Dave Beran is itching to serve a tasting menu again. Since the closure of his Michelin-starred restaurant Dialogue in late 2020, acclaimed for its referential 20-course progressions, the chef has been steadying the ship at his French bistro Pasjoli in Santa Monica. Following a few tumultuous pandemic years and a lost Michelin star last fall, the restaurant is finally back on solid ground. “Now more so than ever, Pasjoli is becoming the restaurant that we want it to become,” says Beran. “It’s finally a menu that we see as complete, not as collections of dishes” — and poised for its next chapter.
Beginning Thursday, June 8, Pasjoli will serve a $195 tasting menu three nights a week to a dozen diners each evening; everyone else will order from the a la carte menu. Comprising brand-new dishes with heavy French and some seasonal Japanese influences, the 12-course dégustation picks up where Dialogue abruptly ended. “It’s a culmination of where we left off with the direction we thought we wanted to go from Dialogue,” says Beran. “And coinciding with where we’ve been taking the food at Pasjoli, and the things that we’ve wanted to do that haven’t made sense [served a la carte but] makes sense in tasting menu courses.”
Dreaming up and executing tasting menus is second-nature to Beran. The chef cut his teeth in some of America’s most lauded temples of gastronomy, including a decade spent in leadership roles at Chicago’s three-Michelin-starred Alinea and one-Michelin-starred Next under chef Grant Achatz. Multicourse, hours-long menus are so deeply ingrained in Beran that developing Pasjoli’s a la carte menu in 2019 posed a real challenge because he was more accustomed to composing “pieces of a big puzzle” than “complete individual experiences.”
Though Beran hasn’t given up on finding a dedicated space for a second iteration of Dialogue, the chef is exploring how his food and perspectives have evolved in recent years through the new tasting menus at Pasjoli. The two-and-a-half-hour dinner follows a traditional template, starting with smaller bites and cold dishes before transitioning to seafood, vegetables, and heartier proteins. The tasting ends with dessert and mignardise. The portions are intended to leave diners sated but not overstuffed, with four single-bite courses.
The opening menu begins with a “caviar canape,” delicate bread cups filled with whipped beurre blanc, caviar, and pine nuts. Vegetable preparations include a salt-baked celery root salad and a fried artichoke served with a white miso Gruyere mayonnaise. The menu’s parade of proteins brings duck wings à l’orange, black cod with a fermented yuzu kosho beurre blanc, and herb-crusted pork belly glazed in a plum sauce that the chef swears tastes just like A1 steak sauce. “We’re writing a tasting menu that walks that line of modern but still French,” says Beran. “I wanted to push the food to be simple — simple in aesthetic, simple in presentation — but super complex with regards to the thought behind it.”
Those who dined at Dialogue may notice some of the same plateware, from artists like Luesma & Vega, Hering Berlin, and J.L Coquet. Beran plans on serving the menu’s earlier dishes on Pasjoli’s collection of classic gold-trimmed plates and utilizing Dialogue’s modernist vessels as dinner progresses. Each course will be delivered by a member of the kitchen staff. The $125 wine pairing from beverage director Matt Brodbine (formerly of Trois Mec and Gjusta) will include pours from across Europe. Beverage pairings may include a mix of liquors, wines, and cocktails in the future.
While Beran’s intrinsic motivation provided the initial spark to launch the new tasting menu, it takes a dedicated team to execute the vision daily. “I have this really talented core group of people in the kitchen and for the first time in a long time, they’re all fighting to be a bigger part of that creative conversation,” says Beran. “And that was really what helped us understand what Pasjoli could be.” Cooking alongside Beran are sous chefs Casey Palermino (formerly of Willows Inn), Jillianne Bulatao (formerly of Dialogue, Betony, and NoMad), and Jose Martinez (formerly of Dialogue and Otium). Jeremy Overby, who’s worked with Beran since his Alinea days, serves as general manager. “For a long time, I’ve felt like I’ve been trying to be that individual voice pushing everything rather than having good creative sounding boards,” says Beran. “The collective is always greater than the individual.”
In the years since Beran ran the high-pressure kitchens at Alinea and Next, and even since Dialogue opened in 2017, the treatment of workers in fine dining has been more closely examined. While it’s unclear whether the dining public is concerned about the ramifications of pursuing a specific kind of culinary perfection, Beran knows that fostering a positive culture at Pasjoli is essential. To that end, he and chief operating officer Ann Hsing (formerly of the Alinea Group) are intentionally building a more empathetic environment at Pasjoli.
“I’m tired of yelling. I’m too old for that now,” says Beran. “You can rule out of fear and make people so afraid to mess up that they don’t or you can rule in a way that is inspiring that makes people want to do more because they’re excited about doing more.” Beran and Hsing insist on the latter approach. Daily kitchen meetings, weekly manager meetings, and quarterly huddles where the entire staff reviews the restaurant’s books work to foster an environment of transparency and camaraderie.
The introduction of Pasjoli’s tasting menu arrives at a moment when the dining public is embracing the format. Whether bolstered by pandemic-related financial boons, a reaction to cooped-up coronavirus years, or the result of plain decision fatigue, the Southland has recently seen a rise in new tasting menus, including Manzke in Pico-Robertson, Kinn in Koreatown, and Corridor 109 in Chinatown. Fine dining stalwarts like Providence and Melisse continue to refine menus, modernize dining rooms, and tinker with service to keep diners coming back.
In the coming months, Beran and his team will continually edit the tasting menu as the season’s bounty changes (rhubarb exiting the lineup while corn enters the fold) and diner feedback rolls in. “We’re gonna constantly be playing with ideas; there were probably 30 ideas that we started with and we narrowed it down to the 12 or 13 that we have now,” says Beran. “But for now, it’s a test. Let’s see how it goes.”
Tasting menus at Pasjoli are served on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 5:15 p.m. to 9 p.m. Prepaid reservations are available on Open Table.