You’d never guess that the OP Café, a quaint and quiet little breakfast nook on Ocean Park Blvd, would house food with a level of sophistication rivaling that of many Michelin-starred establishments. Enter Gargantua, a high-end pop-up that takes the helm at OP Café on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. The nostalgic beach décor and bed-and-breakfast feel remain, but the menu and the chef behind it bring about an entirely different experience.
Chef Nick Barainca, a veteran chef of Four Seasons and various LA eateries, serves up a 5-course menu that takes the palate through intricate levels of savory, salty, sweet and all-around fascination. Barainca shows off spectacular attention to detail and culinary intuition, making every ingredient in every course a talking point. This is Barainca’s first solo show, and he’s definitely taken off out of the gates.
You don’t start out with just bread; you start with black garlic bread basted with mushroom and air-dried beef, served with salted butter churned that day. What is listed as pozole is not as much a soup as it is individually seasoned tender potatoes and sheep’s cheese with out-of-this-world texture that sit in a harmonious sauce accented with sliced tomatillo. The beef belly is simply superb, holding rich flavor with a bold crust that most steakhouses couldn’t come to grips with.
The list goes on and is ever-changing. Gargantua’s menu shifts quite frequently, so guests will get en entirely different experience with almost every visit. Patrons should also come prepared in two ways. First, the experience is BYOB. Second, portion sizes stray about as far from the gargantuan name as you can imagine, so don’t come hungry or expect to leave full. Think of this as more of an interactive culinary art exhibit, where equivalent meals would be at least 5x the $47/person that you pay at Gargantua.
Interested guests should hurry. The nature of pop-ups is that you don’t know how much longer they'll be around.
Gargantua is located at the OP Café, 3117 Ocean Park Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Open Thurs – Sat, 6:30 – 11:00 p.m. 5-course prix fixe menu is $47/person. For more information and reservations, call (310) 452-5720 or visit gargantuan online.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.