If you’ve seen my St. Patrick’s Day post on my corned beef hash recipe, you know that I love me some corned beef! Perhaps it was fitting then that I first went to 320 Main when they tweeted about having a corned beef burger on special. I got the tweet and did a double-take. I was playing (crushing) my ten year old son in a particularly heated miniature golf match when he asked about food. Oh, I know where to go!
320 Main rests a block away from PCH on, conveniently, Main Street in downtown Seal Beach. Not only is it the name of this charming restaurant and bar, but also the address. You have to love the efficiency. They serve a variety of seafood, chops and steaks and provide beverages to accompany from an extremely impressive bar.
We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. We devoured their Duck Fries appetizer, a pile of garlic fries with julienned duck and caramelized onions. Rather, my son devoured. I fought for the remains. Mind you, my son loves onions. He gets excited when I’m chopping onions and begs like a puppy for the chopping board wanderers. Odd kid. I figured he’d eat the onions and I could enjoy the duck.
The little shit ate all the duck! I got one little piece of the duck and it was extremely tasty, but he pretty much declared war on them as soon as he tried it. It was horrific. The carnage of the duck, onions and fries flailing about to-and-fro was reminiscent of a Swedish Chef segment from the Muppet Show combined with the army of termites devouring everything in sight in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Next was the baby back ribs appetizer. The waitress said they serve three on the plate. My son said we’d take two, before I could open my mouth. The meat fell off the bone. I was glad he said two.
While we were enjoying our appetizers, I was enjoying cocktails crafted by Rumdood
. I was aware 320 Main served some classic and vintage cocktails (via following Rumdood on Twitter), but I was not aware of how high the quality was and how great they actually tasted. I was absolutely blown away that this place, which has been there for a year, was so close to my Monday hangout, Don the Beachcomber… yet I never knew about this place! He first made me Three Dots and a Dash. Now, this is a fairly famous tiki cocktail, though I rarely order it because I’ve never really been too impressed with it. I was amazed to find it tasting great. Odd. I’m not in a tiki bar. Why is this better than most tiki bars make?
“Yeah,” Rumdood explained, “Most people don’t make the Beachbum Berry recipe from the Grog Log.”
That’s a rather shocking statement to hear a bartender make at a bar that is not a tiki bar. Now granted, this is a guy with “rum” in his name, but still. I was impressed. I wanted to sample more of his creations. I placed my palate in his hands and he just kept serving better and better cocktails. Bastard. Having been witness to the wonders I was enjoying, my son asked if he could have a drink “in a fancy glass too.” I asked if they could make him something and they created a perfect juice blend for him, served fancy. He was thrilled. Beat the hell out of the root beer he had been drinking.
[Rumdood has recently posted an article about the cocktail of his own creation, Jaunty Angle, which there is a mention of "someone" that wandered in. I would be that someone and this would be that wandering.]
Now, we had come for the corned beef burgers, but we had arrived at a weird time after lunch and before dinner. They weren’t going to be ready and served until after 4pm. It was 3pm. Fine, I told the waitress, we will wait and sample drinks and appetizers. We weren’t in any rush.
“Dad, is it four yet?!”
“It’s 3:45, buddy. Almost.”
“Dad, is it four yet??!!”
3:59pm my iPhone read, “Yep.”
The waitress came to our table to check on us, “It’s 4pm. We’ll have the burgers now,” my son asserted.
Needless to say the burgers were worth the wait and the afternoon was an amazing success. My son is allergic to gluten and they took care and wrapped his burger in lettuce. Everything was absolutely wonderful. I had to come back… and knew I would soon.
The next time I went was on International Talk Like a Pirate Day. It was tweeted they were serving Navy Grogs in honor. Navy Grogs? My cocktail of choice at every tiki bar I go to?! Damn. Didn’t plan on it, but I had to go. I was at my college mentor’s memorial about 45 minutes away. I would get there around 9 to 9:30pm… they closed at 10pm. Hmmm. Yeah, it was worth it. I headed down after the memorial ended.
I arrived to a locked door at 9:15pm. A couple people were sitting at the bar, otherwise the place was shut down. Crap! I got the attention of one of them, turned out to be the owner, Jason, as I found out later, and he at first said they were closed but then let me in as I said I had come because I heard Matt was making Navy Grogs. (Yeah I was trying to name drop to get in. I’m not proud, but I had just driven 45 minutes to sample one cocktail.) Those at the bar were the two owners and a couple close friends, along with Rumdood behind the bar. Turns out a rather rowdy and drunken bachelorette party rolled in and made their lives a living hell. ”No we don’t have energy drinks. No, we don’t have Red Bull. That would be an energy drink.” Half of what they ordered they didn’t carry, nor would they ever carry. They finally got rid of them and shut the place down early and were drinking their troubles away.
My kind of people!
