How the River Bar concept come about, and how did you get involved?
I got involved in the project fairly early. I applied to the job simply because I was curious about what was there, what was going to be opening in the neighborhood, and then found out that it was owned by The Independent people who I have come across before in dealing with the food truck. They were very interested in what we used to do at Staff Meal and how that style of food, that mentality towards the food, could really set River Bar apart.
Have you explored Assembly Row much yet, aside from the River Bar site?
Yeah, actually I live pretty much right across the street, so I had been very interested in the project before I was signed on just because it was in my neighborhood. I spend a lot of time around there. I think it’s really cool how that area has transformed from nothing into a massive complex full of both stores and restaurants, and it’s really cool to be a part of that, to be one of the people helping turn that neighborhood into something cool.
Something that we’re really trying to go for with River Bar is to be the Somerville-style restaurant for Somerville people.
It’s an interesting spot. Lots of big chains, but it’s good to see some smaller local groups going in.
Something that we’re really trying to go for with River Bar is to be the Somerville-style restaurant for Somerville people. I think for a lot of people who might otherwise question, "What does Assembly Row have to offer me?", that’s where River Bar kind of swoops in. We’re a local restaurant, we’re doing really different things, we’re not playing it safe the way your average chain does. And we’re certainly trying to attract the same crowd that would go to Union Square or Davis.
Walk me through the menu a little bit — what’s your philosophy behind it?
Whenever I do any menu, it comes from a place of "What do I want to eat for myself?" I figure if it seems good to me, it’s probably going to seem good to other people as well. My philosophy has always been what I like to think of as gourmet junk food. Kind of a mixture of fine dining French food and take-out Chinese, really just highlighting various ingredients that I like and finding ways to use them.
For instance, the chorizo scotch quail eggs, which is one of my favorite dishes on the menu that we have right now. The chorizo is the same chorizo recipe that comes from Staff Meal, and I think we have a really good chorizo. Being able to use that again and highlight that ingredient that I really enjoy, and to do it in a scotch egg form, in a quail egg form, I think it’s fun — but that doesn’t take away the deliciousness that it also is.
How often do you anticipate changing up the menu?
I can’t say how often right now, but I tend to get bored of things quickly, and as soon as I have some new idea, I want to put it on the menu that day. I don’t think we’re going to have a set time frame for when the menu changes. Dishes will come on and go off seasonally, but if something seems good, it might find its way on the menu out of the blue.
Is there something on the menu you’re particularly excited about, something totally new that you hadn’t done at Staff Meal?
Well, we have corned beef and cabbage dumplings, which is sort of my take on a corned beef sandwich with a rye dipping sauce. We’ll make our own corned beef and then make a standard thick-dough, Northern-style Chinese dumpling. Something that will have the same elements of a corned beef sandwich but done in an unfamiliar way. I think it’s going to be a fun challenge to be able to produce all of that and to make the corned beef and make all the dumplings, and I think it’s a delicious dish. I think that’s going to be another crowd-pleaser.
It will be a much different restaurant in the summertime when we have all the open space available to us.
In terms of design, it sounds like the focus is going to be the big patio, right?
The patio is larger than our dining room and kitchen combined. It will be a much different restaurant in the summertime when we have all the open space available to us, especially with being so close to the river bank and having that view and actually being able to utilize some of the waterfront, which I think is really cool.
Are you still hiring, or are you pretty much set on your team at this point?
For the most part I’m set with my team right now; it’s a very small team, because it’s a very small kitchen. But I have the crew that I think I’m going to go with, and I believe that all of the front-of-the-house team is assembled as well.
In some ways, a small kitchen is a lot more enjoyable than a large kitchen in that nothing can be too far from you.
With such a small kitchen...is it still going to feel huge compared to a food truck?
It definitely will, and I think that’s something that made it an attractive choice for a job because I knew they were dealing with a small kitchen space, and they knew that I obviously had plenty of experience with that. In some ways, a small kitchen is a lot more enjoyable than a large kitchen in that nothing can be too far from you. You really have to focus a lot more on how to get the most out of a dish.
Is this your first time being part of the opening team for a restaurant?
Adam [Gendreau, of Staff Meal] and I helped open Circle Restaurant in the South End, which was a short-lived venture.
Is there anything you learned opening Circle that you’re applying here?
More than anything else, just patience. And knowing that things can’t go completely smoothly; problems arise. Things that you can’t even predict you’re going to have to deal with. It’s just a matter of not letting that stress you out too much, not letting it get to you, and just being aware that anybody who has ever opened a restaurant throughout all of history has had to deal with all of these same problems, and that’s just part of the process.
Aside from specific dishes on the menu, what are you most excited about for River Bar?
This is the first time I’ve ever been at the helm of a restaurant that was 100% squarely in my own neighborhood. It’s one thing to get in a car and travel to somewhere and serve food to people, but it’s another thing when the people you’re serving food to are actually your neighbors and people you see on the street. Having a sense of community and really helping to put something into a neighborhood that I already really like, that’s really exciting for me.