As an ex-skateboarder from the early ’80s, I watched the scene ride through insane popularity and sudden stagnation. Two years after the kick-flip was invented in 1983, a guy named Tony Hawk pulled a 720, pushing the sport into a new era of artistic innovation. In the culinary world, it sort of feels as if we’re in a rut of menu micro-variation, in which the same old farm-to-table concept is mixed with the same old butter-salt-acid combination. . . . That is, until late last year, when talented chef/co-owner René Redzepi and chef David Zilber of the world-famous Noma in Copenhagen pulled a culinary 720 by writing the Noma Guide to Fermentation.
I was reminded of this on a recent visit to Whitestone Restaurant & Bar in Dana Point when I heard executive chef Tony Celeste say, “We’re doing a lot of experimentation and exploring based off that book,” he said.
Whitestone doesn’t ring as some sort of exploratory kitchen lab, with temperature-controlled areas filled with various jars of farmers’ market finds being transformed and preserved into different, wild flavor combinations. Instead, it resembles something of a blank slate, where unassuming guests may wander in for some standard South County coastal dining, then accidentally be dazzled with progressive cuisine.
Crispy forbidden rice should be your Whitestone introductory dish, as it’s so much more than just a puck of black rice. The combination of yuzu kosho, lime and cilantro makes for an ultra-satisfying snack that’s packed with complexity and a tangy crunch. The earthiness of the rice is balanced by the fermented Japanese paste of chiles and yuzu peel that’s made in-house and dished to order. The restaurant’s Asian influence isn’t something I was expecting, though it’s woven and layered into dishes such as this one.
Even the Niman Ranch Angus Ribeye uses garum instead of salt, which basically tastes like the fermented juice of a thousand brisket drippings at a Texas barbecue. One drop on the tongue can spark an immediate, primal urge to eat meat that’s been sizzling over open flames. I want to put some garum in a atomizer/mister and use it as a condiment on all of my food, as well as an old-fashioned cocktail.
Whitestone is so new that the cocktail list is being reinvented to catch up to the kitchen’s level, but that shouldn’t stop you from asking the resident sommelier for suggestions from the well-rounded Cruvinet wine-dispensing system or cellar. To keep things interesting, I went with a Côtes-du-Rhône Villages rouge. The French red is on the bold side with a modererate acidity—perfect if you’re a fan of drier wines.
Did it create culinary kick-flips? Baby, it’s like landing a Tony Hawk 900.
Whitestone Restaurant & Bar, 34212 Pacific Coast Hwy., Dana Point, (949) 489-8911; whitestonerestaurant.com .