Chef Michael Warring isn’t big on labels. He won’t say his dishes are seasonally based or that they have a California-tinged origin. In fact, if you ask him point blank what type of food he creates at his eponymous restaurant, he’ll most likely respond with, “Whatever we want to do.”
Opening a restaurant, as a chef, is a very personal thing. You put all of yourself into it because you want your guests to see, feel, hear, and taste the personal experience. It’s a reflection of me.Michael Warring
And whatever he wants to do results in artfully crafted and thoughtfully prepared fare shared throughout a six-course prix fixe — with a menu that changes on a daily basis at times — that at most other restaurants would come with a price tag and zip code to match. But, then again, this dining experience isn’t like most other restaurants.
Located in a nondescript end unit in the small Hiddenbrooke Plaza, the Vallejo eatery serves dinner Wednesday through Sunday by reservation only. There are just two employees — Warring and his wife, Ali Gulczynski — and enough chairs for 18 people. Yet despite the seemingly limited seating and hours of operation, Warring has found a creative freedom that he’s worked towards his entire career.
After a gig as a dishwasher at Jax2 Catering and Bistro in his hometown of Benicia, 15-year-old Warring knew he wanted to be in the restaurant biz. Three years later, he packed up and headed east for culinary school in New York (where he met Gulczynski) before embarking on his chef’s journey, hopping from one restaurant to another, and gaining experience along the way.
“There wasn’t just one place where I learned it all,” Warring says of his expertise. “It was an accumulation from each restaurant I worked at. I learned how to cook fast and feed hundreds of people at one place; I learned to use more refined techniques at another place; and I learned how to talk to guests somewhere else.” He used all of these experiences to build towards his ultimate goal: owning and running his own restaurant. And while the jobs may never have lasted long — as Warring puts it, “I always had one foot out the door” — he managed to pick up the ins and outs of the industry in record time.
At the ripe age of 25, the chef relocated back to his native area to open up a restaurant done entirely his own way.
“Opening a restaurant, as a chef, is a very personal thing,” he says. “You put all of yourself into it because you want your guests to see, feel, hear, and taste the personal experience. It’s a reflection of me.”
Luckily for the chef, his personal touch caught on. Eight years after opening Michael Warring, he has a dedicated and enthusiastic community of diners backing him. And how could he not when he serves up dishes such as mushroom agnolotti, noodles in a dashi-rich broth, or maitake mushroom and shaved foie gras sorbet. And that’s before mentioning the wine and beer pairings that — thanks to Gulczynski’s expertise — take the menu to a whole other level.
But no matter how delicious the meal is, or what the next day’s menu has in store, Warring always points back to his guests and community as the driving force behind the restaurant.
“We want to keep guests satiated in a number of ways, beyond just food and wine,” he says. “We want them to get something good out of their experience.” And though settling in Vallejo was somewhat of an accident (Warring had grand ambitions to land elsewhere in the Bay Area), it became one of the best accidents he could’ve asked for.
“We are happy with where we are at,” says the chef. “We have great guests, and we are free to do whatever we want.”
8300 Bennington Dr., Vallejo, (707) 655-4808. Dinner Wed.–Sun. Reservations required.
This story appeared originally in Carquinez Magazine.