Charcoal is so hot right now. Just ask Josiah Citrin

Russ Parsons
The California Cook

Ask Josiah Citrin when his new casual restaurant Charcoal is going to open and you can almost hear him groan. Maybe the middle of October? Maybe the end?

At this point, the chef has learned not to look too far into the future. This is the place that some publications announced would open last year. But a tangled escrow process has resulted in a 2 1/2-year gestation and has taught Citrin the value of patience.

Such a complicated backstory for what seems to be such a simple restaurant. 

Located in the former Macchi’s Bistro space on Washington Boulevard in that odd little geographic corner where Venice, Santa Monica and Marina del Rey collide, it’s called Charcoal because that’s what most of the food will be cooked over.

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“This is all food that I like to cook at home on Sundays and Mondays,” Citrin said. “That’s how I’m basing the menu -- is this something I’d like to cook for people at my house?”

The menu is still developing, but main courses will be dishes such as dry-aged New York steaks, smoked and grilled bone-in short ribs basted in a chipotle-red wine barbecue sauce, and a grilled chicken smothered in a smoked paprika-pickled mustard seed chimichurri.  

Instead of the ubiquitous charcuterie platter, the appetizers will be centered around a tartar selection of raw meats -- think lamb tartar with fermented turnips, juniper berries, pine nuts and dried figs, and aged duck tartar with radishes, pickled fennel, watercress, mustard and creme fraiche.

Even many of the sides will be cooked with live fire. There’ll be grilled broccolini with smoked fingerling potatoes, lemon-rosemary breadcrumbs and chile oil and Yukon potatoes baked in the coals with salted butter, chives and aged gouda.

Citrin seems particularly excited about a cabbage dish made from a whole head baked in the coals until it’s completely black on the outside and smoky on the inside, cut into wedges and served with yogurt, lemon zest and sumac.

Chef de cuisine will be Joseph Johnson, currently sous-chef at Melissse.

There will be four table sauces: a vinegar steeped with spices, that smoked paprika-pickled mustard chimichurri and the red wine-chipotle barbecue sauce, and a house-made A-1 sauce.

He said he’s looking for a wire basket holder to use to serve them. “I want to find those things they use at Ships and Norms,” he says. “You know, when you get four jellies at your table.”

Charcoal will be about as unlike the Michelin two-star Melisse as you can get. And that’s part of its charm for Citrin.

“This is a place I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “When I worked in France, there was a place called Cantina de Bodega in Biarritz. When the restaurant in Paris closed, Rafael [Lunetta, chef and longtime friend] and I would go down and surf for a couple of weeks, and we always ate there. It had a very simple menu -- grilled meat and a marinated vinegar on the table you poured over it -- but there was just something about it.

“The first time I walked into Chi Spacca, it reminded me of that. Watching them cook and smelling the food, it reminded me of that place 20 years ago.”

The world “craveability” comes up a lot when Citrin talks about his plans. 

“You know, like that chicken at Versailles [Cuban restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard],” he said. “You know it’s not the best piece of chicken, but no matter how many times I’ve eaten it, I just want to eat it again. I’m working on making everything on our menu that same kind of craveability.”

Charcoal, 425 Washington Blvd., Venice.

Are you a food geek? Follow me on Twitter @russ_parsons1

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