Jeremiah Tower isn’t the only California chef who’s come east to conquer a New York landmark this fall. L.A. chef Octavio Becerra, best known for his farm-to-table cooking at Glendale’s Palate Food & Wine, now mans the kitchen at STATE Grill & Bar (350 Fifth Avenue, 212-216-9693), located inside the Empire State Building. Here, he’s digging up the icon’s rural roots for a menu sharply focused on more than a dozen local purveyors like Satur Farms, Max Creek Hatchery, and Blue Island Oyster Co.
“The menu’s rooted to the provenance of New York State, and the surrounding communities, for sure,” says Becerra. “I’ve been doing the research of the building itself — the building was built on a farm, there was an active river underneath the building. So I’m looking back at this area, to see how to tie it in.”
Becerra has been forging friendships with local growers, too. “Much of these relationships take time to nurture and cultivate, and it’s not the most opportune time with these farmers hibernating till March,” he says. “So for me that’s a big transition.” He acknowledges help from Sea Grill chef Yuhi Fujinaga, who’s locked arms with him through the farmers’ markets.
The menu features simple, pared-down dishes focused on more intense flavors, including a crunchy dry-aged ribeye with a land cress salad, and a meaty cauliflower steak with pomegranate relish. Dinnertime can be a vegetarian’s delight, with an appetizer trio of beet preparations and a guilty-pleasure happy-hour snack of pimento cheese sandwiches topped with delicate fried yolks held tight by crispy whites.
STATE Grill & Bar is also Becerra’s return to the Patina Group, which he co-founded and grew until 2005, and which includes the Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center, Lincoln at Lincoln Center, and the Cellar Bar & Grill at Macy’s.
“Nick Valenti reached out to ask if I was available, maybe to even rejoin the group long term,” he says. “And I’m always open; home is where the kitchen is. I have so many connections and friends here, and I’m embracing the moment.”
Becerra’s also embracing his friendship with fellow bicoastal chef Ilan Hall, of Williamsburg’s The Gorbals. There, the two chefs will soon be cooking up new dishes side by side on the chef’s Sunday nights off.