BACK OF THE HOUSE: RESTAURANT 1833

Goats, ghosts and grand ambitions

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Top and bottom center, executive chef Jason Franey butchers a seabass;
lower left, pastry chef Ben Spungin at work and lower right, 1833’s front patio at night
Lower right photo by Patrick Tregenza, rest by Elizabeth Hodges

By Elizabeth Hodges
Photography by Patrick Tregenza and Elizabeth Hodges

Restaurant 1833 is named for the year its historic home was built as a one-room cabin in Monterey, which was then part of Mexico. But the adobe’s real story began a year later, when an English sailor calling himself James Stokes jumped ship in Monterey. Bearing a bag of stolen medicine, he passed himself off as a pharmacist and doctor, housing his apothecary in the building. He pulled it off—although his mortality rate was suspiciously high. Stokes went on to marry the widow of an ill-fated patient with four children and have his own children with her. He added seven bedrooms and a second floor to the building to house them all, and eventually became mayor of Monterey.

Stokes Adobe, as the building is called, later became known for a resident named Harriet “Hattie” Gragg, a civic activist and socialite who transformed the property into Monterey’s social hub until she died in 1948. Gragg was friends with Susan Gregory, a published poet and teacher who performed tireless work in the local Spanish-Mexican community. John Steinbeck frequently visited the two in Gragg’s home to listen to their stories of Monterey’s “paisanos,” laying the groundwork for his novel Tortilla Flat.

Rumor has it that the ghosts of both Stokes and Gragg still haunt the building.

In 1950, world-travelling chef, Albert Gallatin Powers, converted the building into Gallatin’s, an ambitious fine dining hotspot said to have been frequented by politicians like Harry Truman and celebrities including Frank Sinatra.

Gallatin’s closed in the mid ’80s but the building remained a restaurant, most recently Restaurant 1833, which owners David Bernahl and his company, Coastal Luxury Management, opened in 2011 after an extensive restoration and remodeling. The restaurant takes a whimsical approach to recreating the building’s past and has earned high marks from customers and critics alike for applying serious culinary technique and a bit of playfulness to its preparation of the region’s abundance of high-quality ingredients.

Florida-born executive chef, Jason Franey, came to 1833 last December from Seattle’s Canlis, where he collected multiple James Beard Award nominations over six years and was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2011. He also worked under Daniel Humm at New York City’s three Michelin star Eleven Madison Park and Campton Place in San Francisco.

When Franey arrived—following Per Se alum Levi Mezick and former Bernardus chef de cuisine Abigail Burk—he was inspired by the old menus from the Gallatin’s days. Gallatin’s was quite avant garde, offering dishes from cream of abalone soup, made with red abalone and presented in its own shell, to bull’s head minotaur, including “the tongue simmered in spices and the brains and eyes sautéed in butter… crowned with pastry horns and wreaths of gaily colored flowers.”

The latter was part of the menu titled “Gourmet Specialties requiring special arrangements.” Under this title, whole suckling pig and imperial Siberian wild boar were also listed. To pay homage to this, Franey has put whole baby goat, whole suckling pig and whole king salmon on the menu in a section titled “Gallatin’s Throwbacks,” which can be ordered in advance for parties of six or more. Franey admits that it took a while to get used to cooking a whole animal during regular dinner service, but says now the kitchen has it down.

Franey is known by colleagues as an exceptionally structured chef, a trait he says he learned by working under a chef who told him to do 50 things at once—Franey knew he had to create a system to remember it all and delegate tasks in order to get everything done.

“I have great sous chefs,” he says, and he wants to teach them a system that will give them the path to success. He directs the kitchen with daily lists that are organized down to how much of each ingredient is needed for each dish and what each person needs to do to prep for it. It’s necessary for him to keep a daily running inventory of everything because his team in the kitchen is dealing with fresh, high-cost ingredients.

Naturally, there is a big emphasis on local sourcing at 1833, but this can be a challenge with some of the restaurant’s more eccentric menu items. Franey’s “goat lady,” Lisa Knutson of Pasture Chick Ranch in Hollister, for instance, wasn’t easy to come by. She had only agreed to work with one chef during her five years of raising goats. Then Franey started calling her.

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Top, Guajillo Chile-Crusted Baby Back Pork Ribs; bottom, from left, Buffalo-Style
Sweetbreads, pastry chef Ben Spungin and Gallatin’s recipe for Bull’s Head Minotaur
Lower right photo by Elizabeth Hodges, rest by Patrick Tregenza

Chefs often have a reputation for being egotistical and hotheaded, and she was hesitant to get involved at all. “The inventory in the state was low, and I didn’t need his business.”

But Franey was shamelessly persistent. “The biggest part of my job is trying to find the right ingredients,” he says.

In the end, Knutson did take Franey on as a customer.

“This guy just wouldn’t go away!” she says, adding, “I thought to myself, it’s local… You need to play nice. So I decided to add $50 in punitive damages.”

