Former executive sous chef at Aqua, Kim Alter, is busting out on her own with a small, farm-to-table restaurant called Plate Shop, in a Sausalito space that for many years housed Gatsby’s, and most recently Rustico’s (39 Caledonia Street). She’s aiming for a mid-October opening, but because she’d been planning to be open by now — and because she’s got a background rich in custom-grown vegetable dishes working at Ubuntu and Manresa — she’s already got a full vegetable garden that needs harvesting. Today she talks to Grub Street about what she’s doing with all those vegetables, and what the menu will be like once she opens.
Where does the opening plan stand now?
Kim Alter: We’re shooting for October. I’ve become really weary of giving any sort of specificity. I’m meeting in a few hours with the architects and plumbers. So we’re hoping…
How’d you find the space?
There are three investors, and they’ve been looking at this space for a couple of years. They each got to pick a chef, and I ended up getting chosen. It’s been a bar and a restaurant since the 30s. The best known restaurant there was Gatsby’s, which was there for about twenty years. Most recently it was Rustico’s, and before that Chorizo, and they both opened and closed pretty quickly. It’s been vacant for a couple of years.
I gather you’ve already got a garden going?
My background at Manresa and Ubuntu and very garden-driven. I’ve also been working at a farm for the past year, figuring out what grows where, in what kind of light… I’ve been working on this garden for about the past year. The evolution of what happened with the property is this: the community didn’t want any seating in the back (every restaurant that’s been there has petitioned to put in backyard seating and never won). It had gotten really overgrown with ivy and all kinds of stuff, so I ripped everything out and started planting, thinking we’d be opening in July or August. So now I have all these vegetables.
I’m really lucky that some restaurants are buying them from me… it didn’t even occur to me right away. Thomas McNaughton actually gave me the idea at a party, but Flour + Water has all their own deals set up. Now Chris at Citizen’s Band has been using my amaranth on his trout dish, and my radishes in his little gem salad. I think Suzette at Acquerello used some of my radishes in their salad with house made goat ricotta. I am bringing them turnips today for the first time. I’m grateful that both these restaurants use the produce I have and both Suzette and Chris seem to love everything I bring. Chris calls everything I bring him “his treats to play with.”
What restaurants have inspired you most in your own project?
Definitely working so closely with David Kinch or Ron Boyd at Aqua, and Gary Danko, all those experiences inspired the way I think about food and cook. On a cookbook level, some places in Paris… Michel Bras, Alain Passard, and locally places like Nombe, which is doing some exciting stuff and inspires me to do something just as exciting at Plate Shop.
Incidentally, I’m going Le Fooding in September and I’m really stoked. That’s one of the only silver linings about the restaurant delay is that I’ll actually get to go to that.
How would you describe your food, in terms of flavor, presentation, style? Are you big on the visual?
When people ask about my food, I say I draw from my background, which is fine dining – but Plate Shop will be very casual – good food with a lot of technique. Hopefully all of my years of cooking will be reflected in what I do. The plating will be very similar to Manresa or Ubuntu – clean, simple, nothing too overpowering. There won’t always be a starch, or a vegetable. Hopefully every plate can be touched by the garden in some way, with an herb, a flower, or something that reflects all the time and work that went into the garden - hopefully people will appreciate that and that will carry through to the food.
How long a menu are you planning?
Six to seven appetizers, six to eight entrees, four to five desserts, plus some bar snacks. A lot is going to depend on what the line can handle. The kitchen is very small, and I want to make sure we’re able to execute everything at a high standard before we settle on the menu.
How about wine?
Matt [Kahn], our GM, has been working on the wine list. My tastes and his are very Italian-driven and right now European wines are a lot more affordable than California wines, and we want to make sure we have a lot of reasonable wines. We’re looking for some great finds at value prices.
Have you sought any advice from people about gardening, or opening the restaurant?
I called everyone who has their hands I agriculture and farming. I called both Jeremy Fox, and the farmer at Ubuntu, Rose, for advice on planting stuff. She’s been a big help. I got a New Zealand ice plant from Ubuntu, kind of a rare specimen, so I’m keeping it in the family. And I needed to know how far apart to plant them – it’s actually a weed, and it has these crystals, it’s just a really pretty plant.
Plate Shop - 39 Caledonia Street, Sausalito - opening mid-October - Dinner served weeknights 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and until 10:00 p.m. on weekends. Closed on Mondays