don’s death as encouraged by his life. Don wasn’t perfect. He’d hate being characterized that way. In truth, if you complimented him too much he tuned you out. He was uninterested in hearing how great he was and I don’t think he ever really thought of himself as all that great.  (Not that he lacked opinions :-).

I guess, though, I’ve sort of decided through listening to the echoes in my own mind that Don would want me to look up. I don’t think he’d want me mourning his loss anymore. I think he’d have understood in the beginning, but I think now he’d be changing the subject. And I guess I’m deciding to let him. This is an intensely personal thing and I would never suggest that the whispers I’m hearing bear any resemblance to another’s journey. Everyone must make their own decisions about timing. I get that and respect it.

I’ll have a conversation with Don today. I’ll tell him what’s happening in my life. I’ll listen for his counsel and decide which parts I’ll take to heart and which parts I’ll dismiss. He’ll read my expression and smile and know. There are things he’d be excited about and things that would worry him. He was that kind of friend.

And when it’s time, a little later on, I’ll pour myself a dry, gin martini and garnish it with a twist and never an olive and I may even find a slightly safer place to lay in the street, just because there probably isn’t a better way to let him know we’re still remembering, and laughing. I think he’ll smile.

Just the Time for Chicken Corn Chowder

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There are few things I love more than when my son asks me to post recipes on here so he can make them at school in Boston. We were talking yesterday afternoon and he said he was looking for “stewy” soups to cook. Well, last week, feeling the first fingers of fall on a typical Southern California October Sunday (yes, 89 degrees outside) I made Chicken Corn Chowder and told him I’d put a recipe up here.

Now, let’s start with this. I don’t like super heavy chowders. If they’re too thick they just leave you feeling lethargic. If you’re in Bangor, Maine in the middle of winter and you can’t open your front door anyway that serves a purpose, but here in Southern California (and frankly in most other places) too much flour in your soup is just, literally, a drag. So my chowders are more soupy than chowdery. (Just so you know).

Onward to the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 6 strips of your favorite bacon, cut widthwise into 1/4 inch pieces.
  • 1 medium brown onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 sticks celery, diced
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper, diced
  • 3 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
  • Healthy Pinch of your favorite dried herb mix
  • 2 Cups Frozen Corn (1 package)
  • 1-2 cups diced cooked chicken (if you don’t have any just dice a chicken breast or two and saute’ with a little salt and pepper until cooked)
  • Four cups chicken stock (not broth, stock, you want the extra flavor from the stock)
  • 2 Cups Whipping Cream or Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 1 TBS Frank’s Hot Sauce (or something similar)
  • 6-10 Red (baby) potatoes, diced
  • 2 TBS Non EV Olive Oil or Grape Seed Oil
  • Shredded Cheddar Cheese (to taste)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Recipe

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

In a large stockpot, cook the bacon strips until crisp, set aside the bacon and drain off most of the fat. Add the olive oil (or Grape Seed Oil) and the Mirapoix (Onion, Carrot, Celery) and the bell pepper and stir over medium heat until the onion is translucent and then add the chicken and then the flour and stir until the flour just starts to brown. Add the corn (it’s fine if it’s still frozen) and stir for one minute (two minutes if frozen). Add the dried herbs and stir until fragrant. Add the chicken stock and bring to a slow boil and then reduce heat to simmer and add the cream. Stir in the hot sauce just before serving.

While the soup is coming to temperature salt and pepper the diced potatoes and place in a greased (or sprayed) pyrex or baking sheet and roast, uncovered, for 25 minutes, until just starting to brown (and tender). Add the potatoes to each bowl of soup as it is served. Do not add them to the soup.  (I don’t like them mushy). If you want more texture, reserve some of the corn and saute’ it for a minute and scatter it over the soup as you serve the soup. You can do this with some extra, diced, red bell pepper too.  If you want to put some cheddar cheese (or almost any kind of cheese you might have) on the soup, you can do this, too.

If you’re like me and you like things with a little heat, add a little more franks with the potatoes and whatever else you scatter over the soup when you serve it.  Yum!

Enjoy.

Now – there are people who would say that the corn should be fresh off the cob, that you should reserve the corn milk (the liquid that comes off the cob as the corn is shaved off), that a chowder should be thick enough to stand up a spoon, that you should use half and half, that the potatoes should be cooked in the soup, etc.  All of these things are true.  Those people should do those things.  You should too if they’re important to you. To me, this is a simple, flavorful and easy to prepare soup that still has some texture. Knock yourself out.

Tuna/Avocado Tartare, Crispy Wantons, Mango Jalapeño Chutney, Wasabi Crema, Yum!

