Back in the late 2000s, Ubuntu was one of a handful of restaurants at the nucleus of the Wine Country culinary scene.
No one expected the yoga studio–adjacent eatery and its vegetarian tasting menu to be a hit. When chef Jeremy Fox left his position as chef de cuisine at Manresa in Los Gatos to run the Ubuntu kitchen in Napa, people wondered if perhaps the rising star was making a career-killing gamble.
But people were wrong. Within a year, both Ubuntu and Fox were swimming in critical acclaim. Fox was named best new chef by Food & Wine and the San Francisco Chronicle's rising star chef; Ubuntu earned a spot on The New York Times' list of the best new American restaurants. A Michelin star wasn't far behind.
But the more Fox treaded water behind the scenes, the closer he came to drowning. The only way to save himself was to walk away from Ubuntu for good.
A little over a decade later, Jeremy Fox is back in the water and feeling fine. Chef/owner of three Santa Monica restaurants—Birdie G's, Rustic Canyon, and Tallula's, he's found the thing that was so elusive in those Napa years: balance.
"Maybe it was changing my expectations of what success meant," Fox muses. "But I also had to learn to work with people better and communicate better." And there was something else, too, something that changed Fox's life forever. They named her Birdie.
"I think becoming a dad changed my role at work," Fox explains. He's more of a teacher now, more of a nurturer and a mentor, and maybe that's why, despite the toll that Ubuntu took on Jeremy Fox, he is once again at the top of the restaurant game.
Of his three restaurants, it is Birdie G's, named both for his daughter and grandmother Gladys, that is the most personal. A kind of homage to Americana and the grand supper club tradition, Fox's seasonal menus are steeped in comfort food drawn from across the U.S. and Eastern Europe. Dishes like matzo ball soup, noodle kugel, and wood-grilled meats and fish are popular mainstays.
"I'm 100 percent Jewish on both my mother and father's side and a lot of the food memories I have are of my grandmother cooking," says Fox. And while he never thought he'd be working in a restaurant with 30-pound bins of matzo meal, at Birdie G's one of Fox's primary goals is to spark nostalgia. It's stressful to take on dishes many remember best from childhood, but that's all the more incentive to "make sure those things are really off the chart so it surprises people," he explains.
Given his history with plant-based cuisine—the man literally wrote the book On Vegetables—there is plenty of local produce on the Birdie G's menu, too: dishes like fresh farmer's market lettuces, badger flame beets with smoked trout roe, and rice flour–battered king trumpet mushroom.
"There's a different mentality across the board of vegetables' place in the daily diet [than there was 12 years ago]," Fox says. "I find people just want things to be good and I've definitely made sure I've made vegetarian food that is decadent and unhealthy."
Among those indulgent eats is Fox's grilled asparagus with horsey feta and everything spice—a simple dish that works as well at a barbecue as it does on a warm summer evening at home. "For this recipe you can either blanch the asparagus and serve it, you can blanch it and grill it, or you can grill it from raw," he explains.
You don't even need a knife —just snap off the woody ends of the spears and cook, drizzle them with a mixture of horseradish, feta and cream cheese, and sprinkle everything bagel crunch and fresh dill over top. The whole thing comes together in less than 10 minutes.
While you're in Santa Monica...
Sure, it's a little cheesy, but the Santa Monica Pier offers classic SoCal fun. (Photo by Gerson Repreza on Unsplash)
Santa Monica is the fifth and final stop on our California Culinary Road Trip, a collaboration between 7x7 and The Spice Hunter. While you're in town, visit the restaurants, sights and attractions recommended by 7x7 and Birdie G's chef/owner Jeremy Fox.
Eat everything. Some of Fox's perennial L.A. area favorites include hip East Hollywood cafe Sqirl (720 N. Virgil Ave), Neapolitan pizza joint Ronan (7315 Melrose), and the seasonal, farmer's market-driven Botanica Restaurant & Market in Silver Lake (1620 Silver Lake). One of his pandemic go-tos, the downtown Mexican hotspot Sonoratown (208 E. 8th), is an excellent meal in the post-COVID era, too.
Immerse yourself in art at Bergamot Station Arts Center.This creative arts complex in the historic railroad station (2525 Michigan Ave.) where Birdie G's is located has more than 20 galleries and creative hubs featuring weird, wonderful, and innovative work from around the world. Most are free and open to the public from 11am to 5pm Tuesday through Saturday, and creative community events take place regularly.
Go old-school on the Santa Monica Pier. With a dozen rides including an iconic ferris wheel, midway games, and ocean front dining, the world famous wharf provides classic Southern California fun in the sun.
Ride the scenic Marvin Braude Bike Trail. The coastal trail called "The Strand" by locals has stunning ocean views that stretch from Will Rogers Beach to Torrance Beach. You can rent a bike for the day from Perry's Cafe & Rentals, which has four beach-front locations in Santa Monica.
Recipe: Make Jeremy Fox's Grilled Asparagus With Horsey Feta & Everything Spice
Birdie G's chef/owner Jeremy Fox has a deeply personal relationship with vegetables, but he also believes in making them fun and tasty. His grilled asparagus gets a tongue-tingling twist with horseradish feta and everything bagel seasoning.
(Photography by Jim Sullivan)
24 pieces jumbo asparagus
1tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste
Juice from 1/2 lemon
6 1/2 tbsp cream cheese
6 1/2 tbsp feta cheese
1 1/4 tsp prepared horseradish
4 tbsp everything bagel crunch (The Spice Hunter)
Trim off the woody ends of the asparagus. Brush with olive oil and season lightly with salt. Grill over low fire for five minutes, flip, then cook for another five minutes or until just tender throughout the stalk. Squeeze a half lemon over the asparagus and finish with a few grains of flake salt.
Line up asparagus on a plate. Combine the cheeses and horseradish in a bowl then spoon the mixture over the base of the asparagus. Sprinkle everything bagel crunch seasoning over the cheese. Finish with fresh dill fronds.
// Birdie G's is open for indoor and outdoor dining, takeout and delivery; 2421 Michigan Ave. (Santa Monica), birdiegsla.com.
Thank you to our partners at The Spice Hunter.
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Did you miss our earlier stops? Find recipes from Healdsburg's SingleThread Farms, Oakland's Brown Sugar Kitchen, Monterey's Alta Bakery & Cafe, and San Luis Obispo's Novo at 7x7.com/culinary-road-trip.