Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By Vildana Hajric
Observer Staff Writer 

On a cloudy Friday night, #Gargantua feels cozy, warm, and relaxing

Santa Monica Chef Nick Barainca Opens Innovative Pop Up Diner on Ocean Park Blvd


Esteemed Chef Nick Barainca, formerly of Liaison in Los Angeles, opened up a pop up shop inside The OP Cafe last month, operating his own dinner series called g a r g a n t u a.

While The OP Cafe currently serves breakfast and lunch, Chef Barainca and his team will be taking over the kitchen every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, dishing out five-course meals that run $47 per person. The food served at g a r g a n t u a will be procured locally and from farms no farther than Santa Barbara County. The concept is innovative, and Chef Barainca intends for the meals to be fresh and shared amongst the table. 

Nick Barainca is a native of Lancaster, California, where he developed an affinity and passion for the culinary arts at a young age. He attained a degree at The Art Institute of Santa Monica and soon after found himself working at the Rockenwagner and later on at the Four Seasons Group. Most recently, he joined the PB Hospitality Group, helping to consult on the menu for Liaison restaurant + lounge before opening g a r g a n t u a. 

"Gargantua started from the idea of cooking without boundaries, really getting back to an understanding of why I started cooking in the first place. This was an opportunity that came out of frustration and pure necessity to do something totally uncontrived. Setting up shop at OP Cafe seemed impossible at first glance, but as time went on it really posed a lot of new challenges that have inspired us creatively in the kitchen," said Barainca recently. 

The first course is a green garlic bread that is dusted with air dried beef and served with a black garlic butter. The flakes on top of the bread represent an essence of beef rather than a full, meaty flavor. While a bread dish is usually an afterthought at many restaurants, at g a r g a n t u a it is a complex and thoughtful opening chapter.

The bread dish is followed by sprouted grains and English peas served in a round ceramic bowl. The peas are finished with peanut milk - Chef Barainca called it "a humble dish in its essence." The dish is slightly salted, but it is not enhanced by the addition of any other spices and is not lacking for it. It's deeply flavorful, thanks in part due to the addition of tart unripened blueberries, which also add a slight crunch. 

A third dish of sweet potatoes with kefir cream is rich and indulgent. Chef Barainca makes use of every part of the potato, topping the soft fleshy spuds with fried potato skin. This is followed by a bowl of barbecued pork and leek that has been cured for six hours and braised for fifteen more. 

Finally, a dessert of strawberry and frozen shortbread tops off the meal. The components are beautifully arranged and the dish is drizzled with spruce oil. 

Chef Barainca's ease with which he seems to put each dish together is laudable. His presentation and use of uncommon ingredients reveal a skilled hand and a discernible deliberation towards each ingredient. 

On a cloudy Friday night, g a r g a n t u a feels cozy, warm, and relaxing. Patrons filtered in and out but most asked each other how they found the place, as if the uncovering of its furtive existence entitles one membership to a secret club. Thankfully, reservations can be made ahead of time for an enjoyable night out.

Thursday – Saturday | 6:30 – 11:00. 3117 Ocean Park Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405, 310.452.5720 | [email protected]



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