Travel Photographer / Writer
chasing the essence
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California Cuisine - Sampling San Diego
A summer visit to San Diego was an opportunity to check on the city's food scene. Although only a sampling, this article may be useful for anyone interested in eating well.
California has a range of topography and climatic conditions that make the state a major food producer. Innovative restaurateurs and chefs from this part of the world seem to sprout like sunflowers in King Sol's rays. Where do they get their ingredients? To a great extent, in their own backyard.
More than 6,000 farmers make agriculture a multi-billion dollar industry just in San Diego County. The region has more small family farms than any other county in the nation. Who knew! The San Diego County Farm Bureau website has a complete schedule of San Diego’s farmers markets, winery locations plus a regional harvest calendar.
Here are 4 gastronomic gems (minus one Covid casualty) I discovered while munching my way around the city.
Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in the United States, is often referred to as the "Smithsonian of the West" for its impressive collection of museums and galleries.
The Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings from the 1915-1916 California Expo are delightful. In the same building as the Visitor Center is El Prado Restaurant — an atmospheric place for lunch or dinner.
The indoor Lounge replicates a Spanish tapas bar, while the Terrace puts you under a canopy of greenery. El Prada isn't overpriced and the food is authentic. Bueno, Balboa!
Del Mar is a sweet seaside village about 20 miles north of downtown San Diego. If you don't have a car, the Coaster commuter train stops at nearby Solana Beach, with buses to the Del Mar race track or taxis to downtown. A couple of community parties were in progress at Del Mar's Powerhouse Park the evening that we arrived.
On the main street of Camino del Mar at street level in Del Mar Plaza you'll find the modest-looking Del Mar Rendezvous. For passers by appearances could be deceiving, but for those in the know, this is one excellent Chinese restaurant. A 'Best of,' as a matter of fact.
Stretching the boundaries, vegan and gluten-free meals are offered as well. Fusion food with variety. Guest-friendly wine prices are retail + $8 per bottle. Did I mention the Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence for an outstanding wine list?
Tony Chu Jung Su and Dan Shalom Schreiber own and run the restaurant, inhereited from former executive chef Mark "Mau" Sun. You can read all about it on the back of the menu while sipping a chilled Gewürtztraminer, which just happens to pair nicely with Asian foods.
As we left the restaurant we spotted this vehicle parked outside. The licence plate read POET SPY. Quite a delight to find at night .... and I thought this town was known for its horse racing.
West Steak and Seafood and Bistro West have sadly closed indefinitely due to Covid. Fingers crossed they will reopen because they are/were ideal restaurants.
Carlsbad is another cute commuter town further up the coast where executive chef Eugenio Martignano bought a 3-acre farm. The organic harvest supplies the freshest possible produce to both restaurants at West Inn & Suites, a boutique hotel with a #1 rating on Tripadvisor. Eugenio's life passion, from Europe to the USA, has been to create wonderous food. Running the farm with its staff of three is energetic and affable Luke Girling, an organic farmer with a background in field and formal education.
Restaurant menus are coordinated with seasonal changes according to available produce. Fruits, flowers, herbs and vegetables make their way to the kitchens within minutes to ensure the highest quality ingredients on a plate. Luke enjoys experimenting, whether it's breaking down the menus to see what can be grown organically or planting flowers to encourage bee pollination of the vegetables while also providing "table art". Both he and the bees like sunflowers.
In the restaurant, chef Jason Connolly suggests some of the most popular menu items. Eugenio and Jason look to classic French and Italian cuisine as the basis for inspiration. Tom Bertrand is resident sommelier taking care of the wines.
Mission Bay Park, 'the largest man-made aquatic park in the country,' brings the country into San Diego. Tidal Restaurant is one of the private components that share the 4,235 acres of land and water with the city. Its California chic strikes a chord with the public and guests staying at Paradise Point Resort & Spa. A number of European visitors were present the evening we visited. Extensive updates nicely maintain the openness of this former beach house. The entire complex was developed by film director Jack Skirball in the 1960s.
Snake Oil Cocktail Company manages the bar. Drink designer and mixologist Brandt Stenberg meticulously prepared a Humming Herder (portón pisco + lavender reduction + pressed lemon + Moroccan bitters + club soda) and Paducah Punch (larceny bourbon + Pimm's + maple lemonade + cherry wood smoked ice + peach-mango tea foam) just for us.
Eileen was our server for the evening. Our table was strategically set between views of the lagoon and whiffs of passing food from the kitchen. Executive chef & General Manager Amy Dibiase hails from Maine, but for more than a decade has cut her culinary reputation in California. Together with sous chef Kyle Bergman, Amy puts that California touch to Mediterranean-style seafood. The gallery artwork on the walls, like the menu, changes with the season.
Full disclosure: Most of my meals were complimentary as part of a media tour. All comments and photos are mine without oversight.
© Gary Crallé - Updated 2022
All Rights Reserved