Monday, April 4, 2016

Sally Kane on the New Agustin Menu, the Real Changes to the Restaurant and a New Sandwich Shop in the Works

Posted By on Mon, Apr 4, 2016 at 10:00 AM

click to enlarge Sally Kane and her team have changed a lot about how Agustin Kitchen operates. - GABRIEL FLORES
  • Gabriel Flores
  • Sally Kane and her team have changed a lot about how Agustin Kitchen operates.
When the team behind The Coronet, which includes owner Sally Kane, chef Erika Bostick and pastry chef Carla Valdivia, took over the well-loved Agustin Kitchen, changes weren't seen immediately. With the two-year legacy of chef Ryan Clark coming to an end at the space, it seemed Kane and company knew that a quick flip would be jarring for regulars and perhaps not well received. 

So, nearly six months after taking over the restaurant at Mercado San Agustin, the mark of a Bostick-led kitchen became clearer in the way of a new menu. Studded with old favorites from Agustin menus past, such as the tartare and the Cioppino, adjustments were made to the new menu with a mind for keeping long-time customers engaged, while adding in the elements that both Kane and Bostick hold important.

First, you'll notice that the menu itself is formatted on a single page now, with the back serving only as a space to shout out the local vendors and purveyors that Agustin now uses. Next, among the multitude of new dishes, you'll notice much more of one particular food group available, Kane says.
click to enlarge Seared scallops ($26) with peppadew peppers, english peas, chévre cream sauce and local pasta. - GABRIEL FLORES
  • Gabriel Flores
  • Seared scallops ($26) with peppadew peppers, english peas, chévre cream sauce and local pasta.

"There's more vegetables on this menu than the restaurant has ever seen," Kane says.

Chef Bostick is used to highlighting local, seasonal and organic produce on menus, as she's been doing at The Coronet, and Kane says bringing that to Agustin Kitchen was vital for both of them in imagining what taking over a broad "New American" dining concept could look like.

"I mean it is New American, but what does that mean? For us, it means it's inspired by foods from all over the world, just like America is," Kane says. "We haven't strayed from that ethos, but Erika and I have brought a lot of ourselves onto this menu."

In that global inspiration, you'll find everything from French technique to Japanese ingredients to Middle Eastern spices. Being a self-proclaimed wine lover, Kane also brought a modest list of new charcuterie-style boards to the menu to pair with the restaurant's completely overhauled wine list. However, the intention is still an aggressive focus on highlighting local (there are about 20 vendors called out on this menu by name), the likes of which the restaurant hasn't seen before.

"Everything wants to shine all on its own...We try to do local and organic as much as possible," she says. "But it's about ethics as much as locality."

For Kane, this means "how something is farmed and caught," ensuring that sustainability is as important to her vendors as it is to her. However, the biggest changes to Agustin's kitchen won't be seen overtly on the menu.

With Bostick at the helm, supported by chef de cuisine Alex O'Neill (who previously worked at AK under Clark) and sous chef Niklaus Gjertsen, the program has become what Kane refers to as a "prep-heavy kitchen." 

click to enlarge Fried chicken breast ($12) with peppadew mayo, house pickles and buttermilk biscuit. - GABRIEL FLORES
  • Gabriel Flores
  • Fried chicken breast ($12) with peppadew mayo, house pickles and buttermilk biscuit.

O'Neill elaborates in saying that butchering all of that sustainably raised protein happens on-site now. Rather than cooking up pre-cut fish filets, the team breaks down the whole fish. And, with two duck dishes on the menu, he says he's gotten to show plenty of the younger crew how to break down a whole bird. Everything from the kimchi to the pickles to the satay sauce is made in-house. Why focus so much on doing everything from scratch?

"Would you do any differently in your home?" Kane asks. "Well, why would I? I want this to be about real food. We want to know as much as possible exactly what's happening from start to finish."

Overall, though, this new setup is more collaborative. Sous chef Gjertsen has a dish on the menu with his name on it, and O'Neill has contributed more to this menu than any previous. At the same time Kane and Bostick worked on flipping Agustin's prep system and offerings (which includes new brunch, lunch, dinner, happy hour, dessert, wine and cocktail menus), The Coronet released a new menu in tandem. 

"The only tears were from exhaustion," Kane says. "The reception has been phenomenal—really overwhelming. I couldn't be more pleased."

While overhauling one restaurant and changing menus in another would be enough to-do for most, Kane's got her sights set on more in the near future. A couple doors down from Agustin Kitchen sits the former site of Blu, the wine, cheese and sandwich shop that shuttered just one week after Clark left AK, and Kane says that space will see a sandwich shop again.

click to enlarge The veggie club ($13) with smoked galician cheese, marinated portabella, avocado, pea shoots, tomato and feta mayo on local honey spelt bread. - GABRIEL FLORES
  • Gabriel Flores
  • The veggie club ($13) with smoked galician cheese, marinated portabella, avocado, pea shoots, tomato and feta mayo on local honey spelt bread.
While she hasn't officially landed on a name, she's leaning towards AKA Deli & Bakeshop, a playful name that will, as she sees it, allow her to operate under new aliases every day.

"I've got to have a little silliness in my day or else I get sad," Kane says. 

The space is still very much in the works, but Kane says to expect soup, salads, sandwiches and charcuterie, as well as tons of sweet—but not to sweet—baked goods from Valdivia. The bulk of the concept will be grab-and-go, with a time-crunched lunch crowd in mind, though guests will also be able to sip on wine in the courtyard as well. 

Initially, the restaurant will use parbaked battards, flown in from France, for their sandwiches, though Kane says she has one local vendor in mind for their bread in the future.

"It will be local once the local guys have the capacity to get production up," she says. "I know Don Guerra [of Barrio Bread] is the best man for the job."

Much like Agustin and The Coronet, the sandwich shop will focus on local vendors and scratch-cooking, with plans for an extensive jarring component in the works.

"We want to make everything the best version of what we can make of it," Kane says.

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