You might remember that bouillabaisse, with the fennel-tomato-saffron broth you wanted to bathe in. Or perhaps it was the beef cheeks, meltingly tender yet just crisped, alongside peak-of-summer Roots Farm corn and more. Or the ricotta ravioli gussied up into summer elegance with charred Lane Farm strawberries.
Well, you don’t have to remember anymore. All of Chef Justin West’s deeply desired dishes from his former restaurant Julienne are coming back on Monday and Tuesday nights, when he turns his Wildwood Kitchen barbecue space into Brunoise, offering a new menu each week.
“I’m worried that the memory of Julienne rose to a great place in people’s heads,” confessed West, the Oregon-raised chef who ran the East Canon Perdido Street restaurant from 2008 to 2016. “I have to compete with the memory of myself.” So he decided not to return to full-scale fine dining but rather to offer refined dining, in which Wildwood will play the perfect pop-up host.
Right upon opening, Julienne wowed customers with its upscale farm-to-table cuisine, won the Independent’s Foodie Awards in 2010 and 2015, and attracted fans like the late Anthony Bourdain. But after an eight-year run, West pulled the plug on Julienne two years ago, both to focus on Wildwood, which opened in The Mill on East Haley Street in 2015, and because he was getting divorced from his wife and business partner, Emma. “It was an adjustment time,” he said. “I had to figure out how my new life was operating.”
Wildwood Kitchen’s barbecue formula, meanwhile, works almost too well for this chef. “To be honest, at Wildwood, I never cook,” said West. “The recipes are set to the milligram, and Chef [Jason] Carter is great. My time is spent on QuickBooks and doing marketing and HR — stuff I can do remotely is good when I’m with the kids, but it didn’t fulfill my soul as a restaurateur.”
The recent Thomas Fire and mudslides also hit business hard, making West reconsider notions of opening a completely new restaurant in our high-rent town. “From December 7 through January 25, all of the catering events we had booked canceled,” he said. “It was one of the most challenging years in business after two years that were very difficult emotionally.”
So the idea of Brunoise — that’s the next-smallest dice for knife-skills fans after julienne, by the way — seemed perfect. “Cooking food like that Julienne food gives me solace; it’s healing,” said West, still excited about the process of getting ready for Brunoise’s debut on July 9-10. “There was nothing like listening to 14 hours of Grateful Dead and prepping.”
Luckily, all of those Julienne gems were recorded. “Back in our better days, Emma did something so valuable for me: She wrote a 15-page menu with every dish we ever made,” he explained. “It’s like a greatest hits from a band that played for eight years, but played a different set list every week.” So while he pulled out some classics to kick off Brunoise — there were even foie gras doughnuts for dessert — he might get to some deeper cuts, too.
The hope is that those who love Wildwood’s soulful barbecue and Brunoise’s artful cuisine can coexist, and maybe even intermingle more. “I feel like I was three years early on Haley Street, and I’ve been here for three years,” West joked, pointing out how little foot traffic his outpost at The Mill gets. And while he also jokes about a new restaurant concept called Child Custody — “It’s only open when the chef can come to work” — he then adds, “The kids make slogging through all the stress of owning my own business completely worth it.”
Mon.-Tue., 5-9pm; Wildwood Kitchen, 420 E. Haley St.; 845-3995; instagram.com/BrunoiseSB