Last night was the official launch of Sea & Smoke in Del Mar, our Anatomy of a Restaurant focus and the third area restaurant for Matt Gordon. Eater caught up with the chef for a debrief to get his reflections about their first service and the process of opening the restaurant.
How was the first night?
It was great! We did really good practice runs; we pushed ourselves. We didn't do long nights, but the way we did the reservations it was 20 to 25 people every 15 minutes, which is sort of the max we usually do anyways, so we really felt the full effect of what tickets would be like stacked up on each other.
Were there any surprises or mishaps?
We've been aging some Paso Prime beef but they weren't ready yet so we had another purveyor bring in some dry aged steak, the same one that Cowboy Star uses. They were huge, three-inch-thick bone-in rib eye steaks, super funky and awesome; in a Morton's Steakhouse, you'd pay $120 for this steak. I charged $44 just because I wanted to sell something, but there was a guy at the bar who returned it because it tasted "funky". This was pristine, gorgeous dry aged steak and that's exactly how you should describe it, so it was heartbreaking that someone wouldn't understand that kind of meat.
How do you educate people?
Well, scallops come back because people think they weren't cooked enough but they were cooked exactly the way we cook them. We talked about all those things in training with our staff, like when anyone orders a salmon to let them know that we like to cook it to about medium rare but if they'd like it cooked through just let us know, no problem.
How is the menu format working?
I haven't heard about any confusion so far; people are sharing and ordering sides. We put a little blurb on the menu about it being family-style dining that's meant to be shared, and that each item comes on its own plate. It's definitely easier to produce volume this way, which is fun. We put ticket printers on the line for the first time, and that makes things easier for us.
Was this opening different from the last two restaurants?
For one thing, we signed the lease in January and we're open about six months later. I signed the lease for Urban Solace 18 months before we opened and two years before I opened in Encinitas. Last night, when first few tables were set, the lights were dim, the sun was going down and the first orders were fired, we looked out the window into the dining room and at that moment it didn't really feel like it had taken all that much time to get there.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
I wish our patio was a little more secluded but the foliage hasn't grown in all the way so that'll take a little while.
But I'm really happy with the way the place looks. Without Bells & Whistles, it wouldn't look like this but I also feel like we gave them a lot of direction. I think that we accomplished what I envisioned when I first walked in the building, and we had great help from Bells & Whistles in creating that.
Are you opening for daytime service soon?
We're just doing dinner this weekend and then we'll open for lunch starting on Monday. We'll do breakfast next Saturday and Sunday but we haven't determined whether breakfast will carry through or just be on weekends.
What do you want the restaurant to be known for?
I think like with everything we've done, I just want it to be genuine. One of the things I said in the training with our staff is that whether someone spends $10 or $10,000, I want them to walk out the door feeling like they got their money's worth.
So what's next?
There's no next at this point. We try to live and do business organically so the growth has to be the same way. I don't have anything planned, though you never know what will come along. But my goal isn't to open another restaurant this year.
· Sea & Smoke [Official Site]
· All Anatomy of a Restaurant Coverage [~ESD~]