The recently opened Charcoal Venice is a welcome addition to the long stretch of Washington Boulevard on LA’s Westside. Helmed by Chef Josiah Citrin of the Michelin-starred Melissé, Charcoal is more of a casual concept restaurant focused on live-fire cooking. Featuring “craveable comfort foods” cooked over charcoal, in wood-burning ovens, or even in the almighty Big Green Egg that’s been installed in their kitchen, it’s a fun departure from the formalities of fine dining that works well for this beachy part of town.
This week at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, we met Joseph Johnson, the chef de cuisine at Charcoal. Always an early bird at the market, you can often find him roaming the aisles, taking stock of the latest arrivals and the choice pickings from our seasonal bounty. Joseph got his start cooking alongside his grandmother as a teenager in Petersburg, Virginia, before attending Le Cordon Bleu’s affiliated California School of Culinary Arts program in Pasadena. After ascending the ranks of kitchens like the former Savory in Malibu, he eventually landed at Melissé before being handpicked to oversee Charcoal Venice.
A favorite on the menu, Charcoal’s Grilled Radicchio Salad with Portobello Mushrooms, Maui Onions & Salted Almonds is the perfect dish to get you through the winter months. It’s a warm, hearty salad that can also be prepared in the oven if you don’t have a grill available (or if it’s too cold to go out!).
Joseph sources his radicchio from Maggie’s Farms, where it’s grown year-round, though it really benefits from the colder, frosty temperatures, which help to intensify its deep, rich nuttiness. To balance out the bitter, he suggests marinating the radicchio quarters in a mixture of acid and sweet before cooking them briefly over lump charcoal, preferably made from oak for its subtle smokiness that won’t overwhelm the other flavors. The combination of tender, grilled radicchio, portobellos, Maui onions and crunchy toasted almonds lightly glazed in the syrupy tang of Charcoal’s fresh herb vinaigrette, makes every ingredient in this dish a star.
Charcoal Venice’s Grilled Radicchio Salad with Portobello Mushrooms, Maui Onions & Salted Almonds
Yield: Serves 4
While it’s true that the flavor of a grill imparts something special, this recipe can easily be done in a conventional or convection oven. Try experimenting with seasoned salts like smoked sea salt flakes and see what you get!
3 portobello mushrooms, large size
2 radicchio, medium size
1 Maui or sweet onion, medium size
2½ cups balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
¼ cup honey (only for the radicchio)
3 tbsp Herb Dressing (recipe follows below)
¼ cup toasted, sliced almonds
¼ cup whole toasted, salted almonds, roughly chopped
Finishing sea salt, to taste
Lump charcoal, preferably oak
Prepare the grill: If using a charcoal grill, light a bed of lump charcoal just before preparing the salad vegetables. This should give you enough time to develop a hot bed of coals.
For the vegetables: Whisk together the balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil in a bowl. Season with salt, to taste.
Quarter the radicchio through the stem so that the leaves remain attached. Take 1 cup of the balsamic-olive oil mixture and whisk in a ¼-cup of honey. Dip the radicchio quarters into the mix and allow them to marinate for 1 hour.
Slice the sweet onion into ½” thick slices. Remove the stem from the portobello mushroom. Arrange the onions and portobello mushroom in a small container separately. Season them with salt, then pour the remaining balsamic marinade over them and allow to marinate for 1 hour.
To grill: Even out your bed of hot coals to begin grilling. To check the temperature for proper grilling of the vegetables, you should be able to hold your hand over the grill for about five seconds.
Grill the onion slices and portobello mushroom until tender and cooked through, about 7 minutes on each side. Slice the portobello mushroom ¼” thick and separate the onions into rings. Reserve in a warm place.
Next, grill the radicchio for about 8 minutes on each of the quartered sides and cook until tender throughout. Remove from the grill and cut out the core to separate the leaves. Reserve in a warm place.
To Serve: In a bowl, combine all of the grilled vegetables with the sliced almonds and toss with herb vinaigrette. Divide the warm salad between four salad bowls and top with chopped almonds and finishing salt, to taste.
Note: Alternately, if no grill is available, the vegetables can also be roasted in the oven for about 20 minutes at 400⁰F.
Charcoal Venice’s Herb Vinaigrette
This is a shaken vinaigrette that will require a jar with a sealable lid. Shaking vinaigrettes versus whisking or blending them produces a lighter dressing.
Herb Dressing Ingredients
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
⅛ cup water
⅛ cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste
Sea salt, to taste
Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup grapeseed oil
For the dressing: In a jar, combine the balsamic, apple cider and red wine vinegars with Dijon mustard, water and garlic paste. Season with sea salt and pepper. Seal the jar and shake very well until the mustard and salt have completely dissolved.
Next, add in the chopped parsley, thyme, oregano and basil. Reseal the jar and shake until all the herbs are evenly dispersed. Then, add the extra virgin olive oil and grapeseed oil. Seal the jar and shake until thoroughly mixed. Adjust seasoning, to taste.
Reserve in jar until needed. You can even make this dressing a few days ahead and store it in the refrigerator.