Ever since he arrived in California, chef Dave Beran has embraced the unexpected. His first Los Angeles restaurant, Dialogue, offered a Michelin-starred tasting menu in a tiny, 18-seat spot in a food court on the Third Street Promenade. The promenade is known for many things; a Michelin-starred chef is not one of them. Still, he made it work until the pandemic unceremoniously shut the door on Dialogue in 2020.
Now, Beran is debuting his first tasting menu since Dialogue shuttered. This one — $195, served Thursday through Saturday — will be available at his second LA restaurant, a French bistro in Santa Monica called Pasjoli. “The [original] tasting menu [at Pasjoli] had about five Dialogue dishes on it,” Beran tells InsideHook. “I looked at it and realized that none of this food is going to make sense in this little bistro. So we threw away that tasting menu, and we rewrote it, and the challenge is — how do you write a tasting menu that doesn’t feel out of place at this restaurant? Everything has to fit.”
As a neighborhood restaurant that opened in 2019, Pasjoli feels like a change-up for Beran. In fact, his resume is practically synonymous with Michelin-starred restaurants, fine-dining institutions and James Beard awards. Beginning his career at the now-defunct, Michelin-starred Tru, Beran worked at the Alinea Group for a decade, spending four and a half years at Alinea — one of only 14 restaurants in North America to receive three Michelin stars. He also served as the executive chef at Next restaurant (one Michelin star) in Chicago for five years.
During that time, Next won the James Beard award for Best New Restaurant in 2012, and Beran himself won the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: Great Lakes in 2014; he was named one of Food & Wine’s best new chefs that same year. TL;DR: Beran has been a Michelin darling for most of his working life — which might be why it was surprising when Pasjoli, which earned its own star in 2021, ended up losing that distinction last fall. And though the loss hurt, Beran says he’s shifted his priorities since going out on his own, both as a chef and as a restaurant owner.
“Coming out of Chicago, my ego was huge,” he says with a laugh. “I was like, ‘I’m going to be the best this and the best that’ — and that’s not true. Every day is hard work, and every day I step back and question things: Can we make this better? How is the morale of the restaurant? Do my cooks feel good when they leave work? At some point, that starts to take the front seat, and the accolades start taking the back seat.”
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Although the goal of the new tasting menu isn’t to bring back Dialogue — or to get the attention of certain inspectors — it does add a fresh element to Pasjoli’s traditional French dishes. One of the à la carte menu’s highlights, the canard à la Rouennaise à la presse (aka pressed duck for two) appears in a slightly revamped form on the tasting menu, as duck à l’orange, a dish that Beran considers a “classic.” The tasting menu version adds contemporary touches like a duck ragu with mustard, cream, duck jus, fried duck skin and fried shallots, oranges and house-baked milk bread that’s finished with duck jus.
“In the kitchen, we’ve always had this half-joking, half-serious conversation that a really good dish will always make a great sandwich or a great salad, ” Beran says. “And it makes the best sandwich with that milk bread.” Other tasting menu highlights include a pork dish and a fish preparation, and plenty of tableside touches that bring an elevated level of service to the dining room. But even with the addition of the tasting menu and the reintroduction of the fine-dining flair that defined his past, Beran’s focus on the future of Pasjoli remains firmly on things like staff happiness and guest experience, and valuing those right alongside any potential accolades.
“I think Pasjoli got the Michelin star because we were doing all these tableside things,” he says. “We had lots of fussy things on the table. Our servers were much stuffier, and we were a more pretentious restaurant. But also, we had a lot of turnover, and we had kind of an unhappy team. I don’t think anyone enjoyed being here as much. Right now, our focus is internally on the restaurant — how the team is, how the space feels to be in. I would tell you, this is a better restaurant than it’s ever been. Will Michelin tell you that? I don’t know.”
The $195 tasting menu at Pasjoli is available on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 5:15 PM to 9 PM. Pre-paid reservations available here.
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