Every second and fourth Wednesday night of the month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau hosts Dinner with Dave at Memphis at the Santora, where he treats drinkers to a free meal and live music as the evening progresses. To remind ustedes of this great night, Dave treats us every Wednesday morning that he's on to a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!
Chefs come and go, usually without raising so much as an eyebrow when they depart and that's just a fact of life in The Biz. But when a distinguished one decides to move on it oftentimes turns into something of note. Thus is the situation surrounding Chef Aron Habinger leaving The Crosby this last weekend after five plus years at the helm of DTSA's most hip and influential nightspot. Since its opening he has run the line there, creating unique menus and dishes with a not-surprising ease and aplomb. In a world where chefs walk around blowing their own horn (like some other shops in the area that produce lackluster food but have good PR people) Habinger was a welcome exception. As the old saying goes, if someone has to tell you how great they are, they probably aren't.
And now, he's gone.
I'm not gonna lie, I've been a big fan of The Crosby's mission from day one. Habinger says they are like "culinary punk rockers", touching on but never following trends. There are no clippings on the walls of the shop touting their genius and their approach to things has always been grass-roots, organic and very, very genuine. They have been the standard by which other establishments in DTSA are measured for awhile now (by anyone in the know) and justifiably so.
The Biz can be tough on relationships and travel, especially finding time to spend with family. So Aron will be spending some in Washington State with loved ones while he ponders his next move, possibly opening another restaurant out of state. His reasons for leaving? He just felt it was time to move on and there wasn't anywhere else in SoCal he felt was a fit. He'll be handing off the reigns to Chef Linh Nguyen, a HB resident and OC native who has been in the trenches with Habinger for some time now.
The Crosby guys and Aron played this one close to the vest, not wanting it to make too much of a big deal he was leaving. In fact, a couple innocuous Instagram posts were all that hinted at a whispered exit. This was intentional. They wanted a smooth transition while they revamped the menu and handled the logistical end of such a move.
Linh considers himself primarily a visual artist. His culinary skills are an expression of that and he prides himself on basing a lot of his repertoire on his roots in classical French cuisine. After going to Cordon Bleu a year behind Habinger he worked developing meals for Virgin Airlines, rolling out fine food for first class passengers, all the while being aware of airline industry challenges and limitations. He says his biggest influence is his vegetarian mother who always shoots him straight about his creations -- apparently, she's not one to pull punches. Linh says this might lead him to experiment with more veggie-friendly cuisine but don't expect The Crosby to go the way of Gypsy Den. The new fall menu will be of Linh's creation, with Crosby standards staying on as well. He leans towards brighter, sharper flavors and despite being a former smoker (yes, he thankfully quit) he has what is rumored to be one of the keenest palates around.
What will stay the same and what will change? The heart and soul will always be there, the staff has a great rapport with guests and each other. Honest food made in small space without pretense has always been a Crosby hallmark and Linh doesn't plan on changing that. Expect Linh to influence the next incarnation of the Crosby menu with his affinity for sauces, old-world techniques and what he calls "SoCal fusion" to be at the forefront.
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Chef Linh is stepping into some formidable shoes to fill. In my opinion Habinger was the prototype for the new class of young, hip chefs that will be making their own mark as their culinary chops mature. Is Linh up to the task?
My instincts say yes.
Want more of Dave's rantings/ravings/ramblings? Check out www.dinnerwithdave.com for the latest!