Chef Daniel Mattern's cooking glows with an all-American directness. The marine intensity of mullet roe bottarga pushes fork-pressed avocado beyond pleasing oiliness on toast. The butterflied trout comes with two vegetables—celeriac and potato mash—and Mattern would be content were you to think of it as a plate of good grub. Roxana Jullapat's desserts are playful interpretations. The apricot creamsicle is a wry update of the classic; her rhubarb linzer torte is a must.
The Top Ten Best New Restaurants: No. 1, January 2013
Finding inspiration in the tight swirl of cabbage, the dimple of a carrot, and the fuzz of a peach, chef Daniel Mattern has an almost euphoric appreciation for what the soil can give forth. He and his partner, pastry chef Roxana Jullapat, worked at Campanile and Lucques before teaming up with Barbrix owners Claudio and Adria
Blotta to create this barnyard-spare space, where veggies are as much the stars as heritage breeds or line-caught fish. Poised at the stove in an open kitchen fronted by a row of antique metal tractor seats, he's a chef of rigorous restraint. In place of affect he strives for a deceptive simplicity, bringing out the goodness inherent in the vegetable. There's never one ingredient too many, and that takes mastery. Mattern accompanies spears of thick San Joaquin Delta asparagus with a pestle-pounded mix of hazelnuts, garlic, and lemon zest that showcases their herbal intensity. Cubes of charred McGrath Family Farm squash in the sautéed farro counterbalance the butterflied squab with sherry-scented giblet stock. He uses pan-wilted purslane to add zing to the Morro Bay swordfish that arrives with chickpeas, almonds, and saffron aioli. Jullapat manifests the same understated control in her desserts, like when she jazzes up layers of coconut sponge cake, lemon curd, and Devonshire cream with Ruby Red grapefruit segments. It's gourmet all right, but nothing is forced. As a food runner leaves the kitchen with stacked plates, Mattern reads a freshly pegged order, adjusts his baseball cap, and turns back to the grill.