After months of hush-hush planning, local chef-lebrity and Top Chef Masters winner Douglas Keane has finally broken his silence on plans for a collaborative St. Helena restaurant with L.A. chef Sang Yoon.
Named Two Birds One Stone, the Japanese-style yakitori grill will be housed in the newly-rehabbed Freemark Abbey Winery in the Napa Valley, owned by Jackson Family Wines. Yakitori restaurants are usually casual eateries that serve small plates of grilled meat and vegetable skewers, along with beer and wine (the term actually means “grilled chicken”). The restaurant is slated for a June 2016 opening.
“It’s going to be a high energy, casual environment with great inspired but not challenging food. A place you can stop by for a drink and a couple bites or hang for the whole night,” said Keane, who was co-owner of the two star Michelin restaurant Cyrus in Healdsburg with Nick Peyton until its closure in 2012. He retains co-ownership in Healdsburg Bar and Grill with Peyton.
Sang, who appeared with Keane on Top Chef Masters in 2013, is the owner of Father’s Office gastropub and Lukshon restaurant in Los Angeles. The two became close friends — which some jokingly called a “bromance” — during taping of the intense Bravo television competition.
The two hinted at a possible collaboration last fall at Kendall-Jackson Winery’s Heirloom Tomato Festival, when Yoon was a judge and Keane a contestant at the annual chef cook-off, but they kept the final details secret until this week. The sneak peek at their opening menu includes an impressive lineup of fowl that will be cooked on a hardwood grill, as well as beef and seafood. Master Sommelier Kevin Reilly (Cyrus, Quince) will head the wine program.
“We are both at a stage in our careers that we can pick what we want to do, so it really has to be interesting and fun. This is both,” said Keane.
The announcement of Two Birds One Stone comes exactly 18 months after Keane announced plans for an ambitious upscale rebirth of Cyrus in Alexander Valley. That project, on a parcel also owned by Jackson Family Wines, angered local residents concerned about zoning issues in the agricultural area. Keane said the project is still in play, but is keeping mum on any further details.
JFW chairman Barbara Banke has long been a supporter of Keane’s culinary projects in Sonoma County and was instrumental in helping Cyrus 2.0 move forward. But with that project in flux, Keane turned his eye toward the company’s Freemark Abbey Winery, a more than 125-year-old St. Helena institution that was overhauled during the past two years, taking the building down to its stone walls.
Keane also is a longtime friend of renowned Kendall-Jackson culinary gardener Tucker Taylor, the former French Laundry produce whisperer. Taylor’s daily Instagram photos of his fruits and veggies have garnered him Internet celebrity of late.
“The abundance of produce that exists in Wine Country will be almost as much of the menu as poultry in certain times of the year,” Keane said. “The close ties with Tucker as a direct source will be a huge part of our menu inspiration. A lot of…the plate will be vegetables, too.”
Keane and Sang are in good company as high-end chefs throughout the country turn their attention toward American versions of izakaya, informal Japanese gastropubs that are as much about eating as drinking. Minimashi is slated to open in Napa this month, an izakaya from celebrated chef Curtis Di Fede of Oenotri. In Sonoma County, Ramen Gaijin also serves izakaya, along with ramen. Hana Japanese chef Ken Tominaga opened yakitori restaurant Pabu in San Francisco recently with Chef Michael Mina, and izakaya (pub-style) restaurants have popped up all over the Bay Area in recent years.
“To focus on Asian flavors while highlighting the abundance of product in front of us seemed like a good way to enter the market with a unique offering, and it’s a natural extension of both of our styles. We love this type of food and get excited about showing it off,” said Keane.
Keane’s affinity for Japanese cuisine was showcased at Cyrus and at Shimo, which closed in 2011. He also had a short-lived Asian-style wings restaurant at Graton Casino.
“It’s not everyday you get to work on a project in a place that I really love visiting,” said Yoon. “It’s an opportunity I felt I couldn’t pass up.”