J. Kenji López-Alt's New Restaurant Will Open Soon
And he's developed a fascinating new way to make vegetarian sausage there.
It’s been a few months since J. Kenji López-Alt, author of the James Beard Award winning book The Food Lab and the Internet’s premiere chef/scientist, tweeted “This is a thing,” with a link to an article announcing that he’d be one of the partners opening Wursthall, a new San Mateo beer hall and restaurant. López-Alt is opening Wursthall with Adam Simpson and Tyson Mao of Grape & Grain, a beer and wine bar a few blocks from the restaurant. And with the opening scheduled (tentatively, as these things always are) for early November, we thought it would be a good time to check in on the restaurant’s progress.
“I’ve seen a lot of sausage being made literally and metaphorically,” López-Alt said. The literal sausage has come from most of the butchers in the Bay Area, which he’s been sampling from to find a purveyor for the restaurant, which, as the name suggests, will have a heavy sausage focus. López-Alt said the restaurant won't be making it’s own because of some of the special equipment involved—a dedicated cold room for example, is necessary, to make sure the sausages don’t get crumbly and break. The sausage maker López-Alt finally settled on was Dittmer’s, a 40-year-old Los Altos butcher shop, which he said he plans to work with to develop some unique recipes for Wursthall.
The one sausage López-Alt said will be made in house is a vegetarian one, mostly out of necessity. “Most vegetarian sausages don’t have the snap and bounce of a meat sausage,” he said. So, unable to find one he liked, he did what he does best and began experimenting to find a solution. What he came up with is a novel method: Instead of just mashing up the vegetables and stuffing them in a casing, he’s turning them into a sort of dough with the addition of high gluten flour and yeast. The gluten development, he says helps give the sausages a much less crumbly texture and the yeast, a nice fermented flavor.
As for what else will be on the menu on opening day, López-Alt sounded particularly excited about his currywurst. Instead of the traditional French fries, he’s smashing new potatoes between his fingers, which will give them extra surface area for frying (read: a more delicious surface area). And he’s amping up the curry sauce with charred ginger and mustard seeds. “Imagine the tastiest curry ketchup you can,” he said. “That’s what we’re going for.”
Somewhat missed in the early excitement over Wursthall is the fact that this isn’t López-Alt’s first time moving from recipe development online to design a restaurant menu. He also worked with Harlem Shake (the Manhattan burger joint, not the 2013 dance meme) on their burgers. That project remained a little quieter. In fact most of the first page of online search results about it from the time look to be López-Alt himself writing about how to make the burgers. Wursthall, on the other hand, has generated much more buzz around the food world. And López-Alt says he “feels a little more pressure” because of that. But hopefully some of that pressure will melt away with the first room full of happy, beer-drinking, sausage-filled customers. If you’re in the Bay Area, look for Wursthall soon.
Wursthall, 310 Baldwin Ave., San Mateo, CA;