"The way the menu is set up (with the cold, raw section, the salad section, and then the hot and soup sections), there are cooks that are put in charge of each. So, for instance, the cook who works the raw fish five days a week and is immersed in it can have something new put on the menu. If there's something he wants to explore or learn better, we can explore those things. Everybody has the ability to throw out ideas that can get on the menu, including my sous-chef and the pastry manager. Cooks get tired of cooking the same thing over and over again. Now, whenever something's getting tired, if we're tired of making it, then it's off the menu right away. And that makes for better food.
"We have 18--20 appetizers, versus the old menu, where we used to have 10 to 12. With 10 appetizers, you can play with maybe 3 of them, but with 18, you can do so much more. What's changed is, we now have the ability to serve $8 or $10 sardines next to a caviar service for $35 or $40. You can play with having less more-expensive items on there, and it doesn't throw the menu out of whack. It doesn't make it look like a cheap menu or an expensive menu, it makes it look like it's a menu where you can eat what you want to eat...."
I asked about the small portions of starch on the plates. "Part of it is that when I go out, I'm eating more vegetables, and more of the protein," Trey said. "If I order wild king salmon, I want wild king salmon, not just a little piece of it with a bunch of other stuff. It's not intentional, it's just the way I seem to be going. In my judgment, we offer a lot more protein than most restaurants, and we've continued as we always have to place a huge importance on vegetables, the stuff we get from Chino -- with starch as something that puts the two together. But we're flexible with people's requests; we'll substitute vegetables or starches if somebody asks, and they can order from the side dishes as well.
"When you look at San Diego restaurants in general, there aren't enough good-quality restaurants that you feel like you can go to more than once or twice a year. Our goal is to turn California Modern into that restaurant where you feel comfortable. You can come and have an experience that would warrant an anniversary dinner, a graduation dinner, but it's also a menu that is versatile enough that you can come in and have a nice meal without feeling like you've got to make this big ordeal out of it. More and more, San Diego seems to be following that 'You gotta make a big deal out of it' restaurant model. There are not enough restaurants that are consistent, and good, and that don't make you feel uncomfortable, and that the menu changes enough that if you came in last week, you're going to find some new things on it this week. That's our ultimate goal. We're not there yet, but we're getting there. It's not to satisfy everybody -- that's not our goal. It's more to make it a restaurant that's comfortable.
"But what our goal is, and how the community sees us, are different. The community is still looking at us as the old George's, but we're sticking by our guns. Because the future of the restaurant business -- and it's happening in other cities already -- is to make it a more casual experience. If you want, you can have a great bottle of wine, trained people waiting on you, somebody good in the kitchen -- but with the flexibility of having several different ways of experiencing it. You go to some restaurants, they take themselves so seriously, you feel smothered by them. We take everything seriously -- but we don't take it too seriously."