I pulled a seat up at the bar and enjoyed the evening thoroughly. The Navy Grog arrived and by god it was one of the best Navy Grogs, besting any tiki bar… only falling short of my own home bar. ;) I think I left there around midnight. Wonderful people… drinking into the night as they were closing, just talking about cocktails. Before I left, I noticed a flyer on the bar. A special evening of paired dining and St~Germain cocktails by their own master chef and a guest mixologist extraordinaire, Jamie Boudreau
. They are normally closed Mondays, but they were hosting this special night. I secured a reservation for one and vowed I would return in… um… about 18 hours.It was at this point that I realized I was cheating on my girlfriend. Mondays were my night at Don’s. It had been a Southern California tiki community tradition for months. This was the first time EVER I was going to another bar on a Monday. I felt ashamed. (Though, mostly excited.)
Although I had just met the owners I felt like they were friends. They definitely care about their food and cocktails, however, as you sit there you can’t help but get pulled into their world. That is to say, they are doing something special for people that most likely don’t even know, yet they are doing it for them… and passionately. They are cocktail geeks. They strive for alchemy with an O.C.D. scientific scrutiny and a Picassoesque deconstruction. In a peer environment where fresh lime juice is found from the dried out shard tossed into your vodka soda, 320 Main is crafting cocktails with two dozen types of bitters, homemade ingredients and use special one inch ice cubes to prevent bruising. They care about the cocktail. To call it a ‘drink’ is insulting… it is a cocktail. They wanted to share their passion and host a special event where they highlighted one spirit. I was about to experience St~Germain through 320 Main.That night, I walked into an excitement in the air. The dining area was full and staff was hurriedly moving around. There was an energy about and you could tell this was to be an adventurous evening. The reservation simply said “Joby” and the greeter informed me I had been designated a bar seat. Wonderful. As I was attempting to sit down, my neighbor to my right looked at me and declared, “This guy,” pointing to his companion to his right, “follows you on Twitter.” That was a little creepy, though a bit humbling.
|Left to right in fedoras: Rumdood, Sylvan, Lush
“Oh yeah? Why don’t you follow me?” I jabbed back. Touché! This anonymous fellow smiled and laughed and handed me his card. Lush Angeles. Oh crap! I follow him on Twitter! Point and match. Well played, sir. His companion was Sylvan Thompson and goes by @pdxcocktails on Twitter (he did not follow me at that time, but does now). I nodded to Rumdood at the end of the bar, who was there as a guest and enjoying the evening like the rest of us rather than slinging St~Germain creations. It had been far too long. Evidently, this was the blogging table… reserved for the industry’s elite. I obviously fooled them into thinking I was important… muwahaha! Though, later it occurred to me that if we sat at the bar their servers wouldn’t need to work so hard going back and forth as we continued to drain their bar. Probably less a place of honor and more a strategic positioning of the battleships. I’m sticking with a place of honor, though.
We were given a cocktail book from St~Germain, a menu of our evening’s festivities and a coupon for 20% off St~Germain and Yvette. Evil. I was also handed a pre-cocktail cocktail that was delicious. I was done. If the evening ended there I would of had fun. Wait, there’s more?! Well then, let us continue.
Jason gave a humble speech thanking everyone for coming and how they have always wanted to do things like this, delving into spirits. He reaffirmed my belief that here is an owner of a very special place that is devoted to cocktails and wants to share his passion with others. He introduced Jamie Boudreau with great excitement. I could tell there was a giddiness about him as he made the introduction, the same giddiness I felt as I sat there among these cocktail mavens. I had not been familiar with Mr. Boudreau, nor his contribution to the cocktail world, but if the people I looked to with praise looked to him in that manner, clearly I should follow up and Google him later. Dressed in a grey vest and sharp suit befitting a bartender from the 19th century, he commanded attention and spoke with great comfort and enjoyment. The evening will be paired with the amazing food, and as such, he informed us, the cocktails were designed to not take center stage and knock you out, but to subtly fuse the courses together. A light cocktail with fruit and a dry champaign would be served with the salad, an apple brandy would be clichéd (his own admittance) to the pork, while a light and foamy creation would pair with dessert. Each of these using St~Germain in unique ways. With that, we began.
If you are not familiar with St~Germain, it “is the first liqueur in the world created in the artisanal French manner from freshly handpicked elderflower blossoms.” You may not have had a cocktail made with it, but you’ve probably seen the distinctive bottle behind the bar and wandered what cocktails make use of that. It has a sweet and floral taste that is unlike most other spirits. The first time I had it in a cocktail, it was a tiki creation at the artist Kirby’s home tiki bar, The Rumpus Room. The flavor brought the citrus together to make you feel as if you just stepped off the plane in Hawaii and a gorgeous native placed a lei around your neck, whose scents waft across your nose. It is a very interesting flavor and I can definitely understand why I rarely taste its influence. Most bartenders just don’t know what to do with it. However, it is worth experimenting with to see what it can do for you.