I went to the Hollywood Bowl last night with some good friends.  Someone else was making the entree so I was free to just make an appetizer. We all thought this was pretty damn good …

There is something about Tuna and Avocado that works. There is a part of me that thinks that certain foods were just ordained to be eaten together and this combination is one of them. Make sure you get the best Sashimi grade tuna you can buy at a very good Fish Market.  I buy all my fish at Fish King in Glendale and I will admit to being a little spoiled.

The mango, jalapeño chutney creates needed acidity for this dish and the wasabi cream was an afterthought, but it adds a nice – well – “wasabi-ness” – to each bite.

The wantons, crema, chutney and Tartare sauce can be made well ahead of time and the crema, chutney and sauce benefit from a little time in the refrigerator. Just don’t combine the sauce and the Tuna/Avocado until JUST before you serve the dish or the sauce will over “cook” the fresh ingredients.

Ingredients.

Mango Chutney

  • 1 Mango, diced.
  • 1 TBS red onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced (if you like more heat leave the seeds)
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp (pinch) Cumin
  • 1 TBS Honey or 2 TBS Blue Agave Syrup
  • 1/2 Grapefruit (optional) all skins and seeds removed, diced
  • 1 TBS Sesame Oil
  • If your mango is very ripe (sweet) add 1 TBS rice wine (or champagne) vinegar for the extra acidity

Tartare

  • 1 lb Sashimi grade blue fin or ahi Tuna (cut into small cubes)
  • 1 shallot or 2 TBS onion, diced very small (minced)
  • 1 persian cucumber diced very small (almost minced)
  • 1 Avocado (Haas are best) diced the same size as the Tuna
  • 2 TBS Best Foods or Hellmans Mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp asian garlic/chili sauce (available in any market)
  • 2 tsp sesame oil (if you have some in the refrigerator or your pantry that is more than a month old throw it out and buy fresh!)
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 TBS honey or Blue Agave Syrup
  • sesame seeds for garnish
  • pinch of salt and a few turns of the peppermill

Wantons

  • 1 package wanton skins (any grocery store)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup neutral cooking oil for frying. (not olive oil!)
  • Salt for sprinking

Wasabi Crema

  • 1/2 Cup Mexican Crema (or 1/3 cup sour cream and 3 TBS cream stirred together)
  • 1 TBS Wasabi Powder (Buy it at your fish market)

For the Wantons.

The trick with frying wantons is your oil can’t be too hot. These things are very delicate and they burn in a heartbeat.  I salt and eat the ones I burn.  (and every once in a while burn one on purpose!). I like mine round so I use a larger round cookie cutter to cut mine down. Suit yourself. Use a small frying pan – like an omelette pan, and about 1/2 inch of frying oil heated just hot enough to bubble when you put the wanton in. Turn them quickly with tongs and remove from the oil when they start to brown. Sprinkle salt on them as soon as you take them out of the pan. Let them cool on a paper towel.  Try not to eat them all before you make the Tartare. (It takes a little while to do this right and you want to do it when you’re going to have an extra dose of patience. They can be made well ahead of time and kept in a cool, dry place).

For the Chutney

Combine the ingredients in a food processor and pulse a few times to your desired consistency. Taste and adjust flavors as you wish. Cover and refrigerate.

For the Crema

Whisk the crema and the wasabi powder together in a small bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. (The wasabi flavor will intensify over time so don’t use too much).

For the Tartare

Combine everything but the tuna and avocado, cover and refrigerate until you are ready to serve. (make this as long ahead as one day and it will keep just fine).  Letting it cool for a while will meld the flavors.  When your guests are ready to devour this dish, fold the Tuna and Avocado gently into the sauce.

Serving

Stack it!  The Wanton goes on the bottom, then the tartare, chutney and crema. Sprinkle a few of the sesame seeds (black ones look nice) on the top if you want.  Try not to make yummy sounds. Eat this dish in small portions and make it last…

What Makes A Great Restaurant

I’ve never owned or operated a restaurant.  Still, as a frequent and dedicated eater, small business marketing specialist and observer, I think I have some idea what makes one restaurant succeed and another fail.  These are my thoughts.

At the broadest level, it’s about the entire experience. Some restaurants decide that they have great food and that’s enough. Others focus on decor. A few may focus on service. For a restaurant to be great it has to have great food but it also has to be comfortable (preferably loud enough that I can’t hear the conversation clearly at the table next to me but I can hear ours without people raising their voices too much), and the service needs to be friendly and attentive.

When you think about it, any restaurant can do these things. Sadly few do…

Here are some specific examples.

