Matthew Lickona 5 p.m., Dec. 9
A bite with Chad White at Counterpoint
The first time I met chef Chad White was when he was working the line at Point Loma’s since closed Roseville. At the time, he was a clean-cut, eager unknown pushing out ground chuck patties for the restaurant’s weekly burger night. He’d just come off a tumultuous stint at a lost-cause hotel and was looking for new job opportunities. Impressed by his politeness, drive, and the fact he was extremely vocal about numerous charities he contributed his time and skills to, I turned him on to some leads. They didn’t materialize into a job for him, but he ended up doing OK for himself.
Over the past three years since, he climbed to the position of executive chef at Roseville before moving to North Park to lead the kitchen at Sea Rocket Bistro and accept a partnership stake in the business. Less than a year later, he was hand-picked by chef/restaurateur Brian Malarkey to open and head up his Point Loma eatery, Gabardine. By then, the now bearded and increasingly hip chef had gained a healthy level of notoriety. Being thrust into shared space under Malarkey's white hot spotlight raised his popularity even more. Unfortunately, that gig didn’t last very long. White—whose professional ascent was mainly a product of putting out food that pushed boundaries and used esoteric specialty ingredients—went wild, offering a menu many Point Lomans deemed downright strange. Returns weren’t what Malarkey and company had hoped for when they hired White, and he was let go.
That was in June. Since then, he’s been hanging out under the radar…but I found him and caught up with him on the outdoor patio of his new workplace in Golden Hill—Counterpoint (830 25th Street). A colorful neighborhood bistro of sorts with local art lining the walls and an eclectic clientele, the two-story spot already fits White like a glove. The smaller space is more conducive to experimentation and the community is stocked with citizens more likely to embrace the chef’s creative dishes, especially at the reasonable prices he’s offering them up at (most dishes are under $15). Still, White’s taking it slow, saying he’s “massaging things a bit.” For him, that means introducing single offal dishes at a time or putting on out-there plates as specials versus composing a menu leaning toward or made up completely of more off-the-wall offerings.
He says he’s come to the realization he can’t change everybody so that they eat the way he does, but still intends to influence diners as much as he can and, hopefully, educate them about lesser-seen cuts and ingredients in the process. When asked what early dishes he’s most excited about, he led with a pair of lop-eared creations: rabbit confit made from the hind legs; and rillette made from the front legs, saddle, loin, liver, and heart. He’s also enamored with a duck entrée designed to mimic barbecued tri-tip and potato salad. The fowl is coated in a smoky spice rub, pan-roasted to get a crispy skin, then glazed with house-made barbecue sauce, roasted, and served over a fingerling potato salad with celery, corn, jalapeños and blistered tomatoes (stems and all). Kimchee Brussels sprouts, kettle corn, and hominy served Corn Nuts style make for fun sides and snacks, too.While interviewing White, he whipped up a fresh dungeness crab special with an aioli made spicy via the addition of house-made Old Bay seasoning with surprising additions of cardamom, cinnamon, and allspice.
White found his way to Counterpoint when owner, Cam Fomby, asked him if he knew a good chef who could come in and design a new menu for the restaurant. White told him he knew a guy—him—and they spent two hours talking food and the direction of the eatery. They hit it off so well that, even though Fomby’s plan had been to get one super-creative chef to compose his bill of fare then hire another chef to come in and execute it, they decided to skip the second step and have White come aboard as the new executive chef. White brought his Gabardine sous chef over and, in a span of four hours, converted Counterpoint from a fun-but-suspect blip on the culinary radar to an everything-local, farm-to-table approach, gourmet-for-all-types restaurant with serious legs. Rabbit legs, that is!