Malik Williams opens a new eponymous restaurant in Aptos

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March 1, 2022 – Protege of local chef Anthony Kresge and former line chef at Manresa, Malik Williams is set to open his first restaurant, on the former site of Mexican restaurant Rio del Mar. Located at 9067 Soquel Dr. in Aptos, it closed in 2018 and sat vacant for three years, prompting the ambitious 21-year-old to undertake a time-consuming renovation. It was more than he bargained for, but after a series of detours and rabbit holes with the county, the Malik Williams restaurant is set to debut next week, with a soft opening beginning March 9 and ending continuing until March 13. A full opening is scheduled for March 16.

The atmosphere is casual chic, with a bright white entrance and kitchen facade, decorated with cutting boards. The kitchen walk-through counter shines with copper domed lights overhead. In the dining room, sleek blonde wood and a section of faux greenery make up one wall, while a large, colorful jazz-era painting dominates another. High ceilings, gleaming floors, whimsical lighting, a blue upholstered banquette, and a prominent piano complete the decor.

“Have you seen this place before?” Williams asks. “It was such a mess. We took it down to the poles. Redo all the wiring, create a new space for an open kitchen, rip up the old carpet and put in polished concrete floors.

Light and airy with an exposed wood-framed ceiling and white-painted beams, Williams describes the restaurant as an open barn, with a homey feel and lots of pops of color. He points to jazz painting. “I love jazz! I found this online and had to have it. I love how it brings the place together!”

Malik Williams in front of his shiny new kitchen

Williams was born and raised in the Live Oak neighborhood of Santa Cruz. “I hated school,” he admits. “I was good at it, but I just couldn’t handle it, so I accumulated my classes and graduated early.” While still in high school, he started working as a dishwasher for chef Anthony Kresge in Sotola. He quickly moved on to preparation, then to the line. “I learned so much in preparation,” Williams says. “This is where a dish really comes together. On the line, you cook and dress. I love everything, but preparation is about the critical details.

After Sotola, he enrolled in a 4-year program at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, which he describes as a great experience that put him on the path to fine dining. “I loved this part of the world! It’s so beautiful!” he said of the Hudson Valley. “We were taking the train to town all the time, eating at all these great restaurants in the restaurant capital of the world!” He was totally addicted to a culinary career, but again he just couldn’t dig the school part of it.A friend of a friend knew someone in Manresa and got him an interview with chef Nicholas Romero.

“I’ll never forget that moment, sitting in my dorm, waiting for that phone call,” Williams says. “At 6 p.m. sharp, Chief Romero called me. Very polite, direct, asked me a few questions and ended with “When can you start?” I was floored. The following week, I was on a plane to California!

He describes the work experience at Manresa as a grueling exercise in rigorous, relentless perfection, with constant cleaning and a level of thoroughness that has become indelible. The work was brutal, the hours extremely long and often filled with boredom (imagine chopping cashews with a paring knife for hours, because a food processor would render them useless), but the camaraderie was amazing, and of course , the food was superb. It inspired Williams to perform at her highest level and led to the dream of her own restaurant.

And now here he is, sitting at a nice black table in a soft brown leather chair, surrounded by cookbooks, looking like a man who just got the keys to a multi-million dollar yacht.

“I really want to create an atmosphere where people are constantly delighted and maybe a little surprised,” he says with his constant smile. “I plan to offer guests a pour of sparkling wine when they arrive, then a complimentary little basket of bread, with a piece of parmesan cheese, maybe some butter and some local olive oil. I want him to set the stage for a special night they want to relive over and over again.

Williams loves mismatched dinnerware and has collected all manner of plates and bowls, in whimsical and colorful designs. Part of the charm will be the presentation, as no two dishes will use the same plates.

He imagines a simple, fresh and hyper local cuisine, with no more than three or four ingredients per dish, each made with reverence and intention. A double seafood consommé can be served in a single shell. The black cod will be poached under vacuum with exotic herbs for maximum flavor and moisture and served on angel hair with pesto and tomato confit. “Nobody makes seafood sausage here, so I’m going to make my own, maybe from black cod and crab, and serve it as an appetizer with some stone-ground mustard beurre blanc and seaweed. ”

The kitchen is small, but the meat locker is stocked with premium beef that he insists on dry-aging himself. “We will have a dry-aged sirloin with creamed morels and fingerling potatoes. Each element must be absolutely perfect. There’s no place to hide in a dish like this! He explains that 25 days for dry aging is about the pinnacle of flavor and texture.

His signature dish, however, will be seasonal risotto. “I love risotto and rarely find it cooked well in restaurants. Mine is creamy, never dry, not soggy, and we’ll do vegetables, seafood, maybe even fruit. It’s a This versatile dish will start with snow pea risotto and seared scallops.

All menu items are cleverly named, such as “A Mutton in Tuscany”, herb-crusted lamb with black truffle polenta, mint chimichurri and mashed cauliflower.

Williams has already hired all line and front of house staff. “I want this place to be tight in execution, where everyone knows their job,” he says. “It drives me crazy when I go to a restaurant and the waiters have no idea what’s in a dish or where the ingredients come from. There is no excuse for this in gastronomy.

So he pays his storefront to memorize the menu before the restaurant opens. It’s not a big menu, but it will showcase the culinary skills and discipline he’s absorbed throughout his rather compressed career. “I want to do fine dining, but I want to start with something manageable and make every dish as great as possible.”

Expect to be delighted, maybe even entertained, as the brigade-style kitchen springs into action and the piano plays merrily in the background. Williams loves live music and eventually hopes to showcase soft jazz, flamenco, cello and whatever local talent has to offer, especially once he fixes the back porch.

But for now, even as his eyes twinkle with the possibilities ahead, he’s focused on making a debut that early guests will long remember.

The Malik Williams Restaurant, at 9067 Soquel Dr. in Aptos, will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Call 831-251-0676 or visit Open Table for reservations.


About the Author

Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who is a regular contributor to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, as well as various consumer publications. His passion is to tell stories about the intriguing characters that inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.


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