TORTUGA

WORDS: Nicole Stanton
IMAGES: Courtesy of Tortuga

It is always awe-inspiring to encounter people who have found a way to pursue their passion. To transform an interest or curiosity into one’s life work seems, well, the ultimate mode of creating the means for happiness. I have been lucky enough to have many loved ones do just this, constantly inspiring me to stick to the things that make me feel lit up, even when those paths seem most difficult to pave. I caught up with a dear friend recently, who has been actively pursuing his passion for food, and sharing the art of food with his community.

I first encountered Larry’s passion for cooking when we were just fourteen. When our biggest concerns were prom dates and AP Calculus, Larry was perfecting his éclair, and roasting beef tenderloin for our house parties. Years later, Larry’s passion for food is finding a home in Tortuga, a restaurant started by a crew of food-loving-friends.

Tortuga’s concept is unique, and satisfies what Larry conceives of as a craving in the culinary community: “a high quality, high-end dining experience at an affordable price and in a casual setting.” The Tortuga team is made up of UC Davis students, living in Turtle House – a communal living space founded upon shared interest in food, agriculture, and sustainability.

As of now, Larry Feygin, Kaija Bosket, Deirdre Feeley, Alison Peraza, Ellis Anderson, and Brian Shaw are the heart and effort behind Tortuga’s success. They each take a limb of the restaurant operations, everything from front of the house, playlists for the dining room, serving, prepping, sourcing, cooking, and pastry making. Tortuga invites guests to the Turtle House basement which they’ve converted into a dining room. Their first two dinners were a success, one was back in December, the other for Valentine’s Day.

The menus are both artful and innovative, making astonishingly beautiful plates of food from locally-sourced ingredients. Larry explained that he puts a lot of thought into what the plates will look like. “I am a big believer that we eat with our eyes first.”

Fennel, Apple, and Potato Soup

Fennel, Apple, and Potato Soup

 

The dinner in December had a white winter theme, and the majority of the dishes used white ingredients. They served fennel, apple, and potato soup. He admits that the white fish at the market was a bit beyond their budget, but they served salmon with assorted carrots, citrus segments, and citrus sauces. For dessert? A white chocolate apple bread pudding. At this point I was ready to trek to Turtle House.

Their Valentine’s Day menu, the motif was appropriately red. Tortuga served a pickled beet salad with goat cheese, foraged greens, and an oxalis vinaigrette. That was followed by a duck breast with cipollini onions, blood orange, radicchio, and black trumpet mushrooms. Dessert was a chocolate torte with raspberry coulis, because what else would anyone want on Valentine’s Day? On the tables was freshly baked pretzel bread with roasted shallot-mustard butter, and of course, red wine.

Charred winter squash with mint-pistachio pesto, cipollini onions, blood orange, radicchio, and black trumpet mushrooms.

Charred winter squash with mint-pistachio pesto, cipollini onions, blood orange, radicchio, and black trumpet mushrooms.

In terms of finding the best of the best ingredients, it seems as though Davis, California is just about the best place to be. A few members of Turtle House recently started Green Almond Farm, which will source most of Tortuga’s ingredients moving forward. Currently their growing partner is Hearty Fork Farm, and everything they can’t get from them, they find at their local farmers’ market. Larry explained, that as an aspiring chef, locally sourced products are important of course for sustainability-driven reasons, but says, “Personally, I am more compelled to buy local by the fact that stuff grown around here just tastes better and forces you to be more creative. By limiting yourself only to what is in season and what is grown around you, you’re forced to work within certain limits and come up with non-obvious ideas.”

Tortuga is accomplishing something we at Loam think is vital to healthy communities. That being, creating spaces accessible to all, driven by a desire to share personal passions. Larry is moved by the idea of making high-end food approachable, and accessible. In fact, he has been since we were 14. Check out Tortuga on Facebook, and if you’re in Davis, California, try to snag a seat at one of their dinners before the word gets out.