When Enotria, a high-profile restaurant and wine bar, suddenly closed in mid-January after 17 years on Del Paso Boulevard, Pajo Bruich was out of a job and left to wonder if his modern, artfully presented cuisine would ever find a large enough audience in Sacramento.
But he didn’t sit around and wonder for long.
Less than seven months after that headline-grabbing piece of bad news, the self-taught Bruich, 34, has landed a plum job in San Francisco. He is in his fourth week as the new executive chef at Bourbon Steak in Union Square and is looking to relocate his family to the Bay Area as soon as possible.
The restaurant in the Westin St. Francis on Union Square is operated by the highly regarded Mina Group, which is led by Chef Michael Mina and runs 22 upscale restaurants throughout the U.S.
Bruich says he couldn’t afford to mope or complain after Enotria closed (it has since reopened mostly as an events space). He did guest chef stints in Los Angeles. He reached out to the many contacts he’s made. And he kept pushing to find the right job. Before Enotria, Bruich was chef at Lounge ON20, which also closed abruptly.
“I’ve always tried to look at my glass as half full. I’m very passionate about the craft of cooking, and I believe in it. I’ve had a lot of setbacks, and that’s just part of life. Your attitude is what gets you through it,” said Bruich, who has two young children. “I watched my mom work very, very hard in the face of a lot of adversity. It demonstrated to me a lot of character and set the tone for the type of person I wanted to be.”
Bourbon Steak, which is open seven days a week for dinner only, is described as offering a “modern twist on a classic American steakhouse.” As one would expect, it is an expensive restaurant, with seared scallops costing $39 and steaks, depending on the cut and provenance, ranging from $34 to $89, with baked potato an additional $11.
If this doesn’t sound like Bruich’s kind of food, it’s because he was known for wowing guests with unusual combinations, modern techniques and plating that demonstrates a sense of balance and artistry.
Bruich says he plans to put his own spin on each dish, and he has been given the creative freedom to do so.
“The steaks are simply an ingredient, and I’m going to source the best quality I can find, and we’re going to do unique cuts,” the chef said. “If you have a steak at Bourbon, you will not be able to get a steak like that anywhere else. That’s what I’m striving for.”
“We are honored to bring Chef Pajo to Bourbon Steak,” Michael Mina said in a press release. “His intense pursuit of culinary excellence is sure to inspire and motivate his team, while his extensive knowledge and experience in program development will serve him well in taking the restaurant to the next level.”
The quest to land the highly competitive job was a long and arduous one, Bruich said. It involved numerous interviews and a lengthy tryout. He said that landing the job means Sacramento’s reputation for restaurants is growing and that San Francisco is paying attention.
“I put a great deal of my soul into Enotria, and I was very proud of it. Being out of work was not fun. But where one door closes, another one opens. I knew that all the effort I put into Enotria that something good was going to happen, but it was up to me to go out and find it,” Bruich said.
Bruich added, “One of the first things they said to me when I met with them is people are aware of what’s going on in Sacramento.”
At Enotria, Bruich made no secret of his quest to earn a coveted Michelin star, even though the Michelin Guide for Northern California is limited to the Bay Area and Napa Valley. He had held out hope that the Guide would eventually extend its reach to Sacramento.
Is this his chance to get that star?
Bruich says he believes he has a chance to get it at Bourbon Steak.
“They really loved my food, and they loved my style. They want to promote my style. There’s a lot of creative freedom in the program now. I’m looking forward to testing myself and pushing myself more than ever,” he said.