  1. How long do I have to wait when I sit down for someone to check in with the table to see if they can take a drink order or get us started? This one’s pretty simple.  I don’t always want to go fast, but I want the option to eat at my own pace and here is where we will set that up. Houston’s is a great restaurant chain but make no mistake, they’re all about turning the table. Next time you eat at a Houston’s pay attention to the process when you sit down. It’s pretty well choreographed.  This said, we don’t eat at Houston’s much anymore because we always feel rushed there. If dinner costs over $100 for four people they should never feel rushed. At another restaurant that I enjoy we can wait as long as ten minutes for someone to take a drink order. This is too long and to me, not smart. The restaurant would clearly sell more drinks (an important revenue source) if they got to the tables faster. Also, guests tend to relax once they know they’re being served.
  2. Is there a menu item for everyone in my party? I want people in my party who are vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free or paleo to find exactly what they want without having to modify dishes.  I eat at another restaurant infrequently because their dishes are all heavy with butter and cream. Make no mistake, I like these dishes sometimes, but sometimes I crave a simple roasted chicken or grilled seafood dish. I’ve mentioned this to the owner and he simply says (while he is complaining about the fact that few people are eating in the restaurant) that these are his recipes and this is what people like.  The problem is that the restaurant is failing.
  3. Are the specials special? To me this shouldn’t be that hard. Chefs are creative. Seasons change. New ingredients abound. If I can recite your specials by heart when I come to your restaurant for the fifth time you should think about changing them up.  People like the option of having the same dish, but they also like trying something new every once in a while.
  4. Is the staff happy and efficient? When the food is good and the service is prompt the last step is the personal touch offered by the staff.  At the best restaurants, no matter how busy people may be, there is always a moment when the server, the expediter, the owner, the maitre de, or even the bus staff, offer a greeting and a smile and connect with the people at the table. When it happens, one can’t help but forgive a foible or two and want to root for and re-visit the restaurant.  When it doesn’t, the restaurant isn’t a who, it’s an it.  And if that’s the case it’s easy to forget.

I’m sure there are things that everyone looks for in a great restaurant.  Post your own here or put up your own post and let me know.

Home Sick Thai Inspired Chicken Soup

I hate being sick.  Detest it.  To make matters worse, I’m horrible at being sick. I have this sort of irrational perspective that if I just decide I am not sick then I am better.  Presto!  This year I avoided the bug and thought I was home free and actually celebrated with a quiet smile on my way home from work last Friday.  Mistake. Sunday morning – signature scratchy throat.  Bummer.  Down for the count.

But the upside of being sick is that I have an excuse to cook soups.  I made this one up today. Like a lot of my recipes it uses ingredients from Trader Joes.  If you don’t have one near you you can fake it.  But write to them and beg.  You’ll love them.

Today I wanted kind of a Thai Style medium spicy chicken soup.  I don’t eat noodles so I used white beans instead.  It turned out great.

Ingredients

  • 4 Ounces Bacon, chopped to 1/2 inch long strips
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 Jalapeno Peppers, Seeded, ribs removed and diced small (If you like heat leave the seeds and ribs)
  • 3 ‘baby’ bell peppers, diced
  • 4 Garlic Cloves, smashed
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts diced and simply sauteed.  (a little love oil and salt and pepper)
  • 2 Quarts Organic Free Range Chicken Broth (or whatever kind you like).
  • 2 cans white beans, drained
  • 1 package broccoli slaw
  • 2 TBS Curry Powder (Yellow)
  • 1 TBS Red Chili/Garlic Paste
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried ginger
  • 1 Lime (Juice Only)
  • Roasted and skinned peanuts.  (For Garnish)
  • 1/2 Cup Coconut Milk

In a medium stock pot render the bacon until crispy.  Remove the bacon and eat it while no one is looking (seriously – you’re not going to use it for anything).  Saute’ the onion, celery and carrot in the bacon fat until they just start to brown.  Add the jalapeno and garlic and saute’ for another minute or two (but don’t let the garlic burn).  Add the cooked chicken and stir into the vegetables.  Add the curry powder, chili paste and ginger and stir into the mixture for about 30 seconds.  (the fragrance is amazing).  Add the chicken stock and the drained, canned beans. Add about 1 cup of the the broccoli slaw and the diced bell peppers.

Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer and let the soup cook for at least an hour.  (the longer it cooks the more the flavors will combine).  Just before serving add the lime juice and the coconut milk. (In mine, to replace the sweetness of the coconut milk I use peas).

Garnish with a small handful of peanuts for extra yumminess.

Gloat while you eat.