When chef Jason Jones started his job at Coastal Kitchen, he arrived at work to a closed restaurant, where the first line of business was not to cook, but to give the kitchen a good cleaning. Now, two weeks after Coastal Kitchen's reopening and debut of their oyster and cocktail bars, Jones turns his attention to polishing up the menu. In the last few years, he has cooked in a variety of kitchens around town from casual bars to the fanciful Herbfarm and Poppy. Now at Coastal Kitchen, he is using his diverse experience to satisfy the tastes of longtime customers, while drawing in some new ones.
Photo by Tiffany Ran
Honestly in the last six months, it has kind of changed a little bit. Up until then, I was primarily focused on working for other people. I worked at the Hyatt for a couple years. I just thought I would not really focus on owning my own restaurant or anything. I was going to go corporate, work at the Hyatt, and get a Hyatt tattoo, you know. It just didn't work out. It wasn't what I thought it was going to be. It was more corporate than I thought. So I got back my independence and now it's like, if I'm going to be independent, I might as well think about opening my own place. In the last three or six months, it has started evolving into that. I think it'll be fun. If I'm not going to work for the man, I might as well work for myself.
What would you like to do for your own restaurant?
I haven't really given it much thought. I kind of like the neighborhood-y type place. I like simple food. I'm not big in the hoopla and craziness. I like doing things simply, just making the best roast chicken you can make as opposed to making it into something that it's not. I like easier, simple. I feel like a lot of people are trying to run before even learning how to walk in cooking, like when you haven't even learned to cook a piece of chicken yet, you're already sous viding. A lot of kids are doing that these days. You know, whatever. It is how it is, and it's different from how I grew up cooking.
What would you order when you eat here?
I'd order the scallops. We're actually just starting to put the dish together right now. It'll probably be pan seared with a carrot sauce. Today is the first day we're putting it out. It'll be good. I've done dishes along that line before. It's just a matter of getting everyone on the same page.
In honor of the restaurant's new oyster bar, name your favorite oyster?
I'm going to have to go with the Shigokus. They're brinier. I'm going to also have to say Kusshis, which are a little more mild. They're similar in flavor, but Shigokus just have a stronger brinier flavor, almost like a cucumber. They're pretty good.
What are the difficulties in cooking at a restaurant that is such a neighborhood fixture?
It's good and bad in that you can't go and change things, you have to respect what Coastal Kitchen was, and so it can't be all me. It has been here for almost 20 years, and I don't really want to step on that. I don't really want to step on the toes of people who have been coming here so long, so I try to keep that idea of the Coastal Kitchen identity in mind. I still want to put my spin into the food, but I still have to tread lightly just to make sure I'm not upsetting anybody. It's a restaurant that has lasted for 20 years, you can't discount that, you just want to take it to the next level.
How do you plan on adding your own touch to the Coastal Kitchen menu?
Primarily, I'm focusing on dinner right now. Eventually, I'll be able to move onto lunch or breakfast. I was able to take out a couple of dishes that I really didn't like and couldn't call my own, but then I've also added a couple things on there. We're going to have a section that is more Coastal Kitchen. Then we'll have another section that is more seasonally themed. Next month, we're doing Sicily. We're moving into the theme menu still.
Right now, we're working just off the base menu. So there's the base menu stuff, and there is stuff in the middle that I'm working on too where I'm bringing in more seasonal products and just having more dishes on the menu that are more composed as opposed to those that have more of that insert starch, insert vege here type dishes.
It's the beginning of the second week here, we're going to try to rotate two or three fish [dishes] and a couple of sides. I call my seafood purveyor and just see what's reasonably priced. We're trying to placate the new people as well as satisfy the old people who have been coming in. It's a tough balancing act. I think it'll work out.
Coastal Kitchen will be hosting a fundraising dinner on Tuesday, October 30. 30 percent of the dinner's sales will be donated to Lifelong AIDS Alliance.