There are blackened heads of cabbage splayed out on a slab of dusty, unfinished wood. Like most of the dishes that will populate the menu at Charcoal—Josiah Citrin’s fire-obsessed restaurant set to open later this Fall—the cruciferous vegetable has been roasted over coals, its outer layers deeply charred and its insides gently perfumed with smoke.
“The cabbage is kind of like our signature bread.” Citrin says as he takes a bite. “We want every table to take a wedge of that, dip it in our sumac yogurt, and just start eating and getting their palate going. It’s something that I really want to be known for.”
Joseph Johnson, Charcoal’s chef de cuisine and a three year veteran of Mélisse, swoops in and dusts the leaves with finishing salt.
Though the space right now is more construction zone than restaurant, in a few months, that dusty slab of wood now playing host to cabbages will be filled with liquor bottles and cocktail shakers, and the wide open floor will be sectioned off into multiple four-top booths and high communal bar tables. Designer Glen Bell said he wants the space to have a generally open feel, but not so expansive as to dwarf the human experience of it all. More than anything, both he and Citrin just want to create a place where people feel comfortable.
Charcoal’s menu will try and embody that same idea of user-friendliness. The wine list will be capped off at 30 or so bottles, and rather than have every oyster variety imaginable, Citrin wants to choose the five best available and keep those on rotation. There will be four sauces permanently parked on each table: distilled vinegar steeped with lemongrass, rosemary, and peppercorns; smoked paprika and mustard seed chimichurri; red wine-chipotle barbecue sauce; and a house-made riff on A-1 sauce. Though he also plans to do some higher concept dishes that cater to foodies and industry folk alike, for every plate of duck hearts or sweetbreads that Charcoal puts out, Citrin wants a simple-but-mouthwatering grilled chicken dish right there next to it.
“The whole idea here is craveability, from the cocktails to the food. And I talk a lot about Versaille’s chicken—there’s something about it that’s just so craveable about it, and I don’t even know what it is,” he says. “We want to be the place where you just want to come here to have the chicken. With Melisse, people say they crave it and they want to eat there every night—no they don’t. It’s just too much. The novelty wears off with something like Mélisse, whereas this—it’s just eating.”
That seems to be the overarching theme behind Charcoal: a lack of pretentiousness that the L.A. dining scene just wasn’t ready for when Mélisse opened its doors in 1999. But now, Citrin seems to have all the pieces in place to create his very own charcoal-fueled culinary playground where comfort and comfortability come first.
“If it’s a Sunday or Monday I just want to go somewhere where I can have some good food, you know?” Damn straight we do.