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Artist Margaret Alexis Chiaro, chef Matthew Monko and beverage director Wyatt DeMars at KNVS in Oceanside. Photo by David Boylan
Artist Margaret Alexis Chiaro, chef Matthew Monko and beverage director Wyatt DeMars at KNVS in Oceanside. Photo by David Boylan
Columns Food & Wine Lick the Plate

Art and cuisine combine to delight at KNVS

Lick the Plate has always fancied itself a culinary, culture and music feature, allowing guests from those worlds to tell their stories through tales of food and music. It’s always fun to encounter a wildly creative type like Kevin Shin, whose ventures play right into my loose format.

You may remember my feature on the Switchboard Restaurant and Bar at the Fin Hotel in Oceanside. The restaurant was an original then and has since expanded by adding North County Roastery coffee shop, Korean food lounge Haetae, and the latest addition KNVS (pronounced Canvas).

More on that in a bit. First, a refresher on Shin, as his story is worth knowing.

I’ve not met many restaurateurs over the years that served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 13 years and still work as an active duty fire captain for Culver City Fire Department, where Kevin has been for the last 17 years running the aforementioned culinary projects.

And to make his mix even more interesting, Kevin serves on the boards of the Oceanside Museum of Art and Oceanside Chamber of Commerce. And I thought I had a lot going on!

Besides all that, he has always been very receptive and appreciative of my Lick the Plate ventures, so when the opportunity came up to revisit his Fin Hotel campus and its newest addition, I was all over it.

Since I already had the opportunity to talk food and music with Kevin (and yes, he is a fan of The Shins), he hooked me up with his first artist in residence at KNVS, Margaret Alexis Chiaro, chef Matthew Monko and beverage director Wyatt DeMars.

The Local Number cocktail at Switchboard. Photo by David Boylan
The Local Number cocktail at Switchboard. Photo by David Boylan

We gathered in the lobby of the chic Fin Hotel that connects to Switchboard, North County Roastery and KNVS — hence the campus concept.

Besides sharing her story, Margaret filled me in on the KNVS venture, which she described as an immersive-art-gallery meets restaurant and bar — a first-of-its-kind venue in the area. It’s a space where guests can indulge in a chef-crafted menu reflective of the art surrounding them. It’s a collaboration of creatives, so to speak, with quarterly rotating featured artists inspiring the food and beverage team to create a coinciding menu.

The Oceanside local’s exhibit, The Floral Guild, launched July 30.

“Whimsical and feminine in its nature, contrasting suggestively feminine subjects with darker energetic polarities,” Margaret said of the exhibit.

Margaret emphasizes duality in all her pieces, creating a stark contrast between light and dark, masculine and feminine, with each brush stroke representing her symbolic and personal approach to art.

The exhibit will remain on display through the end of October.

The direction of the menu, created by co-chefs Michael Mitchem and Matthew Monko, is inspired by the contemporary dark and light highlighted in Margaret’s art. Menu items include a vegan ratatouille bouquet and a berry-cured salmon.

The cocktail menu, created by beverage director Wyatt DeMars, also appeals to the same multi-themed balance in The Floral Guild. The drinks that appear bright and cheerful on the outside will be found to have darker, moodier flavors within, while drinks that appear unyielding reveal delicate intricacies.

Some cocktails on the menu are Love Bush with Jamaica rum, lime, bell pepper, chartreuse and agave and Iris with rye, cognac, apple, lemon, black pepper and charcoal. I will chime in that I discovered my favorite summer cocktail of all time sitting at the Switchboard bar, waiting on my Poke Bowl after our interview.

The cocktail is called Local Number and has Locals Only vodka, grapefruit, coconut, mint and lime. Hot dang, if that’s not the perfect combination for a warm summer evening in coastal Oceanside.

As part of each exhibit, KNVS will also spotlight corresponding community artists, such as live musicians and florists, that will work to integrate their work with the visual artists, chefs and bartenders.

And if all that is not enough, Kevin is staying true to his value of giving back to the community by taking an alternative approach to gallery sales. Rather than taking a commission from the artists featured in KNVS, he will donate 15% of the proceeds to a nonprofit of the artist’s choice.

Margaret, the first featured artist, has chosen Studio ACE of Oceanside, a studio dedicated to enriching lives through art, community and education.

So there you have it, the latest and greatest from one of Southern California’s more innovative culinary proprietors. Switchboard is still one of my favorite restaurants in North County and now has several other worth attractions attached. My advice, get there now.

Find them at 131 S. Coast Highway, Oceanside or www.theswitchboardrestaurant.com.

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