Hidden Kimchi: The Bird and the Bottle, Santa Rosa, Calif.
The Bird and the Bottle in Santa Rosa, Calif., is another example of the breakout of Korean flavors and ingredients from longtime culinary enclaves such as Los Angeles’ Koreatown. Located about an hour north of San Francisco, it opened in September 2015. Not so hidden on the menu of this American cuisine restaurant are Korean ingredients and flavors.
There’s skirt steak marinated with 된장 doenjang (savory fermented soybean paste) served with 배추김치 baechu kimchi (traditional red chili-spiced garlicky fermented cabbage) and garlic butter, 배김치 bae kimchi (pickled cabbage but not spicy), baechu kimchi and 오이김치 oh-ee kimchi (pickled cucumber), kimchi butter, and a vodka cocktail with drinking vinegar made from 깻잎 kkaenip (shizo or perilla)-infused pear juice.
In an interview with the Santa Rosa, Calif., Press Democrat, Executive Chef and co-owner Mark Stark referred to The Bird and the Bottle’s cuisine as “Jew-rean,” a mix of Southern, Jewish and Korean dishes and flavors.
Dishes are designed for sharing. On a cold December day, we tried the House Pickles ($6): bae kimchi, oh-ee kimchi (really, a Korean-inspired take on a half-sour cucumber pickle) and barely pickled shiitake mushrooms. The bae kimchi was fresh — crunchy cabbage is a good sign — with a hint of ginger. As for the oh-ee kimchi, it was the first time I had Korean-style pickled cucumber I actually liked. I think Koreans tend to pickle them too long, to the point the texture becomes too soft. The mushrooms were a slightly sweet and tangy — delightful. Fresh, spicy, sweet and sour all in one dish — the right notes for Korean cuisine.
We also could not resist trying an order of Warm Sesame Jalapeño Biscuits ($6). They came with a side of orange-maple butter, but we specially requested Korean chili butter also, “robbed” from the shellfish menu. Both butters worked well.
Our main course was Certified Angus Beef Skirt Steak ($28), marinated in Korean miso (aka doenjang) and served with kimchi and garlic butter. The restaurant unknowingly took my “hidden kimchi” series literally: the baechu kimchi was tucked underneath the sliced steak. The garlic butter sauce that accompanied the steak and kimchi was a good dinner partner with our medium-well-cooked steak. The steak was also sprinkled with a little sea salt, garnished with sprouts and cilantro.
I also tasted the steak with some of the Korean chili butter. Many restaurants are willing to accommodate special orders, but this was a case in which the restaurant made the better pairing.
Kkaenip, similar to shiso from Japan, blends savory and minty tastes. It’s commonly used raw as a wrap around barbecued meat. So Bird and the Bottle’s Shiso Pretty cocktail ($11) was intriguing. It’s a vodka cocktail made with a shiso-flavored drinking vinegar, made with St. George spiced pear liqueur, lime juice and a lime rind as a garnish. I can’t say that mixing vodka with vinegar will magically make vodka healthful, but the sourness of the vinegar does add an interesting note to the vodka and encourages sipping over guzzling.
Koreans make a fermented vinegar that’s specifically for drinking. The Colonial American version, called “shrub,” dissipated in the U.S. after the Industrial Age and refrigeration changed how Americans ate and preserved food.
The Bird and the Bottle
1055 Fourth St. Santa Rosa, CA 95404 (707) 568-4000 birdandthebottle.com
Hours: Monday–Thursday, 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.