Smith's Landing SEAFOOD GRILL02 November 2018 Written by By Jesus Martinez, Executive Chef
Published in November 2018 Articles
THE STORY, FOOD, AND PEOPLE BEHIND OUR “AMAZING SEAFOOD WITH A GORGEOUS VIEW”
My name is Jesus Martinez; I am the executive chef for Antioch’s new Smith’s Landing Seafood Grill, which occupies the site of the once popular Humphrey’s on the Delta Restaurant.
People who remember dining at Humphrey’s will know that the “Gorgeous View” in our “Amazing Seafood with a Gorgeous View” tagline is certainly correct. I have been working diligently with the owners, Randy & Lynn Tei, and with the operations director José Ferreira to ensure that diners will realize that “Amazing Seafood” is equally correct.
Smith’s Landing is open Monday through Saturday 11:00 a.m. for lunch and 3:00 p.m. for dinner. Sunday Brunch is served from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and Happy Hour is weekdays from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
We offer two levels of dining with two different menus — a lounge menu with sharables, salads, and sandwiches for customers wishing for casual dining in our lovely lounge area and a dinner menu offering signature seafood, steaks, poultry, and vegetable dishes in one of our elegant dining areas. Our signature Crab Tower, available on both menus, is a go-to dish for a number of diners at our Zephyr location. The appetizer blends Dungeness & blue crabmeat, avocado, fresh corn, micro-greens and heirloom tomatoes, with an avocado cilantro vinaigrette, and served with crispy wonton chips.
The dinner menu features a number of seafood-based dishes and entrées. We offer some unique and flavorful taste sensations. A favorite entrée is our Pan-Seared Scallops served with a Dungeness & blue crab corn risotto. The dish is finished with a drizzle of crab beurre fondue (emulsified butter sauce). A wonderful combination of flavors and textures!
Our Four Cheese Ravioli with Prawns is another favorite! We stuff our raviolis with parmesan, ricotta, romano and asiago and serve them in a tomato, garlic, basil, and white wine sauce with a hint of marinara and garnished with fresh Parmesan. Diners clean their plates!
Seafood restaurants are sometimes judged on the quality of their cioppino. Ours is a delectable basil stew with clams, mussels, scallops, prawns, halibut, and sea bass braised in white wine and tomato. It is a great favorite for some of our diners!
When Smith’s Landing opened for business the reception was overwhelming. Literally! We are all gaining experience and growing accustomed to the size of the venue and the number of diners who come to us. We recently hired Jon Chase as our new chef de cuisine. Jon is young, energetic, and capable. I am training him to eventually assume responsibility for day-to-day operations.
We are working hard to ensure that we are giving customers dining experiences of such quality that they will leave Smith’s Landing determined to come back soon and once again enjoy our amazing seafood together with our gorgeous view.
BACK STORY TO THE RESTAURANT
Randy, Lynn, José, and I opened Brentwood’s Zephyr Grill & Bar in August 2016. Even though the restaurant was a success from the start, it took a lot of hard work to decorate and furnish the facility to the quality that Randy and Lynn wished for and to create menus and recipes to the levels of excellence that all of us demanded. In the summer of 2017 Sean McCauley presented Randy and Lynn with the wild suggestion that he could purchase the Humphrey’s site and then turn it over to us to run. Randy and Lynn turned the suggestion down flat.
Everything they had was invested in Zephyr, which hadn’t been in business for a year. They didn’t feel they had the resources, time, or energy to launch another project.
However, Sean is a difficult person to say “no” to. “Just come down and look the place over,” he said. “Then see what you think.”
Randy probably would have been smart to just keep his distance, but he visited the site and as soon as he saw the magnificent location, wheels started to spin and he began thinking about the possibilities. He and Lynn knew that there were many reasons to walk away from the place. For one thing, the building hadn’t been in great shape when the business closed, and since then it been sitting idle for five years. For another thing, it was too large. Nobody builds 12,000 sq. ft. restaurants anymore. The challenges of maintaining and managing a venue twice the size of anything they had dealt with before were too daunting.
“The beautiful location would make it a magnet for people who wanted a nice meal in a beautiful place.”
On the other hand, except for the nearby Riverview Inn, Antioch had no seafood restaurant of any kind. The beautiful location would make it a magnet for people who wanted a nice meal in a beautiful place. The size would attract people who wanted to host larger elegant receptions and parties. Randy, who has been a restaurateur his entire adult life, ultimately found it impossible to resist the challenge of engaging in a project so potentially magnificent and fine.
