Through our Scene in San Diego podcast, we continue to explore the state of the restaurant and bar industry in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and keep you informed as we navigate the ever-changing food scene.
On this episode, we catch up with chef Travis Swikard, who joins to talk about his first solo restaurant project, the highly-anticipated Callie, which is coming the East Village at the corner of Island Avenue and Park Boulevard. Though delayed by the pandemic, Callie finally has an opening date in sight. The San Diego native, who has worked in esteemed kitchens around the world, gives us a sneak peek at his menu and shares why he’s so thrilled to be back cooking with local ingredients.
We also discuss the new status of San Diego County now that the state has returned to a color-coded system. On January 25, after nearly two months under Southern California’s regional stay-at-home order which limited restaurants to takeout and delivery only, California Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the order and San Diego was placed back into the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy”’s purple, or “widespread” tier, which is the most restrictive. For restaurants, this means that outdoor dining can resume once again, but indoor dining is still not allowed.
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Travis Swikard’s return to San Diego was big news. The chef, who grew up in Santee and whose first restaurant job at 15 was with the Cohn Restaurant Group, came back to town after spending the last decade in New York City working for food luminary Daniel Boulud as the culinary director of several of the famed French chef’s restaurants.
Although Callie won’t officially be part of the Cohn Restaurant Group, Swikard’s close relationship with its executive chef/partner Deborah Scott and the Cohn family helped to spur his move home. With their partnership, he secured the former Bottega Americano space in the East Village for the his first solo restaurant, which will serve California and Mediterranean-inspired “cuisine du soleil”.
The 6,500-square-foot restaurant has been thoroughly remodeled, and Swikard says they’ve been on the verge of opening several times over the course of the last year only to be sidelined by the pandemic. He now seems fairly confident that Callie will be able to finally open by late May or June.
Swikard shared how he’s been spending the pandemic, getting in some quality time with his wife and two sons as well as doing small, private dinners that have enabled him to still cook with Callie’s chefs and take advantage of San Diego bountiful ingredients .
He says that Callie will have a fun, playful atmosphere that might aid in re-energizing the East Village and extend to the menu, which will feature hummus made tableside and other meze, or Mediterranean-style appetizers including taramosalata, a Greek dip, made with cured local fish roe. Count on local fish and produce will feature prominently, as Swikard is particularly passionate about showcasing and supporting local producers. Over his last two years back in San Diego, he’s also made a point to connect with fellow chefs in the area, hoping that they can collectively help to raise up San Diego’s dining scene.
The Scene in San Diego Featuring Eater Podcast is hosted by Eater San Diego’s Candice Woo and NBC 7’s Monica Garske and is produced by NBC 7’s Matthew Lewis.