Biz Beat

Turlock’s new First & Main restaurant offers food with Asian flair from familiar faces

Thanks to Jennifer Doerksen and LeRoy Walker, you can now travel to Europe and Asia — culinarily speaking — without ever leaving downtown Turlock.

The business partners behind the well-established downtown Turlock dining spot Bistro 234 are back with the new Asian-inspired restaurant First & Main. The new site, located as the name suggests on the corner of West Main and First streets in the old Rainbow Fabrics space, opens Tuesday, Sept. 3 for dinner service.

While Bistro 234, which debuted in late 2001, specializes in European bistro fare with California flair, First & Main is a fusion of the flavors of Asia. Walker was initially inspired by the Fijian background of his wife, Mohini Singh, when creating the restaurant. Her signature spices, which are roasted whole and ground fresh, are used in all of the dishes.

The menu spans popular foods from India, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and beyond. But Executive Chef Walker is quick to point out that these are not supposed to be authentic recreations.

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Co-Owner Leroy Walker talks with chef Manny Avina at First & Main Restaurant in Turlock, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

“These are our versions and interpretations of these dishes. They’re not meant to be genuinely authentic,” Walker said. “So it’s our take on samosas or shaking beef.”

The menu ranges from small plates to main entrees, salads to hot bowls. You’ll find an array of savory starter bites like BBQ pork buns, imperial rolls and dumplings (which run around $8 to $15).

Main dishes offer some familiar favorites with Asian twists, like pan-seared ahi tuna, skirt steak and truffle fries and braised tandoori short ribs. The stone bowls feature well-known dishes like Japanese ramen (served Tokyo or island style), Korean bibimbap (a rice-based dish with vegetables, sliced beef and a fried egg on top), and Indian butter chicken (here served in a clay pot with basmati rice on the side). Entrees and hot bowls range from about $12 to $30.

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First & Main Restaurant in Turlock, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

But if you’ve got an all-American eater in your house, First & Main also offers the proudly named “Greasy Cheeseburger,” fashioned after Doerksen’s favorite burger — the VFW burger at the Stanislaus County Fair, served with fries or onion rings.

You’ll find an eclectic cocktail and dessert menu waiting for you as well. Drinks like the Hello Kitty (sake, yuzu citrus, champagne), Thai-Me Up (rum, tropical juice, vanilla coconut foam) and Mr. Milkman (vodka, coconut cream, lychee berries, ginger served in a glass milk carton) just add to the fun.

The dessert menu reaches back to our childhoods with offerings like cookies and milk, s’mores, pink lemonade cake and even the County Fair — in-house made cotton candy, caramel corn and candies.

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Eggs on Eggs ( house deviled egg filling, pickled ginger, tobiko caviar) at First & Main Restaurant in Turlock, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

As much care has gone into the flavor of the food as how it is presented. These colorful, vibrant offerings should overjoy the Instagram-your-dinner crowd. One of the biggest visual showstoppers is the Eggs on Eggs, deviled eggs topped with pickled ginger, seaweed strips and Tobiko caviar which is then dusted with a beet root powder mix. Expect the menu to change with the seasons, so be on the lookout for new additions.

The same attention to detail has gone into the look of First & Main, which has a monochromatic black-and-dark gray palette in contrast to the more colorful, old-world Bistro 234. The building was taken down to the brick walls, and a custom kitchen, full bar and the dining area was then built from the ground up using local designers, contractors and artists. The exterior facade was also redone in crisp white.

“We wanted to be monolithic in our colors and shapes, and we wanted it all the lines to be clean,” Doerksen said. “We really wanted to differentiate it from Bistro.”

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First & Main Restaurant in Turlock, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

That extends to the types of seating, too. The dining room has a series of smaller two-person tables, as well as banquettes that can seat up to 14, booths that can seat 8 to 10 and a long table that can accommodate up to 35. The restaurant as a whole has a capacity for about 155 people. The idea with both the seating and the food is to encourage sharing.

The restaurant will start with dinner only, and then later expand to lunch. Down the road, perhaps sometimes next spring, Doerksen said they hope to add Sunday brunch service. The eatery opens with 25 employees, and is still hiring for both front of house and kitchen positions.

Doerksen said despite being just two blocks and a less than five-minute walk from Bistro 234, she isn’t worried First & Main will draw customers away. Instead she said the more diversity downtown the better. As it is, they draw from Modesto, Merced, Hilmar and Los Banos in addition to their Turlock regulars.

“I hope this just brings Turlock just another awesome place to be,” she said. “We love downtown We were very fortunate in the beginning to have one of the very first restaurants in downtown when the whole renaissance began. The community has been really good to us here.”

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Co-owner Jennifer Doerksen talks with guests during preview night at First & Main Restaurant in Turlock, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

First & Main, at 100 W. Main St. in Turlock, opens Tuesday. Its hours will be 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday. For more information call 209-620-8760 or visit firstandmainturlock.com. Find them on Instagram at instagram.com/firstandmainturlock.

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Marijke Rowland writes about new business, restaurant and retail developments. She has been with The Modesto Bee since 1997 covering a variety of topics including arts and entertainment. Her Business Beat column runs multiple times a week. And it’s pronounced Mar-eye-ke.
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