Our menu concept is "traditional American with flair," Executive Chef Mark Bolton tells me. "We want people to be comfortable, but at the same time experience something different."
"This area," he explains, referring to the East Village," is going to be filled with a lot of young people, who may not have a lot of experience around fine dining. We want them to experience a taste of that."
It's an ambitious task, but Bolton seems up for the challenge. He's devised a menu that mashes traditional comfort food such as fried chicken, tater tots, and mac & cheese, with gourmet ingredients, like pancetta, wild mushrooms, and flavored oils. He even intentionally incorporates ingredients with a bad reputation. "People say they don't like Brussels sprouts, but 90% of the people who say that have never tried them," Mark argues. His version, which combines the vegetable with smoked pork and sweet leeks, is sure to change a few minds, or at least make a few people realize Brussels sprouts are quite harmless.
"We're serving the food that people grew up with, but adding a little something extra they may not have seen before," Mark explains. The menu’s dishes are the result of a combination of Mark's creative recipes and Fleetwood Owner Aaron Phillip’s initial concept. Mark and Aaron clearly work well together. The two hit it off while Mark was working as a sous chef at Pacifica Del Mar, when a mutual friend introduced them. Hearing that Aaron was starting his own restaurant, Mark signed on.
At the Fleetwood, Mark finds himself taking the leap from second in command to first in charge. And he’s not alone. "It's all of our first time," he admits, explaining that since the Fleetwood is also the owner’s first restaurant, it’s the first time that “we're in charge ourselves." Everyone seems to be embracing the challenge. "It's rewarding," Mark explains, although he finds that daily there is something new that surprises him. "I've worked in a kitchen for ten years. I know how to cook, and how to order, and how to run a kitchen, but if something breaks..." He explains how he used to just be able to say, "hey this is broken," and someone else would take care of it. "Now I'm the one they are saying it to. It's up to me to fix things." Luckily, this is something he's willing to embrace. "I'm hands on. I try to fix things myself first. Our electronic fireplace broke the other day, so I was out there taking it apart and rewiring it. I'm really half chef, half handyman,” he says with a smile.
Mark is a native of San Diego, and a graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. It was in Carlsbad, where he grew up, while working in the Four Seasons as a teenager, that he realized he wanted to work in a kitchen. He put himself through culinary school by working in a butcher shop in San Francisco--an experience that proved just as valuable as school itself. At the Fleetwood, Mark and his team do all of the butchering themselves, buying primal cuts of meat and tailoring their size and cuts to the dishes on the menu.
In addition to butchering his own meat, Mark's team does as much in-house as possible. All pastries and desserts are made on premise. All sauces and sides are made fresh. Ingredients that he doesn’t make himself, he sources from local producers. He cites pasta as an example. “We don’t’ make our pasta, but we get it from Little Italy, where it’s made fresh.” He also strives to incorporate fresh, in-season produce and works with local vendors. "My seafood distributor is in San Diego, my meat company is in San Diego," he says with pride. "Everything that's on the menu, I love."
For Mark, one of the most rewarding things about working at the Fleetwood is seeing his guests happy. “I'm happy when other people are happy with the food I've created," he explains. If my experience is any indication, Mark should be pretty happy for some time.