Long Beach, California
For the globetrotting gastronomic adventurer, the only pitfall that comes close to being as treacherous as dining out of a bag with a yellow “M” on it is having to endure the faux opulence and diner fare disguised as haute cuisine found in the dreaded hotel restaurant. These last resorts generally have such mundane fare that when the galloping gourmet finds his or herself forced to eat food with a four-star price and four-flushing quality that room service is the preferred option so as not to be recognized dining there. As if shelling out your hard-earned roadside attraction cash for mediocre food isn’t bad enough, the decor typically makes Chili’s look like The French Laundry. Apparently, someone forgot to share the rule book with storied entrepreneur and Chef Dean James Max, who has transformed a neat and spacious corner of the Courtyard Long Beach Downtown into a dining destination.
Max’s middle namesake James Republic not only shatters all assumptions of what a hotel restaurant should be, but the cleverly designed space is practically off the property, connected to the hotel only by a simple wood-shuttered doorway. In warmer weather the two corner wood and glass walls are accordioned to open the space up to the outside; with high ceilings and nary a supporting post in sight. If patrons entering from the street noticed the Marriott logo at the top of the building on the way in, they’ll have forgotten they’re drinking and dining in a hotel restaurant by the time the first signature cocktail arrives at the table or is concocted at the bar. How about a Mescal Old Fashioned with del Maguey, agave syrup, cardamom bitters and a grapefruit twist, or a fiery Tajin margarita with mango-infused tequila, herbal Guaycura Liqueur de Damiana, Cointreau, watermelon and muddled Serrano pepper?
Resident Chef Dave MacLennan presides over a creative menu featuring tapas-style starters such as Thai-style melt-away tuna tartare with seaweed, crunchy peanuts, avocado puree and a soy chili dressing served with paper-thin yucca and lotus root chips; sweet and tender Santa Barbara mussels are done simply in homage to the curry staple with a piquant sambal, ginger, garlic and cilantro broth. Lest the roving vegetarian think they’ve hit pay dirt, the Brussels sprout salad features near-carbonized greens cavorting on the plate with chunks of Benton’s bacon and a slow-cooked egg, owing its lineage more to a Southern dish of greens than a healthy menu option; very few dishes are created with vegans in mind (even the chilled beet gazpacho features a dollop of goat cheese).
The grilled cauliflower “steak” is a personal favorite, in part because the precisely-cleaved vegetable comes to the table looking like a lung cross-section – accompanied by a red quinoa patty blended with tomato, almonds and herbs and delineated with a ring of balsamic vinegar, this is a sturdy dish with some teeth to it, but not recommended for someone likes their cauliflower in small doses. Chef MacLennan does an odd take on the familiar Merguez – the finely-ground lamb is presented in a dense patty that resembles a tiny meat football and nestled in a bed of beet greens and tender (but not mushy) chunks of skin-on sweet potato and takes a turn to the Far East with an Italian heritage dish (farro), transforming it into a grainy mix of wheat kernels, tiny cubes of braised short rib and swordfish and egg. The dish is cloaked with an arugula crown and rests atop a smear of rich cashew butter, a complex dish with a variety of flavors and texture in each bite. The tasty-but-odd twice-baked potato puree arrives at the table in a Mason jar; imbued with Benton’s bacon, the blended mash has a stratum of blue cheese foam resting on top, with the intent being to mix the semisolid tableside.
James Republic is establishing a presence in East Village by hosting “Local Socials” on the second Tuesday of each month, offering a chance to try local brewers, vintners and spirit distillers wares along with bar bites; it would appear they’re working overtime to lay the foundation for becoming a destination for locals, Angelenos and tourists alike. Of course, if you choose to give in to orgiastic indulgence, remember – you can always stay the night.
NOTE: This cost for this meal was provided by the restaurant. The content provided in this article was not influenced whatsoever by the organizer of the event.