Randy and Lynn knew that my experience, training, and commitment would be essential for the success of the venture, so they laid out the proposal before me. My response was immediate and to the point: “Are you crazy?” I asked.
I could instantly imagine the same problems and issues that had initially stopped Randy and Lynn. However, as we discussed the matter, I came to share their view that, even though it would require a lot of time and effort, the outcome would be amazing if we could pull it off.
We were able to include a few suitable entrées from the Zephyr menu but it was up to me to come up with appealing new entrées and side dishes. I experimented with recipes and ingredients to find combinations of tastes, flavors, and textures that would be unique and flavorful. It was a challenge, but one that I had spent a quarter-century in the food industry preparing for.
Lynn struggled to find a suitable name for the new venue. She wanted something that would resonate with the location. She rejected lists of candidate names. The problem was solved, finally, when Allen Payton, publisher of the Antioch Herald, stopped into Zephyr and told us that Antioch had first been called Smith’s Landing after two brothers, Rev. William Wiggins Smith and Rev. Joseph Horton Smith, who had purchased the property from Dr. John Marsh in 1849. Both brothers were ministers and in 1851 William led a movement to name the town Antioch after a city in the Bible where two rivers met. Lynn immediately thought “Smith’s Landing” would be the perfect name. She was right! It really is!
BACK STORY TO MY LIFE
I grew up in Michoacán, Mexico, a province just to the west of Mexico City. Some of my earliest memories were hours spent watching my mom and grandma preparing food over a wood-fired stove and oven in their smoky kitchen. It was considered manly in that culture to leave kitchen work for the women, but I didn’t care. I enjoyed learning about spices and ingredients and about the processes for using them to make delicious food.
When I was 12 years old, I embarked on my first culinary effort, making chili rellenos for the family supper. I guess it was a success. “It’s not like Grandma’s,” they said. “But it’s good!” I continued with my kitchen experiments, but when it came time to choose a career I enrolled in a mechanical engineering trade school and got a job working in a shop. It didn’t take me long to decide that I needed to spend my life doing what I really enjoyed, so I enrolled in the local culinary school and began to learn how professionals prepare Mexican dishes.
Twenty-five years ago my brother Jose, who lived in Concord, invited me to come to America, which was the land of opportunity. I moved in with him and got a job in an Italian restaurant in Danville called Marcello’s. My first job was washing dishes. I told the owner that I wanted to cook not wash dishes.
“A Mexican can’t cook Italian,” he said.
“I can learn,” I told him.
He said that he didn’t think I had even learned how to wash dishes very well. However, the sous chef was getting behind on his orders so he sent me to the sauté station to help him catch up. Even though the guy had been working on the job for a dozen years, he had never mastered his craft. Right away I began to show him ways he could do his work better and faster. The guy was grateful for the lessons and admitted, “You can cook.”
The owner began giving me lessons in Italian cuisine, beginning with a stern admonition: “Remember! If you want to cook Italian, you have to make it good!” I spent the next ten years in that place making Italian “good.” We made our own pasta onsite. Our raviolis were so good that we sold it to other restaurants in the area.
Over the next two decades I worked for a number of restaurants, each time increasing my knowledge, skill, and experience as a professional chef. I spent ten years at San Ramon’s Big Horn Grill then at Girasole Grill in Pleasanton, which was a fine restaurant with a catering business on the side. I learned fusion cooking — merging Mexican and Italian ingredients into a style called California Cuisine. Our tagline was “California Attitude.”
Things changed again when I helped my brother Mario, who was the Executive Chef of the Discovery Bay Steakhouse & Sports Bar, get the business going. I was supposed to help him for a week but would probably still be there if Randy and Lynn hadn’t lured me away. They would come into the restaurant and talk to me.
We became friends. Finally, they approached me with a job offer to work in their Zephyr Grill & Bar in Livermore. I turned them down. However, a year later, in June 2016, the ownership of the steak house changed. I thought it might be time for me to change, so I called Randy and learned about the new Zephyr they were opening in Brentwood. The timing couldn’t have been better; things worked out perfectly!
So now, here I am at Smith’s Landing. Drop by sometime. Enjoy some of our “amazing seafood with a gorgeous view.” Taste and see for yourself.
Photos by Ron Essex