At Coast and Valley, a California-inspired wine bar, chicken represents its operators’ ethos of sustainability, locality, and seasonality.
“Chicken fit into our philosophy for our brand as a whole,” says Stephanie Watanabe, Coast and Valley’s co-founder, “and when you can come up with a dish that’s really flavorful and interesting and exciting, you can make chicken amazing.”
Inspired by Hainanese chicken rice, a traditional Chinese immigrant dish, Watanabe and her co-founder Eric Hsu created a poached chicken breast served with avocado, charred cucumber, and ginger buttermilk sauce.
“The poached chicken is so divisive,” says Watanabe. “It looks disgusting. But you watch people’s faces and they’re like, ‘Wow, this is actually really delicious!’ We’re showing people what can be done with chicken.”
The long-standing stigma against ordering the chicken, however, is tough to break, even for chefs.
“When you’re out with friends at a big table,” says Hsu, “there’s the one person who orders the chicken. On the inside, I’m silently judging them. Really? We’re at a fancy restaurant and that’s what you order?”
When Hsu goes out to eat, he almost exclusively orders chicken in Asian restaurants. “Taiwanese food, Chinese food, I will eat the heck out of chicken,” he says. “But if you’re talking about going to an Italian restaurant or straight-up American fare, often I’m disappointed when I order chicken.”
That’s why Hsu and Watanabe designed their chicken to move past the bird’s bad rap. Their take on the Hainanese classic is rich and creamy, unrecognizable from the bland chicken breast that’s usually reserved for children and picky eaters.
“I’m from the Midwest, and going out was a special occasion,” says Watanabe. “You wanted something that felt really decadent and like a treat. Often, chicken preparations don’t feel like that. You’d get a roast chicken and be like... womp-womp, I can make this at home. Now, maybe that’s changing.”