May 2, 2012
Lounge ON20 scales back fine dining, chef Pajo Bruich leaves

After flirting with a menu that emphasized molecular gastronomy and cutting-edge cooking techniques, midtown's Lounge ON20 is scaling back its menu to emphasize comfort foods and bar snacks. Lounge ON20 has also bid farewell to chef Pajo Bruich, who started at Lounge ON20 in February of 2011 and introduced Sacramentans to styles of cooking that hail from "Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking." This was Lounge ON20's attempt at adding a fine dining element to its nightlife activities, but its revamped food program with a focus on molecular gastronomy just wasn't profitable enough in the end.

"We tried a concept that at the end of the day wasn't as successful as it should have been," said Bruich. "The business is better suited in going back to its original concept. In that neighborhood, it's very difficult to operate with that style of food in that kind of nightlife atmosphere."

Also departed from Lounge ON20 is Mike Ward, the chef de cuisine and mastermind of its charcuterie program. The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson named Lounge ON20's charcuterie plate as the best dish he had in 2011.

Both Bruich and Ali Mackani, Lounge ON20's owner, describe the split as amicable. Before leaving Lounge ON20, Bruich created a new menu that will be served from here on out, including tacos, fried mac 'n' cheese and other accessible foods.

"Pajo and I are friends, but we had to look at things on a business level," said Mackani. "He's very special at what he does, and we should be proud to have that kind of talent in our community. I'm going to support him."

Bruich is currently exploring his options, and feeling out potential opportunities in New York City, the Napa valley and San Francisco bay area. Bruich, who has run a number of gourmet pop-up dinners around the area, has also been working on a business plan that he's ready to present to potential investors.

He'd also like to stay in the Sacramento area given the right opportunity.

"We have some of the most amazing products coming from our region and some of the most passionate chefs I've seen," said Bruich. "I'm extremely proud of what I accomplished personally and professionally at Lounge ON20. I'll just continue to be myself and put my expressions into my cuisine."

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