It’s not very often that you can find dishes with Indian, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese influences as part of one deliciously-cohesive menu, but that’s exactly what restaurateurs Jennifer Doerksen and LeRoy Walker have accomplished in their second downtown endeavor, First & Main.
Doerksen and Walker already established themselves as culinary powerhouses in Turlock’s downtown restaurant scene through the success of Bistro 234, which opened in 2001 and has since influenced forthcoming Main Street eateries through its use of local ingredients and approachable style of fine dining. Throughout the years, the eatery on the east side of the tracks has come to serve as a friendly gathering place for the community — something Doerksen and Walker hope to recreate at First & Main through a unique dining spot that aims to provide patrons with an experience, rather than just a meal.
“This is a totally different concept and I think what we did down there, we’re really hoping we can do over here…We have folks who have become a regular lunch bunch and we’re looking for that same atmosphere here where it’s a communal table,” Doerksen said.
With its crafty cocktails, modern décor and purposeful seating arrangements, the aptly-named First & Main sits on the corner of the two streets and caters to a younger crowd whose scene has exploded on the west side of the tracks, thanks to its nightlife destinations and other trendy food options. Shared plates like shrimp tempura and flavorful samosas encourage social circles to connect in one of the restaurant’s large, comfortable booths and individuals can get to know someone new courtesy of the space’s shared table, where they could be seated next to a stranger.
“I think this menu is catered to the young crowd — not to say we don’t want the Bistro crowd, but here it’s a little more of a vibrant atmosphere and it’s faster moving,” Walker said. “The aromas are different coming out of this place.”
A self-described “meat and potatoes guy,” Walker said exploring First & Main’s exotic menu was something entirely new for him.
“I was introduced to a different flavor profile, and it opened up my pallet again,” he said. “It made me want to rethink what I was doing cooking wise.”
Spice expert Mohini Singh, who teaches Culinary Arts at Pitman High School and happens to be married to Walker, played a huge role in crafting First & Main’s menu, he said, drawing inspiration from her Indian background to develop dishes that are light, flavorful and never-before-seen in Turlock. Some dishes play heavily on the rich spices often found in Indian cuisine, like the Braised Tandoori Short Ribs, while other menu options pull from different Asian influences, like the variety of hot bowls that feature ingredients such as clams and pork belly.
“Bistro 234 is California flare with a European influence and this is California flare that has the entire continent of Asia’s influence,” Walker said. “I don’t feel like it’s available in the area at all…We wanted to create something that had a lot of flavor-forward dishes, but with a nicer ambience.”
With its high ceilings that feature exposed, wooden beams, lush greenery throughout the restaurant and utilitarian details in its seating, the restaurant’s design was crafted thanks to help from Debra Volk and Diane Watling of downtown décor shop D2, with Vietnam’s French colonial era serving as its muse. Small features like chalkboards on columns and a photo-op wall bring the space into the 21st century, but are minimal enough to ensure the focus remains on the food.
“We really listened to younger people and this is someplace I would want to go,” Doerksen said. “It’s a breathable space where the food shines.”
First & Main will open to the public for dinner on Tuesday and is located at 100 W. Main St. The restaurant will be open for dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with lunch hours anticipated to begin in the coming weeks. For more information or to book a reservation, visit www.firstandmainturlock.com.