It's obviously with tongue firmly in cheek--perhaps one of the delicious braised beef cheeks they serve--that Ruben Perez and his co-conspirator Nate Curteman called their new venture The Black Sheep. Perez's dad is chef Robert Perez, who owns the next door and more upscale and ever fighting its just-off-State Street location Seagrass, so to do what the Black Sheep is trying to do--elegant bistro food in a comfortable (think beer as important as wine, servers in hipster hats) atmosphere at a fair price--seems like a sort of, well, comedown isn't the right word. Come around to where more and more of dining is, anymore, for good or ill, is more like it. After all, we all want to go out, have stuff we won't make at home (start with a little gem salad, but then char it, serve it with a house ranch, some kumquat relish...and a perfectly fried sweetbread), and not feel like we can't do that again until next month's paycheck rolls in. So, welcome Black Sheep.
It's in the spot where the wine bar Taste was, briefly (also Perez family owned), a surprisingly bright and airy room at 26 E. Ortega Street--a fine combo of one large window on one side, one long bar on the other. (I could easily imagine it becoming a place to be, and be seen.) Most of the menu is built around small plates, so bring friends and an appetite and taste away. It's a menu where the grace is in the details--a bracing plate of pickled vegetables comes with a stunning swirl of beet juice, the amuse house-fired potato chips flecked with fiery togarashi. It might be a bit more of a meat-eater's delight then the place to bring your vegetarian partner, for even the roasted heirloom carrots get their depth from duck fat, but carnivores will rejoice with offerings like roasted bone marrow.
In our quick visit we didn't have time to sample any of the big plates, but they looked enticing, from sautéed seabass with Spanish chorizo (ah, there's the meat again), fingerling potatoes, onions and tomatoes to those grass-fed beef cheeks, braised in banana leaves with ancho chili, annatto seed, tequila, lime, and tomatoes. And while I don't eat chicken much, especially since we've got five named hens in our backyard making us eggs (it's so hard to eat things with names that also feed you), the re-constructed chicken, with garlic-rubbed roasted bread, house-made mustard, and shallot roasted garlic marmalade sounds even more fascinating when described. It's a galantine (or ballotine--didn't see if it was cylindrical), the kind of thing you think only exists in your Larousse Gastronomique that no one makes anymore. So, of course, someday I'll have to try it. Robert Perez is still making the food for both restaurants as they share a kitchen, so you know everything is going to be amazing with a twist or two you might not expect, things like burrata, that creamy cheese stuffed with creamy cheese that is the essence of a modern Italian summer plate, with, of all things, a mango chutney.
Add in a not-too-long but well curated beer and wine list--think Great Divide and Lost Abbey for ales, Refugio Ranch and Bonaccorsi for vino--and you're going to have a lovely evening.