Michelin-lauded chef Ross Pangilinan has followed the success of his first South Coast Plaza restaurant, Terrace by Mix Mix, with Populaire Modern Bistro, a collaboration with longtime pal, chef Nick Weber.
Parisian bistro dishes are interpreted by Weber with Californian ingredients in a creative, quirky menu. Located on level 2 of the Saks Fifth Avenue wing, the space is divided into three sections with indoor and outdoor patio seating and a petit dining room accented in French blue with marble-topped tables and bistro chairs.
We recently caught up with the two chefs and chatted about their new venture.
CHEFS ROSS PANGILINAN & NICK WEBER
Tell us about how you met and your friendship before you decided to partner.
CHEF ROSS: We met while working with Patina Restaurant Group, at Pinot Provence at the Westin South Coast Plaza. Nick was the chef de cuisine and I was the sous chef. We had a great rapport and he took me under his wing. We went to work at other restaurants but continued to stay in touch and hang out. Now, every year we vacation together with our families.
Chefs Ross Pangilinan and Nick Weber
Photo Credit: John Pangilinan
Fromage Blanc Gnudi
What are your culinary impressions of one another?
CHEF NICK: Ross has always had that quiet laser focus, puts his head down and gets the work done. He’s a work horse and that’s evident in what he’s accomplished the last few years with his restaurants.
CHEF ROSS: Nick is incredibly talented and his food is beautiful and thoughtful. His intensity and passion inspire me. He’s always been able to foster a great team environment and camaraderie.
How did the Populaire concept originate?
CHEF ROSS: I’ve had the privilege to cater events for the Segerstrom family and I learned that there could be another opportunity—in addition to Terrace by Mix Mix– if the right concept came along. I knew I couldn’t do it by myself and wanted to propose something special. Since we had that culinary history together, Nick and I had always hoped to open a restaurant. So, when the opportunity presented itself at South Coast Plaza, we had to seize it.
Kombu Cured Fluke
Fried Chicken & Royal Ossetra Caviar
Tell us about the restaurant name, Populaire.
CHEF NICK: I have a running list of restaurant names and concepts in my phone. When Ross asked me If I had any names, Populaire was the first one that came out of my mouth and everybody loved it.
How does Populaire reflect your preferences and style?
CHEF ROSS: I trust Nick and Populaire is his vision and his menu through and through. We both come from fine dining, so there’s that influence but you see Nick’s sense of humor in the menu, with dishes like the Duck Confit Spliff, Royale with Cheese and Send Gnudis. We’re trying not to take ourselves too seriously and wanted to have a little fun.
You have such great produce–do you select from the local farmers market?
CHEF NICK: I just talk to my rep and ask what’s good at the moment from the local farms. I also have a photo folder in my phone from every week of the year at Santa Monica Farmers Market, so I refer to that a lot.
Tell us about some of your favorite dishes on the menu and the backstories on them.
CHEF NICK: I wanted to keep the menu simple on technique and heavy on seasonal ingredients. The proteins will most likely remain and the garnishes will change with the season. The escargot ebelskiver is an idea I’ve had in my head for a long time but I could never find the right pan, until I went to the Japanese market and picked up a Takoyaki pan. The dish came together pretty quickly after that, the Koji buttermilk emulsion with garlic was a great way to bring the classic flavor but make it much lighter.
For the duck confit spliff, I needed a fun way to use the duck legs. For the duck entrée, we use the whole duck and cook the breast on the bone, which we marinate in a homemade Amazake. We air dry it for four-five days and the flavor is amazing.
The Royale with Cheese is gaining quite a following, and we’ve heard commentary about the menu illustration.
CHEF NICK: Most people get the burger reference from the Pulp Fiction scene. Our managing partner Alyssa McDiarmid’s niece, Emma, did the sketch. I gave her a copy of the menu and asked her to get creative; she absolutely killed it.
Royale with Cheese
Seems to be a little Elvis in the building–commemorative plates and such—please share.
CHEF NICK: My aunts and grandma are big Elvis fans, so I was always around it growing up. I love the old Sun Records tracks. The collector plates and whiskey bottles I’ve accumulated through the years from family and antique stores..
You offer eclectic wines with some unknown gems. How has the list been curated?
ALYSSA MCDIARMID (MANAGING PARTNER): When the boys asked me to design the wine list, I already knew what I was looking for, but thought about each dish as Nick was creating the menu–his food is so balanced and nuanced and the list had to be the same. Something for everyone, but also tailored to the food. Nick is passionate about natural wines so we included a few. Everything else falls into some of my favorite discoveries which I love sharing.
Duck Confit Spliff
Photo Credit: Ron De Angelis