by Jesse Hirsch
After fifteen years cooking at Oakland's much-beloved Oliveto, Chef Paul Canales wanted a place to call his very own. But he isn't just going to tweak the Italian-meets-Cal-cuisine template from his last gig; he plans to build something completely fresh, from the ground up. "Oliveto suggests a certain way of eating, but I don't want to be stuck with a high degree of formality," says Canales. "I want something free-form."Flora and Xolo. His goal is to create a rollicking, multi-use venue based on a spot called Royal/T in Culver City. Royal/T, which bills itself as "A Playful Collision of Spaces," is part tea cafe, part French and Japanese fusion restaurant, part upscale boutique, part art gallery, and also serves as a venue for film screenings, live music, and other cultural events.
Canales' business partner/General Manager Rocco Somazzi last worked at Royal/T, and is helping provide direction for the new as-yet-unnamed project. Final building permits are still being obtained, but these are some elements Canales and Somazzi hope to incorporate:
Wine shop: Canales wants to open an on-site retail wine shop, piggybacking onto the restaurant in a sweet symbiotic relationship. His idea is that you could buy a bottle before dinner (at retail prices) and pay a minimal corkage fee.
Ice cream: Canales' wife Mary owns Ici Ice Cream, and he'll probably sell some shelf-stable items like ice cream sandwiches and pints. But contrary to prior reports, there are no plans to house an actual Ici branch.
Pop-up shops: Canales has friends in the art and design world, many without steady venues to showcase their wares. He hopes to open his new space to a showcase of pop-up artisan merchants.
Gallery: Visual art is a big part of the Royal/T experience, with big-name artists like Warhol and Basquiat gracing the walls at various times. The paintings aren't for sale, but they lend the space a cultural cachet that Canales hopes to replicate.
Music: Canales' creative talents extend beyond the kitchen; he has played guitar and other instruments for many years. Though he doesn't want to distract from the overall dining experience, Canales intends to set up a music mezzanine with a regular roster of performers. Expect an eclectic lineup: He knows members of Cibo Matto, Wilco, and a host of improvisational jazz groups.
Restaurant/bar: Despite all of Canales' big-eyed plans, he insists "food will come first." He's looking to cultivate an overall casual, conversational vibe, with lower price points than Oliveto and a loosely structured, accessible menu featuring dishes of various sizes (no antipasti, primi, secondi, etc.). The food will be a departure from the Italian template, but it won't veer far from Canales' ingredient-driven techniques. "It's not like I found a new religion somewhere," he said. "Don't expect any molecular gastronomy."
As far at the overall design, he's devoting three-quarters of the large space to the restaurant and bar, with drinking and eating spaces clearly delineated. He doesn't want the bar crowd to get bogged down by a spread of tables, and he doesn't want diners forced to deal with "butts in their faces."
The new project isn't slated to open until late-summer at the earliest. Canales said he might add or subtract different elements as the space is built out.
Comments? Tips? Get in touch at Jesse.Hirsch@EastBayExpress.com.