To catch you up to date on the progress of my upcoming San Francisco restaurant, Olallie, I am highlighting aspects of the design process that occurred over the past 4 months. The design decisions described in this post were made mostly from November to December, 2006.
Even a casual reader of IPOS knows that I look to Spain — especially Catalonia — for much of my inspiration. Barcelona is second only to San Francisco in my heart. So, even though neither my restaurant's name nor its cuisine will be exclusively Spanish or Catalan, our travels through the Iberian peninsula played a prominent role in some of our design decisions and equipment choices. Here's how.
Flights into Barcelona from the US tend to arrive in the morning. After checking into my hotel or rental apartment, I usually head straight to a stool at the counter of Pinotxo and ask Juanito to make me a cortado (macchiatto) to shake off my jet lag. After a stroll amongst the pristine seafood and produce stalls of La Boqueria, the covered marketplace in which Pinotxo is located, I return to my stool to sip a cold glass of Cava while chef Albert expertly cooks my white beans with baby squid or some kind of salt cod dish. After a siesta, I head to my next perch, a stool at Cal Pep. The next morning I'm back to La Boqueria, trying to decide whether I should eat at the counter of Kiosko Universal or El Quim. See a pattern here?
An unexpected benefit of locating Olallie's kitchen in the front was creating the possibility of seating at the kitchen counter. Longtime IPOS readers know how much I adore dining at kitchen counters. Take a look at how many places I've written about where I've dined at the counter: Momofuku, Degustation, and Casa Mono in NYC, Lotería Grill in LA, and Swan Oyster Depot and Canteen in my home town.
People who know I visited Roses, a seaside town in the northeastern part of Catalonia, inevitably ask me about my dinner last year at the town's (and perhaps the world's) most famous restaurant, El Bulli. While our dinner there was innovative and interesting, one can only eat so many calcium chloride globules in one meal. No, for us Roses will always be remembered for our 2 spectacular lunches at a tiny seafood restaurant called Rafa (pictured right). Rafa (the man and the restaurant) is all about amazingly fresh seafood plucked from the local waters. If Rafa doesn't like what's available, he doesn't open that day. For that alone, he's my hero.
Another quirk of Rafa is that he cooks everything a la plantxa (Catalan for a la plancha, meaning "on an griddle or flat top"). Rafa has one 3-foot wide cast iron plantxa. While I don't expect I'll ever achieve his mastery of the griddle, I opted to add a 2-foot plancha to my 8-foot cooking line. Consider it my ode to Rafa.*
The plancha will join 8 burners, 2 ovens, a salamander (broiler) and a fryer. What you won't find is a grill. When it comes to grilling, I'm a purist (like my friends in Getaria in the Basque region). It's either wood-burning or nothing. Gas won't do. I would have loved to add a wood-burning grill to my line, but I learned I would have needed to add a second, separate ventilation hood. You see, according to the fire codes, hoods predominantly used to suck up grease (from frying and sautéing) wisely need to be kept separate from hoods used to suck up smoke and embers. One 3-foot wide grill would have added tens of thousands of dollars.
I was able to fit one wood-fired appliance, however. Unlike wood-burning grills, brick ovens don't require a hood. They're treated like fireplaces and are generally naturally vented without any motor. As I mentioned once on IPOS before, I I prefer wood-fired ovens to grills. They're cleaner to operate and burn wood far more efficiently. Plus, the brick oven is every cook's favorite station to work.
My decision to include a wood-burning oven is partially due to my 2003 trip to the heartland of Spain, where we relished every tender and succulent morsel of cochonillo (suckling pig) and roasted baby churra lamb at asadors (restaurants specializing in roasting meats) in Segovia and Madrid. My Italian-made oven will be a fraction of the size of a traditional Spanish horno, and even half the size of the ones I used to man at Lulu and Bizou (which has since morphed into Coco500).
The brick oven — our hearth — will be the first thing you see when you approach Olallie, because it will be located in the front window. You can expect all sorts of tasty treats to come out of our oven. I'd tell you, but I don't want to spoil all my surprises.
________________________________ * For pictures of my 2 meals at Rafa, watch my slideshow here. To read a fantastic description of Rafa, both the restaurant and the chef, read Carmel chef Michael Jones' hilarious tale on his blog Cachuaga Store. There's even a photo of Mike posing with Rafa.
* For pictures of my 2 meals at Rafa, watch my slideshow here. To read a fantastic description of Rafa, both the restaurant and the chef, read Carmel chef Michael Jones' hilarious tale on his blog Cachuaga Store. There's even a photo of Mike posing with Rafa.