California Republic is a modern interpretation of what Italian cuisine can be when viewed from a Southern Californian lens.
The state of California is known for many things – Hollywood, a thriving technology startup scene, world-renown wine regions, and some amazing scenic scapes, among many others. Food, however, isn’t generally considered one of them.
But that may be changing. A slew of modern restaurants from Los Angeles all the way down to San Diego are redefining what contemporary American cuisine can be. And winning awards along the way too – think Michelin-starred Quince in San Francisco and Addison in San Diego, for example.
And that culinary influence is trickling here to Singapore. We recently saw Rosemead open up with their flame-grilled approach to Californian cuisine. The latest is California Republic on Amoy Street opened by The Dandy Collection, the same people behind modern izakaya Neon Pigeon, contemporary Middle Eastern gastrobar Fat Prince, and modern Indian restaurant Firangi Superstar.
California Republic on the other hand is SoCal Italian, that is, a Southern Californian look at America’s Italian culinary heritage. For Michael Goodman and Mike Pekarsky – Co-Founder & CVO, and Director of Operations of The Dandy Collection respectively – it’s a homage to their roots. Both spent much of their childhood eating New York Italian food growing up on the East Coast, and then moving to California where they were exposed to a different approach to Italian cuisine.
Here you’re looking at dishes inspired by the bounty of American produce, particularly from the West Coast, and applied to various Italian favourites.
For example there are the Grilled Oysters, stemming from Goodman’s memories of his time visiting Hog Island Oyster Company at Tomales Bay (which I had the pleasure of checking out during a trip to Napa Valley). Topped with a chipotle chilli, bourbon and a garlic butter, this is Bear Flag Republic in a mouthful.
You can expect really good pastas, of course; it’s Italian, after all. There’s this lovely Smoked Bucatini on the menu, the slithery fat udon-like pasta noodles tossed in an unctuous white pork-based ragu made even more decadent with globules of smoked bone marrow. Also fabulous is the Celery Root Cappellacci. This is cappellacci di zucca with a filling of pureed celeriac instead of the usual pumpkin; it’s earthier but no less sweet, and takes to the brown butter sauce and roasted field mushrooms well.
And then there are Italian meatballs. Of course there are meatballs. The Meatballs Al Angeleno – David Alimany, formerly of the now-defunct Angeleno and Osteria Mozza in Singapore but now based in Southern California, provided the recipe – is a golden ratio of pork and veal, juicy to the bite. But make sure you don’t let the server remove the plate when you’re done, because you want to mop up the dredges of the delicious tomato sauce the meatballs come in with the West Coast Garlic Mops, which is effectively skillet-style garlic bread.
You can’t be proclaim to serve So-Cal Italian if you don’t have Cioppino, the seafood stew found on the menu of pretty much every Italian and seafood joint along the San Francisco wharves. California Republic delivers with the Lazy Man’s Cioppino. Lazy because your seafood – mussels, clams, and prawns – have been deshelled for easy eating. There’s bread served on the side, but yeah you may want to reserve some of those garlic mops for this as well.
Not every dish is a hit. The much vaunted Faux Artichokes, a vegan-friendly barigoule of jackfruit that’s topped with a tangy herb aioli and crispy pangrattato, had us scratching our heads. Maybe it’s meant for them stick-thin Hollywood models watching their caloric intakes, or those militant vegetarian hippies?
But the Pork Milanese was. This is a massive hunk of iberico bone-in cutlet that came in a perfectly golden crust yet retaining all its sweet porcine juiciness. It’s traditionally veal in Lombard, I hear you protest. Well, we’re in So-Cal, baby.
Better than the food is California Republic’s drinks programme. There’s a small but very well-curated wine list focused on wines from California and all over Italy; somewhat pricy, but par for the course for what you’re going to get.
What you really want are the cocktails. California Republic is dedicated to a “better” drinking culture, which to them means offering drinks that come at half proof or even zero alcohol.
Don’t bother with those. Dive all in, and go for Tiffany-Twisted, an absolutely fantabulous Negroni using grape-infused Campari for a most sophisticated twist. Also highly recommended is Walkin’ On The Sun, a sherry variant on an Old Fashioned, as well as Hyphy, an elegant version on the Espresso Martini. If you prefer something even more punchy, the Arti-Stoked – a deceptively innocent-looking Boulevardier with herbal notes from Cynar and arugula oil – will floor you.
You’ll walk out of California Republic in a golden state of mind.
Address 88 Amoy St, Singapore 069907 (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 12pm to 3pm and 5.30pm to 12am on Wednesdays to Sundays; closed on Mondays and Tuesdays
Tel (65) 9784 9487