On Sunday afternoon, following brunch service, the Squeaky Bean, one of our favorite restaurants on the planet, closed -- not because the joint was in the toilet, or the entire kitchen crew walked out, or owner Johnny Ballen told one too many bad bean jokes. That had nothing to do with it: The Bean shuttered because Ballen and the rest of the Bean brass couldn't strike an agreement with the owners of Rosa Linda's -- the Bean's landlords -- about a lease extension and proposed kitchen expansion, which chef Max MacKissock desperately needs (and deserves). And, really, the whole thing sucks, because now the Bean has to find a new plot to sprout, and who knows how long that's going to take?
On the upside, while the Squeaky Bean -- the restaurant -- has wilted, it'll reopen on July 8 as the Occidental, a cocktail den that'll swagger the prowess of bar manager and star-tender Sean Kenyon, along with charcuterie, caviar, oysters and small plates from MacKissock. "We all have mixed feelings about this," says MacKissock. "We're happy that we have the opportunity to move on and find another space, which will give us the resources to do something really, really cool, and we're super-excited about the Occidental, but we put our heart and soul into the Squeaky Bean, and it's never going to be like this again."
While that may be true, MacKissock and his crew spent the weekend cooking their hearts out for a full house, and on Friday night, a friend and I staked out two seats at the bar and reveled -- often wistfully -- in what was our last supper at the Bean. Everything MacKissock created was off-menu, which is my favorite way to eat. "It was all pretty impromptu, but we had some great ingredients in the kitchen that I wanted to play with, and I wanted to do some really fun stuff."
He did, not surprisingly, all that and more.
Seasonality is everywhere apparent -- as it should be -- in MacKissock's dishes, and his spring skewer of morel mushrooms and artichoke hearts, sheeted in shiny lardo -- pure pig fat -- courtesy of Masterpiece Deli, was further elevated by the presence of vibrant English pea soubisse and artichoke foam. MacKissock's take on Billi Bi (cream of mussels soup) was superb: He took poached mussels, sunk them in a spring-onion puree bobbing with coins of citrus-spiked Spanish chorizo and, as a final touch, crowned the soup with a carrot-and-saffron foam. This dish, a spiderweb of dehydrated red onions straddling fried tortillas and a sphere of whipped carnitas, scented with cumin and orange and cooked in fat, was simply incredible. MacKissock dotted it with citrus coriander blossoms and dabs of avocado mousse and crème fraiche. It rained fat on Saturday night, especially when this plate graced the bar: a forest of leaves -- swiss chard, kale and red orach spinach from the Squeaky Bean garden -- were gently squeezed by slices of smoked duck flurried with shavings of foie gras torchon. Loved the Bing cherries, too, puddled in a red-wine gastrique. Tarps of Wagyu carpaccio festooned with French potato chips, nasturtium leaves, orbs of bone marrow, soaked in milk, then tempura-fried and snowed with microplaned horseradish. Pan-seared halibut cheeks, cubes of compressed watermelon, slivers of watermelon radishes, prosciutto-wrapped melon and arugula flowers appeared in a stark white bowl before the dish was showered with a Pamesan brodo.