Crista Fooks has been kicking around the idea of opening a restaurant for more than half her life (she’s just turning 40), a few years after getting bit by the food bug when enjoying escargot for the first time at Carp’s late, great Epicurian on her 16th birthday. “It was like you were in a wonderland there,” she recalled, “and the whole room led me to be willing to take the chance. My family just started getting really adventurous about food.”
That sense of adventure imbues her new café, Scarlett Begonia, now open in Victoria Court, but it’s adventure (that’s quinoa oatmeal, those are lemon ricotta pancakes) that’s homey and satisfying. She points to places like Suzanne Goin’s Tavern in Brentwood or Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali’s Pizzeria Mozza as other inspirations, claiming, “They serve something fresh, with local ingredients, but they’re not some hoity-toity place. It’s not unattainable food.”
She spent some time finding the right chef, insisting, “It was hard to get someone to make me something simple. People were giving me guff, saying, ‘You’re being too picky.’ But it was perfect timing meeting Henry [Ramos].” Ramos had been at Downey’s for 10 years, while also working at bouchon, Square One, and the Montecito County Club. He had also been interested in starting a breakfast and lunch spot (for Fooks, it’s a necessity, as she has two young children).
Do know that when you’re enjoying your delicious smoked-salmon flatbread, Fooks is “extremely dedicated” to keeping it local, which is a “monster job.” She explained, “Purveyors fight me and say, ‘You don’t want to,’ but I say, ‘Yeah, I do.’” Right now, she’s buying her dairy at Trader Joe’s to be sure it’s organic, and admits she has “serious worries about GMOs.”
All that concern about ingredients makes the food sing, of course, but, said Fooks, “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. I have a million ideas of things to do. We want to make our own hotdogs. It’d be fun to have kick-ass chili dogs for the Super Bowl.” The menu will always be changing, to reflect patrons’ buying patterns and the seasons. “I won’t have an heirloom tomato salad in the middle of winter because the tomatoes are crap,” she stressed.
Scarlett Begonia is also set to be the center of a revitalized Victoria Court. It’s very dog-friendly (your pooch will get not just water but also a treat), they have permission to sell beer and wine outside, and they have the right to feature up to two acoustic guitarists (Fooks’s husband, Scott, is a lawyer who insisted, “Everything is negotiable.”). When Fooks says, “I’m totally loving it,” she’s not going to be the only one.
Set your breakfast and lunch sights dead-red for Scarlett Begonia (11 W. Victoria St., #10, 770-2143, Wed.-Sun., 8am-3pm).