They were four difficult words to hear considering what it pertained to. It wasn’t about a graduation, an employee termination, or the end of a relationship. It was the end of a menu. Sure it’s not as serious as finishing school, leaving a job, or saying goodbye to a significant other, but after loving the limited menu at g a r g a n t u a (Gargantua for ease) and realizing it was the last time I could have a few specific items that came from the kitchen that evening, the words fell on me like a ton of bricks.
Under the helm of Chef Nick Barainca, Gargantua works as a pop up inside the OP Café on Ocean Park Boulevard. Offering dinner service from Thursday to Saturday, Chef Nick serves a varying 5-Course Menu ($47 per person). With raw materials, produce, and ingredients from local farms, Chef Nick creates dishes that reflect the California aesthetic in a unique and unrestricted way.
It didn’t take long for me to become deeply familiar with the current menu from Chef Nick and to fall in love with it in the process. The first introduction came with the Opal Limeade. The homemade limeade made with opal basil was the definition of ambrosial. Slow sips gave way to a sprightly and invigorating drink with moments of subtle sweetness around gentle bubbles that didn’t need an ounce of alcohol to carry the dinner along.
As the opal limeade began to slowly fade away in the glass, the Black Garlic Bread was placed on the table. For anyone with a sincere love for bread, this was by far one of the best I’ve ever had. The comforting scent that wafted through the sliced warm bread was relaxing and drove my hand, almost involuntarily, to grab a piece. With a portion of the piping hot golden bread in my hands, I smeared the cultured butter across it and watched it soak within it quickly. The cloud-like bread with the salted crust and butter was impeccable, mysterious, and everything one could ask to have.
Smearing the butter across the bread continuously could have been a satisfactory way to end the menu, until reality set in and there was no bread left. Unfortunate as it was, the Dwarf Banana Inspired by the Yucatan came just in time. Paired with jicama, marigolds, and passion fruit, it was surprising to see how an ordinary banana could be transformed into something nearly unrecognizable. Centered in this bowl was a golden banana that sat under pale shavings of jicama and sprinkled with dainty yellow and orange petals. The subtle sweet banana was free of any mushy texture that is often associated with the fruit. Instead, it held itself nicely letting the acute flavors within the banana seep through. Adding the jicama with a firmer texture over the banana presented a unique arrangement of tastes that made it easy to clear the dish.
Just as easy as it was to finish the dwarf banana, the same was true with the Young Potato and Fresh Cheese. Green pozole, pineapple guava, and lime leaf was delicious. The vibrant green contrasting against the white was striking to see and came with a taste that matched. The petite potatoes were delightful on their own and even alongside the pozole with its mellow spice, but the best part of it all was obvious: the cheese. The fresh spheres of snow-white cheese were smooth on the surface followed by polite crumbles of the soft cheese. Spoonful after spoonful, the potatoes and the cheese were flawless until the very last bite.
I was pleased to have the previous courses of Chef Nick’s menu, but none of them would matter after having the Beef Belly Cooked Over Almond Wood. Sensible slices of beef were aligned with morning glory. The dish looked charming, but the minute it was experience, it was clear that it was much more than that. The beef was the definition of excellent. The core of the meat was luscious while its lining was dynamic and dark. It was salted, juicy, tender, and could stop a conversation in its tracks. I loved every morsel of the meat and thoroughly enjoyed every second with it. While I found it to be the best beef possible, it was disappointing to hear Chef Nick utter four of the most disappointing words: “It’s the last day”. This serving on the evening with the menu would be the last time the beef belly would be served and it was baffling. How such meat could never be experienced again was hard to admit, but reflecting back to the moments prior when I had the perfection of the beef was all I needed at this point.
To close the dinner was the Nude Oat Financier for dessert. Two small French cakes were topped with slices of preserved plum and placed with kefir buttermilk. As individual pieces the components of the dessert weren’t as strong as they appeared, but combined together as a unanimous piece they were delicious. The rising zest in the cake with the fruit and the creamy buttermilk was a pleasant way to end the entire dinner.
As I put my fork down and the finished plates were swept away from the table, I sat with Chef Nick’s words replaying in my mind: “It’s the last day”. The last time I would ever be able to try the menu as it was presented on that night and to saturate myself in the excellence that was the beef belly. Seeing what was left of each dish slowly drift away to the kitchen I felt saddened. It was the last day to have such a deliciously crafted menu and if memories would be the only option I could ever have to recollect something so close to perfect, then my memories would have to do.
- Food tastes great
- Friendly staff
- Plenty of free parking
- Limited menu