“So my wife orders a salad, and on the salad is a slice of tomato that’s a little green. I tell her that it probably wasn’t gassed all the way [the process of ripening commercial green tomatoes] and she asks me if I’d serve that tomato at my restaurant. I tell her, I wouldn’t have tomatoes on the menu in December.”
John Hansen casually tells me this story as he shows me around his new restaurant space at 743 E. Fourth St. And quietly I breathe a sigh of relief, as I often do when someone truly gets it.
Every time I wander through a farmers market and I see a table of tomatoes that look as if they’ve been sprayed with speckles of green, I feel the same as Hansen: Just because a tomato can be tricked into growing in December, it doesn’t mean it should. It doesn’t taste good, so why eat it?
And if you’ve ever carefully grown tomatoes of your own you understand what I’m saying because you realize that mid-summer cherry tomatoes can actually taste like cherries. You look forward to persimmons and sunchokes in the fall, Carra Carra oranges in the winter, morels in the spring, and plump berries that stain your fingers and taste like candy in the summer. Fish, poultry, even coffee has a growing season, and that’s what Hansen’s Chez Bacchus restaurant is going to offer because that’s what farm-to-table is. Seasonal.
Hansen tells me that the chef wants to go to the farmers markets every morning, “but I’d rather he’d hire a forager.”
Not to be confused with a forger who copies things, a forager is a gatherer of foods. In this respect, a forager is a person who Chef Chris Meehan could take to the farmers markets and show exactly the quality to look for, and then that person’s only job would be to shop at the farmers markets for high-quality seasonal menu ingredients.
This, people, is farm-to-table. Or I guess more appropriately farmers market-to-table, which is really just splitting hairs, isn’t it? The important thing is that Chez Bacchus is stepping up the game in Long Beach.
Hansen, a level-three sommelier with decades of experience under his belt, looks up at the arches in the vaulted ceiling of the former garage that was converted into the short-lived restaurant Fourth & Olive (and even shorter-lived PigBurd) and expresses respect for the beauty, telling me that he is going to illuminate the ceiling to add dimension to the dining room. But he’s quick to point out, as he admires his vision through the construction, that the focus is on the food.
Hansen, formerly a sommelier of Napa Rose, along with Chef Chris Meehan, and General Manager Anthony Alvarez, are taking a different approach to this space, where form will follow function. Meehan’s redesign of the exposed kitchen setup will dictate how food flows from the kitchen, which will, in turn, have an effect on how the food comes out, which affects how and where the servers move and how the dining room functions. Every detail is thought out.
Alvarez describes the farm-to-table concept as “like Chez Panisse but with global inspiration,” serving foods inspired by seasonality, so Meehan can spotlight the ingredients without the constriction of a regional theme. Each dish will be prepared with a world of possibilities in mind, to be professionally paired with old-world wines.
Hansen mused that they had just had lunch and Chef Meehan asked the server whose coffee the restaurant used, and the server had to check. Amazed that this was a question that wasn’t easily answered, Hansen explained the team at Chez Bacchus is going to be trained to know about everything they serve, right down to the possibility that all servers may be trained and certified as first-level sommeliers, so they can better understand and explain the wine selection and pairings being offered. (Alvarez mentioned to me the possibility of public wine classes as well, although that isn’t necessarily set in stone yet.)
In addition to sommelier-paired wine service, the new eatery will be offering weekend tea service, where customers can chat over traditional tea or wine (or cocktails when the place gets its license) with towers of finger sandwiches and light bites. The tea service will be the mid-meal on the weekends between brunch and dinner service.
If you’re an early riser looking to grab a cup of locally roasted coffee on the go to get your morning started, well, they’ve got that thought out, too. While the door to Chez Bacchus is going to be on Fourth Street, a separate entrance on Olive Avenue will be home to the retail café, Petite Bacchus, where, in addition to coffee flowing, they will be offering baked goods and to-go foods, as well as takeout if you’re craving farm-to-table fare but don’t feel like dining out or cooking.
And how can you have a wine-driven restaurant with a café without a wine club? You can’t. Chez Bacchus will also be offering a wine club where members can pick up their wines at Petite Bacchus and store the wines in temperature-controlled lockers customers can rent by the month. (Pricing and number of lockers aren’t available yet, nor are the pricing or details for the wine club.)
While the city is running behind on permitting food venues the group behind Chez Bacchus is shooting for a soft opening at the end of February with a grand opening in early spring.
Chez Baccus will be at 743 E. Fourth St.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with the correct spelling of Chez Bacchus.