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‘There are No Boundaries’: The Origin, Evolution, and Future of Sorrel

Cover Image for ‘There are No Boundaries’: The Origin, Evolution, and Future of Sorrel
By Eddie Carter
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Categories:Interviews

Alex Hong has worked all around the world, cultivating a cooking style that blends the cuisines and techniques of the cultures he has grown to love. At Sorrel, he combines Bay Area ingredients with Italian-inspired, New American recipes. We caught up with chef Alex to talk about the origin, evolution, and future of Sorrel.

Where does the name ‘Sorrel’ come from?

Sorrel is a type of invasive species in the Bay Area, also known as sour grass. It blooms in the winter and has beautiful yellow flowers that sprout from it. We harvest sorrel from our rooftop garden and use it in a variety of different ways in our dishes. We make a granita for our oysters, we do a sorrel soda at the bar, and we even make sorrel coconut ice cream. We named the restaurant Sorrel because we wanted to highlight an underutilized Bay Area ingredient and show that it can be used to make something beautiful.

Source: @josephcweaver

How do you tie the two distinct regions of your cuisine together?

I’ve traveled around the world and worked in restaurants where I’ve fallen in love with the cuisines and techniques of the surrounding culture, inadvertently manufacturing my own unique cooking style. Many other chefs have done the same, so now there are a lot of restaurants in California that have decided there are no boundaries. You can do whatever you want in your cooking.

If I had to put a label on it, our menu is New American-Californian with Italian influences. We change our menu every six to eight weeks to highlight something new. There is always a flow to our menu that takes you through a multi-course journey of various flavors, temperatures and smells. 

“We wanted to highlight an underutilized Bay Area ingredient and show that it can be used to make something beautiful.”

What have you achieved at Sorrel that makes you the most proud?

I think the way that this restaurant has evolved has been really special. We opened around four and a half years ago as a neighborhood à la carte restaurant. We had a pretty small and approachable menu, but over the years our vision has changed into more of a fine dining concept. Post COVID we pivoted to a tasting menu format, and in the last year and a half that has evolved into so much more.

What’s special about Sorrel is that it’s going to continue to evolve and we’re going to keep on refining our food and techniques. You’ll come in a year from now and you’ll find some similarities in terms of flavor, but it’ll be a brand new experience.

What excites you about Sorrel’s future?

I don’t know where Sorrel is going to go, but I’m the type of person to never be stagnant. I’ll never open a restaurant with the intention that it stays the same throughout its lifetime. It excites me to collaborate with my managers and come up with new menus centered around the fresh ingredients that are at our disposal, and it helps us expand our knowledge and create something that is better than before.

Source: @josephcweaver

What dishes do you have right now on your menu that you recommend to everyone?

We’ve had three staples since day one that I always recommend. One is the oysters and sorrels which comes with rosé, housemade rose-geranium vinegar, and little balls of Asian pear. Next is the sorrel snow, a refreshing and crisp one-bite snack that has a lot of distinct sorrel flavor in it. Lastly, we have our housemade sourdough focaccia that combines the sourness of the starter in sourdough with the crispy olive oil crust that you find on traditional focaccia. It also comes with whipped lardo, our house cultured butter, and bagna càuda, a traditional anchovy oil with fresh boquerones. Although it hasn’t been on the menu since day one, the 14-day dry-aged duck lacquered with honey and fennel seed is a bonafide “must try”.

Source: @josephcweaver

What events do you have coming up that you want people to know about?

On October 9th, we are teaming up with Andy Peay vineyards for a special six-course winemaker dinner. We’ve never done a winemaker dinner at Sorrel, so it is really exciting for us to not only come up with food that matches the wine, but to have the maker of the wine there to explain why the two are paired and what the purpose behind each one is.

We will also be preparing a four-course meal for over 200 people at Field to Table at PayPal Park on October 28th. Experiences like Field to Table are amazing because you get to cook for a massive audience in a special place where everyone is coming solely to enjoy what you prepare.

PayPal Park in San Jose

Finally, from November 16th-17th we will be hosting our 3rd annual white truffle dinner. This eight-course meal will highlight the seasonal bounty of California by incorporating the highly sought after white truffle into each dish, with an optional wine pairing curated by our wine manager Travis Renshaw.

We look forward to hosting many more special events and chef dinners in the future. In the meantime, be sure to book a seat in our fourteen person private dining room for any events you want to host, or simply to enjoy Sorrel in a more intimate setting.

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