James Republic Brings Clean Food, Clean Design to East Village


Photo courtesy of James Republic

Long before the open-air glass walls of James Republic–the new restaurant from Chef Dean James Max–breathed a much needed sense of revitalization to the southeast corner of 1st and Linden, there sat a dingy hotel bar whose blackened windows were only vaguely highlighted by neon Bud Light signs glowing from inside.

Impressive transition.

And that transition–Republic’s nautical aesthetic is simultaneously clean-yet-comfy, much like a home professionally designed inside-out–was also created with Long Beach thoroughly in mind.

Each employee is sent down the street to vertically integrated clothes creator The Academy for individually tailored button-ups. Their coffee is provided by local masters of caffeination Lord Windsor (and once a shot of their espresso is pulled out of their classic La Marzocco machine, Republic offers the best espresso in town outside of independent coffeeshops). Their mugs and wine glasses are etched and designed by local stoneware purveyor Clay Design (with the coffee mugs happily greeting you with quotes along the inside praising the pleasure of caffeine).

jamesrepublic2They’ve even tapped into the growing craft cocktail scene in Long Beach, with a drink menu largely curated by head bartender Ronaldo Taruc. Making an impeccable old-fashioned, Taruc has one-upped every local bar in making what was the best whiskey sour we’ve experienced: Bulleit rye, handmade sour with the slightest dose of simple syrup, served straight-up with foamy egg white on top and two drops of angorstura bitters for aroma.

And the philosophy of the food, headed by Columbus, Ohio-transplant and executive chef Dave MacLennan, also exudes a Long Beach quality, with direct and simple dishes that opt for the farm-to-table approach. MacLennan is used to this ideal, particularly considering that his close relationship with Max–who has opened multiple Marriott restaurants in locations ranging from Fort Lauderdale to Baltimore–has fostered this sustainable approach to food.

And both felt Long Beach is a far-too-long untapped market.

This ultimately amounts to a rotating menu–“If you come in and then come back two months later, it’s highly unlikely you’ll see the same thing,” said MacLennan–that highlights seasons as well as MacLennan’s versatility.

Take, for example, his seared wahoo dish: beautifully sliced rare wahoo accompanied with pignolias, SoCal-based Drake chevre, cauliflower and a beet vinaigrette for a tinge of acidity. And yes, he paired cheese with fish and achieved a balance–the tartness of the chevre and vinaigrette with the unami-like wahoo–that was surprisingly refreshing.

But that was last week. Today, it is swordfish acting as the seafood entree of choice.


Heirloom beer salad with beet gazpacho. Photo by Brian Addison.

“Balance is key,” MacLennan said. “There’s a mix of people: some want new menus while some want staples. And we’ll have staples–like the half-chicken dish–but we hope to encourage people to explore with us. Explore the local markets and offerings. After all, people always want good, fresh food.”

Even more, the fresh food he offers sits at reasonable price range considering the quality and locality–only the swordfish dish was over $20–that in turn encourages one to sample more.

MacLennan’s chicken-liver pâté, topped with a caramelized onion jam and sometimes mixed with duck liver, is sure to convert even the most skeptic of those against pâté. Undeniably rich, the sweetness of the jam and the saltiness of the pâté make a deserving, dessert-like spread on grilled bread. Plus the fun of the plating–the pâté is served in a mason jar, almost urging one to be generous with their dolloping–adds an ambiance that makes one smile while they eat.

This attention to presentation is also a nice welcome to the Long Beach food scene, which has often been lacking (we seemingly nail flavor but often forget, simply put, how beautiful food can be). The beet gazpacho is gorgeously colored: a deep, almost magenta pool of blended beets sits below chunks of golden heirloom beets, topped with fresh greens, Cypress Grove sheep’s cheese, and an almond-lavender vinaigrette.


Chicken-liver pâté with carmelized red onion jam. Photo by Brian Addison

Their ceviche–whole scallops and shrimps–has a sweetness that pairs well with the plate’s variety of root chips in place of the common tortilla chips. Again, aesthetics make the dish fun.

Even MacLennan’s vegan entree, a cauliflower steak that is topped with red quinoa, almonds, broiled cherry tomatoes, and a blood orange reduction, comes out looking like someone discovered the rainbow of nature with its bright reds against stark whites.

In short, one can go on and on about the grub–both its quality in taste and presentation–but in true Long Beach fashion, one has to experience it.  For who can honestly argue against MacLennan proclamation that people always want good, fresh food?

Yeah, we only heard people’s forks hitting plates as well.

James Republic is located at 500 E. 1st St., (562) 901-0235, jamesrepublic.com

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