Let’s face it: Long Beach hasn’t always been known for its farm-to-table restaurant scene, preferring instead to offer more casual daily dining for its half-million residents. Slowly, though, the area’s food scene has begun to grow bigger and stronger, not just in size or media attention but in seriousness as well. Now comes Chez Bacchus, a wine-driven, farm-to-table East Village spot that has settled nicely into the former 4th & Olive space on a residential stretch between downtown and Retro Row, with plans to push the LBC food scene just a little bit further.
The new Chez Bacchus (a Greek name for the god of wine and pleasure) means to strike a delicate balance, offering modern diners a taste of the good life while also reminding them that unrestrained excess can have damaging long-term effects on restaurants and the entire food ecosystem. Chef and co-owner Christopher Meehan (previously of Irvine’s Bistango) says that he wants the restaurant’s menu to marry ultra-seasonal cooking with more nostalgic restaurant elements, including tableside flourishes and white tablecloths.
“Sustainability is paramount,” says Meehan of his dishes, which involve products from farms using heirloom seed lines and regenerative farming practices. Meat dishes rely on free-range animals fed with sustainable farming byproducts, and fish rotate based on seasonal availability. Sustainability with seafood is important, and Meehan’s goal is to work with locally caught fish whenever possible. “As soon as halibut is in season, we’re going to have halibut on the menu,” adds principal owner John Hansen. Ideally, he says, servers should actually be able to tell diners the specific time their fish was pulled from the ocean.
In addition to ownership, Hansen heads up the robust wine section of Chez Bacchus’s menu. One of less than 800 advanced sommeliers worldwide, Hansen — who spent the past thirty years as a sommelier at Disney’s Napa Rose — is uniquely qualified to craft what could become an award-winning cellar, something Long Beach has struggled to embrace over the years. At opening, Chez Bacchus offers 120 different wines from around the world, with Hansen personally administering introduction sommelier exams to new servers. The expectation is that each will make it to level one as part of their training to help give diners confidence when discussing bottles and by-the-glass options from such a wide array of choices. Soon enough, Chez Bacchus will begin to offer a four-course menu with wine pairings as well.
Meehan’s menu seeks to marry the old and new, juxtaposing the heavy sourcing common in local restaurants today with a timeless array of decades-old dining kitsch like cherries jubilee, soufflés, and a roving cheese cart. There will also be a weekend high tea service, featuring tiers of finger sandwiches and petit fours. The attention to detail needed for all those theatrics will be the catalyst to begin a new conversation, Meehan figures — one about true seasonality, and what farm-to-table actually means.
“We live in a society of excess,” says Meehan. “Having everything available all the time has blinded us to the fact that this is not the way to live.” Instead, he says, his staff and hopefully his diners can choose to be thankful for having had the opportunity to enjoy the seasons as they come and go.
The Chez Bacchus space will also toggle between two worlds, offering an airy and open dining room with seats for 75 under the usual exposed ceiling and bow truss beams. The brushed cement and accent wall (colored to match the hunter green of an advanced sommelier’s pin) backdrops well against white tablecloths. With a price point of around $60 per person before wine pairings, the goal is to show that finer dining can be made approachable, and without losing attention to detail. The dining room will be run by general manager Anthony Alvarez, a longtime hospitality player who cut his teeth at Mélisse before moving on to become chef Christophe Émé’s maitre d at Ortolan, followed by gigs with Nancy Silverton at Osteria Mozza and at Church & State during Walter Manzke’s days.
The second phase of Chez Bacchus is Petit Bacchus, a small grab-and-go and carryout cafe coming soon. Customers will enter through a separate doorway for coffee and pastries in the mornings, followed by wine, beer, and easy bites into the afternoon and evening. It’s all part of a larger play to bring something more to Long Beach, without forgetting what has always been there.
Chez Bacchus is now open at 743 E. 4th Street in Long Beach, CA.