Thursday, July 18, 2024

Bar Becky—one of Long Beach’s best new restaurants—takes vegetarian love to new level with farmers market series

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Bar Becky in East Long Beach—the debut restaurant of Hell’s Kitchen alumni Chef Johnathan Benvenuti—is one of the city’s best new restaurants. And the fact that Chef Johnathan can mix high execution levels with a near total lack of gravity is what makes his food so wonderfully charming.

In a bold salute to the power of Californian farming, Bar Becky’s team has opted to create a monthly tasting menu solely focusing on vegetables and fruits. And it is nothing short of a vegetarian’s dream meal.

Bar Becky introduces newest dinner series that focuses solely on farmers markets

Benvenuti, with his weekly trips to various farmers markets around the city and region, has opted to take a monthly step away from his regular prix fixe menu and go for an entirely vegetarian menu.

“I have always loved vegetables and I have always loved a challenge,” Benvenuti said. “And I think this really represents both of those characteristics because, no matter how much we like it or hate it, vegetarian tasting menus are still somewhat downsized in the culinary world. But in all frankness, an entirely vegetarian menu can be rather great.”

And “rather great” it is. The menu showcases the power of the state we live in. We’re talking peas and plums and peaches. Corn and carrots and cherries. Rhubarb and radishes and ramps. All fresh, all in their nakedness and earthy glory.

Surely, you can expect the restaurants locally famous focaccia round and insanely bright, beautifully tart ramps aioli to slather onto it, this menu deeply deviates away from Bar Becky’s love of nostalgia and aims, instead, for a concretely Californian sensibility.

A deep look into the inaugural farmers market tasting menu

There’s something really beautiful about the end of spring. The welcoming of summer and its own onslaught of seasonal edibles while fondly waving goodbye to spring.

And Chef Johnathan really grasps that with his salad of the same name. His “End of Spring” salad is layered with layers of green, becoming a monochromatic food sculpture that is a beautiful as it is delectable. Double-shucked English peas—a beauty in their own right—sit next to snap peas. English radish next to the ever underrated black radish. Pea tendrils dancing around leaves of chervil. All dressed in an oregano vinaigrette.

It is a mighty start—where house pickled veggies and that aforementioned focaccia kick things off—to what is to come.

A grilled plum plate amps up the color. Deep purples and oranges of various plum varietals against the stark white of smoked chèvre and lightly dressed frisée. The grilled fruit sit atop a fermented plum jam and the result is a wildly earthy-meets-tart combination, where the fermented plum takes on a beet-like quality and the chèvre adds a nice sourness to slice through it.

Bar Becky’s baby squash dish for the dinner sits atop a sunflower romesco, lined with shreds of fresh basil and bits of fried ditalini. Again, celebrating what the earth provides brings about an earthy quality to things and this dish is no exception.

Bar Becky’s pastas—even those in this dinner—are a welcomed part of Long Beach’s pasta renaissance

Long Beach is having a pasta renaissance. There’s Nonna Mercato and Michael’s on Naples. Vino e Cucina and Ellie’sLa Parolaccia… And Chef Johnathan very much keeps up with these carby giants. Surely, we aren’t getting the photo-perfect, punctilious ribbons of pappardelle used as wrapping pasta for beef cheek from his inaugural menu—and that is okay. Because this is about the veggies.

What we do get is a witty play on SoCal’s love for esquites and elote. Agnolotti stuffed with a creamy corn-combined-with-Calabrian chile concoction are slightly browned in butter. Sitting in a bath of mildly sweet, mildly creamy corn broth, it is topped off with salted ricotta and bits of wilted mustard frills.

And we get an ode to root vegetables with Bar Becky’s carrot-centric cavatelli. This loamy-meets-sweet dish has a beautifully meaty quality to it; the sense of a sauce having been slow-cooked for hours. Even better, the tops of carrot are used a base for a salty pesto to cut through the sweetness and earthiness. The result is an extremely hearty dish that doesn’t sit heartily in the gut but rather lightly.

Wait—wasn’t Bar Becky originally ReMix Kitchen Bar?

Yes. In fact, the idea was, initially, a test run. Chef Ross Pangilinan of Remix would relinquish the reins to his first restaurant outside of Orange County in order to let “Hell’s Kitchen” runner-up Chef Johnathan Benvenuti use the space as a popup under the brand Bar Becky. And, should it prove fruitful, it would become a permanently rebranding of the space.

That permanent rebranding has officially happened, with Bar Becky having had its first formal service back in April. Should Benvenuti’s future menus be as thoroughly quality as these past few menus have been, Bar Becky is sure to be a place that is not only needed in East Long Beach but beyond deserving of it.

On the part of Pangilinan, it takes a deep sense of humility to walk away from something he had invested so much in. Equally on the humble pie front is the admission that what you’re doing—despite being vastly underrated, well-priced, and quality-driven

Bar Becky is located at 3860 Worsham Ave. Their next Farmers Market Tasting Menu will be on Tuesday, July 23. It will offer a four-course vegetarian tasting menu for $95 per person, with a welcome cocktail. Tax and gratuities not included. Format for the event is subject to change and market availability. However, you can expect focaccia, salad, hot and cold vegetable courses, a duo of pastas and dessert. Optional wine pairing available for an additional $35.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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