Within the bowels of California Republic’s kitchen, there is a man who comes in every morning, pulls out bowls of fresh dough from the cupboards and makes pasta. That’s his only job, and he’s been doing it for 11 years, first under the tutelage of the disgraced chef Mario Batali and now, at the newest joint along the buzzy Amoy Street. His name is Fercival, and he is a Filipino.
There’s a tired joke in there about a Filipino walking into a Californian-inspired restaurant to make an Italian dish. But there is nothing funny about the pasta that California Republic whips up. They are some of the best on the island.
Opened by the masterminds behind Firangi Superstar, Neon Pigeon and Fat Prince, California Republic pays homage to 1980s and 1990s films, 1960s decor and Southern California food — a mishmash of fresh seafood, Mexican comfort food and Italian sensibilities.
Everything in California Republic has Michael Goodman’s touch. The co-founder and chief visionary officer (yes, that’s his actual title) of The Dandy Collection even curated all of the songs on the playlist.
It’s not the first in the country offering modern Californian food; Rosemead lays claim to that. But California Republic’s menu sheds the flair and opts for a more subtle, homely take.
Start with the grilled oysters ($22). Chef Fotis sources them from a farm in California. They arrive fresh on the restaurant’s doorsteps every Tuesday and Friday, get slathered in delicious Hog Island chipotle bourbon butter and then cooked to perfection.
Come with a sizeable group to try all the artisanal pastas. But if you can choose only two, go for the smoked bucatini with pork ragu and bone marrow ($34) and the celery root cappellacci soaked in brown sauce and paired with roasted field mushrooms ($29).
You can’t go wrong with any of the seafood dishes, but I especially enjoyed the lazy man’s cioppino with roasted sea bass, clams, mussels and more ($48). It’s a hefty portion and you’ll slurp the tomato broth to get every bit.
The charred broccolini is a surprising standout ($14). Chef Almany elevates the simple vegetable into a superstar by dipping it in house-made chilli oil, creating a salty, sweet and earthy combination that dances on the tongue.
There are misses. The meatballs al angeleno ($28) was a touch too dry and could have used more sauce. The faux artichoke ($18) also missed the mark; I’ve not a big fan of jackfruit, so you might have a different take. But the hits more than made up for them.
The health-conscious consumer will appreciate the cocktail menu. There are three alcoholic options available — full proof, half proof and zero proof. The last might be mocktails in name, but not in their treatments. They are proper cocktails, just with no alcohol, and are credible enough to get a tip of the hat from hardened cocktail connoisseurs.
It’s hard to stand out along Amoy Street and its incredible repertoire of restaurants and bars. But, California Republic is making a strong case. We recommend making a reservation.