This past weekend marked 2012's last run of Old Soul, a pop-up by Jeremy Fox held at Square One Dining in Hollywood. If you missed it, it's probably forgivable -- Old Soul has only served eight nights of dinner so far, with plans to continue well into next year.
It would be a good move, though, to keep a spot open on your calendar for Old Soul's 2013 return. The meal I had there the other night was one of the most enjoyable in recent memory -- comfortable, cozy and exceedingly satisfying, not unlike being invited to a dinner party by a chef who happens to have a Michelin star under his belt.
To start there was a salad of delicately nutty quinoa, with avocado, beets and sweet red grapefruit segments, and a bowl of spicy tripe puttanesca with caper shoots. Then there was a shrimp hominy dumpling in black roux gumbo -- slightly bitter, black roux is notoriously tough to get right -- and then a gobsmacking morcilla (blood sausage) latke, heavy with pepper and clove, topped with snipped chives and a poached egg. For dessert, pastry chef Brooke Mosley whipped up a mixture of Honey Crisp apple, bay cream and hazelnuts, which, though delicious, would have been perfect if the cinnamon-dusted chicken skin on top had been fried to order.
It wasn't surprising to find out that a dish on the tasting menu was one of Fox's favorite staff meals from his pre-Ubuntu days. If you had come expecting a meal akin to that served in what was once known as the best restaurant in Northern California, you would be somewhat perplexed by the casualness. But in my opinion, the new Old Soul better captures Jeremy Fox's current cooking mindset.
Call it the "Dave Chappelle" analogy -- Jeremy Fox, like Chappelle, was at the top of his game (at Ubuntu) and faced a massive amount of pressure for such a young talent. Most people tend to imagine stress on chefs to come in the form of long hours and back-breaking labor, but there is something to be said about the creative pressure to constantly innovate, the anxiety of influence as it were.
So Fox chose to leave the spotlight almost in a flash, bumming around Los Angeles with far more humble goals in his sights. In the same way that Chappelle, now living in Ohio, will pop up at a comedy club now and then to perform unannounced stand-up routines -- as opposed to headliner TV specials -- Fox has found his local comedy club. It's a return to the homey, neighborhood-centric cooking that every chef holds dear, and often cites as the reason for entering the business.
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The food community often looks at pop-ups as a form of upward mobility, a way to move from unknown cook to respected chef. But in Fox's case, pop-ups serve as a means to decompress and simplify. The cooking is honest, simple, unfiltered and exactly the kind of intimate affair next-level diners look for. Wouldn't you prefer a midnight show at a smoky, underground club to a sold-out stadium?
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