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Chef Brian Hale, one of the more colorful characters on the local chef circuit, is the new Director of Culinary Operations for BARcelona, Bocci Bar, and Coastal Bistro, according to Frank Schmitz, a principal in all three operations. Most locals will remember Hale from Monarch restaurant, where he was the Exec Chef (prior to the arrival of Josh Galliano). If you ever sat at Monarch's bar and ordered something to eat, there was a good chance Hale would be the guy serving it to you, flashing a wicked pirate smile and rattling off a description and back story so tantalizing you could handle wait to jab a fork in it.
For the past three-plus years, Hale was Exec at the Chase Park Plaza, exploring the banquet and corporate end of the business--examining "a bigger stage," as he described it in this SLM Q&A from 2010. Hale and the Chase parted company in late January 2012.
For the last several weeks, Hale has been working with Frank Schmitz behind the scenes, "seeing if the fit was right," according to the latter, creating "a new menu and a new style" for Bocci. Apparently, the fit was right: The new menu, "Hale-style," according to Schmitz, was introduced yesterday. I would categorize Hale's style as bright and inventive with bold plating, to which Schmitz would added "and truly modern Italian." Examples on the new menu are Carbonara Ravioli (with pancetta, peas, porcini, and quail egg), and or a Whole Lobster Risotto (with spinach, grilled corn, cherry tomato, and sweet garlic).
Hale's next focus will be revamping Coastal's menu to better reflect the "Low Country cuisine" it espouses (but has never truly executed, in my opinion). Look for his signature to be added to Coastal's fresh seafood and oyster offerings as well.
Which leaves BARcelona. A new lunch menu is already in the works there, too, but "the evening tapas menu will remain," according to Schmitz.
And apparently there is another new concept that Schmitz and his wife Eloise have been itching to introduce and "Hale is the man to execute that as well," boasted Schmitz, adding "Brian is one of few chefs in town that has the tools to implement an idea from start to finish. This concept is well suited for Clayton--which would be convenient for us--but would also work in another location." More on that development as it develops.