1/4oz Crème Yvette
Top with Dry Champagne
Add ingredients into a chilled small Martini glass and garnish with a blackberry.
This was served with a salad that was the embodiment of a garden of fresh vegetables.
1 1/2oz Calvados
1oz Cocci Americano
Stir ingredients in an ice filled mixer, strain into an Old Fashioned Glass over fresh ice. Garnish with an apple fan.
Quite possibly the largest and juiciest pork loin I have ever seen was served with grilled asparagus and a purée of potatoes, cauliflower and celery root. Gladiatorial combat broke out over the white pillow of heavenly goodness. If you were not careful, it would be stolen off your plate when you looked away for a split second.
1 1/2oz Appleton white
3/4oz Lillet Blanc
1/4oz Crème Yvette
Dash of Angostura Orange Bitters
Stir ingredients in an ice filled shaker and strain into a small Martini glass or Riesling glass, garnish with St~Germain foam.
This was served with a plate of varied cheeses, miniature grapes, edible flowers and a brittle that again caused combat to ensue.The evening was truly a work of art. I wondered through a gallery of tastes. The chef came out to greet everyone and I was able to commend him on his work, not only for this evening but also for the previous day with my son. He remembered us and my following tweet praising the food. I was a little embarrassed, but it was worth the praise and I was glad he got word of it. I left the evening thanking the owners profusely in what was probably a very pathetic combination of a sad sigh for needing to leave and a look in my eyes that probably read, “are you fucking kidding me with how great this place is?!?!”
I recently stopped in on a Sunday, when they have Happy Hour all day, for their $7 Mai Tai special that day and determined to reclaim my serving of Duck Fries. What was going to be a simple and light dinner ended up being a late evening of libation exploration. Jason was behind the bar and continued to dazzle with one cocktail after another. The Mai Tai was very good, though a little light in the rum (color and funk, not proportion… I like my Mai Tais with dark Jamaican or other deeper funk), but I quickly dove into their other menu items and encouraged him to simply have fun. I wasn’t going to say no. Each and every one of them were wonderful. Sadly, Duck Fries were not destined for consumption on that night either. They had a special on Short Rib Pot Pie that evening that caught my attention first. An amazing crock of flaky puff pastry crust hiding a swamp of meaty magma below. I wished it had been raining as I was eating it. That would have been quite fitting. After that I couldn’t help but continue the comfort food theme and opted for their Mac and Cheese appetizer. Yeah, that’s right, Mac and Cheese. Don’t label them as a stuffy and pretentious gourmet establishment. They have some serious home cooking comfort food. Their Mac and Cheese uses five or six different cheeses with crusted Swiss on top and hints of Blue inside. Jason knew of my duck longing and asked if I wanted some tossed inside. As I was meditating over the chalice of cheese, he asked how it was.
“If I don’t order this from now on, every time I come here… there will be something very seriously wrong.” I meant it. I will want the cocktails to vary to sample more, but I MUST order that Mac and Cheese with the duck added to accompany. Period.
So there you have it, my ‘objective’ experience and review of 320 Main in Seal Beach. It is a jewel of a bar in the armpit of the coastal bar scene. Where you might find a decent vodka served with your energy drink at any of the other drunkeries, 320 Main stands out as a misplaced stepchild. You would expect it to reside next to other top bars in downtown LA, like The Varnish. Yet, some how this bar and restaurant rests snuggly between Long Beach and Huntington Beach aptly illustrating the best of the cocktail scene revival going on in LA, San Francisco, New York and London. It might be a bit of a drive for you, but it is well worth the effort. Hell, it’s a 45 minute drive for me. Their prices range from $5 appetizers (my epically star-crossed lover Duck Fries are a mere $6… one of these days they will be mine!) to $30 entrees. Cocktails are all $10. Every time I’ve been there they’ve had some food and cocktails on special that night. Although the space is relatively small, they have a patio, raised tables and stools around the bar, the bar itself and cozy dining tables and booths. It is a great environment for a date or a gathering of a couple friends at the bar. The food is worth a little wait if they are busy (I say that as the last time I was there the guy next to me was a little annoyed with how long his salad was taking to come out. It was explained that they are grilling the chicken and then need to chill it and will be out shortly. He was quite happy once it came out. That is the level of detail they perform. Rather than precook and serve from a trough they take the time and care to create.) and worst case you sample another cocktail. Oh darn. I don’t recommend going there if you need to be somewhere shortly there after. You will be lost within the folded layers of taste and libation, wrapped up within like a blanket. You won’t want to leave and chances are you’ll end up staying there longer than you expected.Say ‘Hi’ to Rumdood, if he’s working, and tell Jason I sent you. Try the Duck Fries. I hear they are good.
320 Main Street, Seal Beach, CA 90740 — (562) 799-6246