And the longer she worked with him, the more she liked him. She now calls the whole ordeal “the hazing of Franey.”

“He’s really committed to the local farmer… I got his goat, so (eventually) he got mine.” She removed the punitive damages. He was even invited to have Thanksgiving dinner with her family at the farm this year. “He’s that wonderful,” she says.

At 1833, the goat is served with an almost absurd amount of sides: housemade merguez sausage, chimichurri, broccoli pesto, curried yogurt, grilled flatbread, whipped eggplant, hummus, jasmine rice and ras el hanout marble potatoes.

IN THE KITCHEN

It’s 10:30am when the kitchen starts its prep work. Franey grabs one of his sous chefs to help him lift a white seabass of biblical proportions— about 5 feet long—onto the long counter. This particular fish is for a private event.

Franey cuts the massive head off and holds it up proudly; each part of the fish will be used. The head will be going into a fumet fish stock, which serves as the base of the saffron sauce for the salmon, presented with bouchot mussels, Manila clams, baby Castroville artichokes and dill.

While expertly carving up the fish, Franey explains the process. He points out that with such a big fish, you may have a lot of meat to work with, but you don’t want to make a wrong move or you’ll pay for it. When he’s done, the huge backbone of the fish sprawls across the counter. The fillet will be washed in an ice bath and cut into perfect portions.

The hustle and bustle of the kitchen gradually picks up as the day progresses. Franey treats all of his team with the utmost respect. Pots bubble away on the stove amidst friendly banter while lively music plays in the background. Perpendicular to us lies another long counter, where Ben Spungin, who is the executive pastry chef for both 1883 and its corporate parent, CLM, is prepping for the day, making everything from fig newtons with pistachio linzer to chocolate cake for the chocolate cremeux, which is served with blackberry meringue, whipped cream and coriander caramel.

Spungin, like Franey, came from a fine dining background that included positions at French Laundry, Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn and Marinus (now Lucia) at Bernardus Lodge. He’s been working in the Monterey Bay area for 15 years, and during this time, has enjoyed working with local foragers to incorporate wild ingredients into his dishes. He’s also a regular collaborator with fellow local pastry chefs in pop-up events staged by their Central Coast Pastry Chef Coalition.

Spungin’s become known for his honeysuckle ice cream and looks forward to making an oak ice cream this winter; his expertise was evident in the candy cap mousse on the fall menu, which was served with hazelnut feuilletine and pineapple, quince and huckleberry sorbet.

While the ingredients and kitchen techniques at 1833 are oriented toward fine dining, the results are both accessible and lively. According to Franey, it’s all about striking the balance of respecting each of the ingredients without being pretentious.

Franey’s refreshing Hammersley oysters, for example, are served on a bed of rocks, heaped with a white balsamic granita and crowned with a wisp of fennel. It’s a bit like a snow cone experience of oysters.

His baby back pork ribs—braised then encrusted with guajillo chile and wrapped in a crispy feuilles de brick pastry before being served with a Vietnamese nuoc mam cham dipping sauce—are a nod to his favorite cuisine: Vietnamese street food. They are shaped like cigars, with a light crunch on the outside and tender meat on the inside. The spicy fish sauce provides the perfect umani to round out the experience.

Dishes like these helped the restaurant win praise as the “best restaurant in Monterey” from San Francisco Chronicle critic Michael Bauer earlier this year, and even before Franey’s arrival, a James Beard Award nomination for Best New Restaurant.

1833 also has been known since opening as a destination for inventive and well-crafted drinks. Out front, sitting around one of four fire pits under under the 150-year-old oak tree, or inside, at the glowing white onyx bar in a room designed to look like James Stokes’ notorious apothecary, you’ll find customers ordering artisanal cocktails that despite overheated names like “Torrid Affair” and “One Last Vegas Memory” are well-balanced and refined.

It’s hard work to have this much fun with food—and to still pull it off well. Franey obviously embraces this fact. “Working at a restaurant is all about putting in long hours … If you don’t love what you’re doing, you’re not going to be good at it.”

He also admits to the misfires that any daring kitchen will make, but says that his team excels at correcting them.

“Everyone makes mistakes. I make mistakes all the time. What matters is how you fix those mistakes.”

Perhaps this building has always attracted people with a lot of imagination and drive. If the walls of this old home could talk, it would be fascinating to hear more of the stories from its 182-year history. Happily, its best days are not all in the past.

Elizabeth Hodges is a freelance writer and owner of the Verdant Pantry, based in south Santa Cruz County. During her free time, she enjoys keeping chickens, gardening and connecting with the local food community as communications chair for Slow Food Santa Cruz.

Restaurant 1833
500 Hartnell St.
831.643.1833 • restaurant1833.com

RECIPES

Franey’s Guajillo Chile-Crusted
Baby Back Pork Ribs

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