The constant grey skies this season, in a city that has promised to live up to its "Sunny San Diego"reputation, have kept my mood a bit on the bland side. Having foodie fun with friends has kept me from falling into a total slump by giving me something favorable to look forward to when sunny skies are not an option. I always get excited by the possibilities that await when experiencing a new restaurant, my interest is continuously piqued while donning my explorer hat in search of new favorites to add to my list . First I am instantly intrigued by the ambience, next by the staff, and finally by the food. When all three of these line up together a harmonious memory is made. I am happy to say my mouth made some wonderful memories this month and I am eager to share with you some edible highlights.
A.R. Valentien (La Jolla)
Located in The Lodge at Torrey Pines, this fine dining establishment provides a perfect ambience to celebrate a special occasion. Overlooking the resort's pool and golf course, the views are quite striking. The service staff is attentive and accommodating to dietary restrictions. The kitchen masterfully delivers aesthetically stunning presentations of dishes. Despite these wins, there are some downfalls. I really hoped to love this place. Although we tasted some outstanding creations (like the coconut carrot soup topped with savory granola and kafir lime; and the charred torpedo agnnolotti with morel mushrooms and mascarpone) other items were disappointing. The roasted beets with pistachio butter were drenched in a heavy sauce and the Alaskan halibut oddly tasted like unseasoned dry chicken. Some of the ingredients used are quite dense, this coupled with the heat emitted from the heating lamps were making it hard for me to keep my eyes open. I don't like that overly full feeling after eating. I felt weighed down and sadly passed on dessert. I wouldn't give up on A.R. Valentien entirely. There is a lot of promise here. My recommendation is to reserve an indoor table at one of the intimate banquette tables for a romantic date night, and stick to cocktails (the mezcal old fashioned is fantastic) and dessert. I would go back here for post dinner drinks to enjoy the sultry interior and top-notch artistic presentation of the food.
MARKET Restuarant & Bar (Del Mar)
MARKET easily offers one of the most reasonably priced three-course dinners, at $79 per person, along with a pretty remarkable menu that changes monthly, in a romantically dim setting that includes black-out shades to ward off any hint of sunlight. Yes, the chef changes the menu here regularly to keep it seasonably charged and to keep its customers coming back for new inventive dishes. The dining room was packed during our entire visit with more diners eagerly waiting to be sat as we finished our meal. Some of the delicious items on the menu, which we savored, are the chilled avocado and roasted chili soup with a sweet corn tamale pancake and tomato sorbet; lobster tomato soup with sweet peppers, creme fraiche, and sourdough crumbs; tempura soft-shell crab over green papaya-mango salad, lemongrass-coconut sauce with aioli and cashews; roasted sea bass with artichoke ratatouille, garlic whipped potatoes and tomato fondue; and a local grass-fed tenderloin filet with a twice baked potato. These were all delicious! Be prepared to complete your already stellar meal with a fantastic finish that includes creamy pistachio tres leches and a decadent chocolate Napolean. Valet is the only parking option and costs $6.00 without a validation option. Totally worth the cost to park in order to embark on a perfectly executed culinary adventure.
Adelaide (Del Mar)
Set inside the beautifully renovated lobby of the L'Auberge, Adelaide equally attracts both locals and out-of-towners to its open-aired, sun-kissed, modernly designed restaurant that boasts gorgeous ocean views. This hotel restaurant is one of my go-to's and I've realistically eaten here more than a dozen times. I just find the well integrated, modern decor very alluring. The emphasis on seafood and in-season veggies is equally appealing. Some of my favorites here are the heirloom tomatoes & burrata salad topped with basil and salsa verde (the tomatoes are pure heaven!); the Peri Peri shrimp lettuce cup with pickled vegetables and jalapeno-lime aioli; the hamachi crudo spiced with Calabrian chili, ponzu, scallion, and jalapeno; and the lentil cakes that sandwich a dill yogurt and top a pea puree. I always leave here assured that I have eaten food that is healthy, high in protein, and light on carbs. Oh, and the bar always delivers a mean cocktail. That's my kind of meal!
The Fairmont Grand (Del Mar) I can't think of a better way to celebrate the weekend than with an elegant afternoon tea in the opulent lobby of this majestic hotel. The Grand serves high tea every Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm with a grandiose offering of teas, finger sandwiches, scones, and petit fours. The kitchen is extremely accommodating to dietary restrictions and will happily concoct custom-made bites to please your palate. This one's a keeper, you'll find yourself ready to make another return reservation as soon as you leave.
The Kitchen (The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla)
Outside of the Museum of Contemporary Art lies a lovely courtyard for outdoor dining amidst a pretty garden. The menu is impressive with plenty of options to satisfy your breakfast and lunch cravings. This is a great local establishment to meet friends in a nice setting while catching up over good food. In fact, the menu has so many wonderful options I had a hard time choosing what to eat. I ultimately decided on a salmon bagel plate (which I devoured) and a perfectly creamy latte, made just the way I like it. This may become my new regular meeting place with the gal pals for early shenanigans together.
Greenfinch (La Jolla)
Tucked inside the hacienda-style resort of Estancia, the arches and courtyards along the property will lead you to Greenfinch for a lovely meal. The interior space boasts a contemporary design with tasteful aviary-inspired touches. There is also a lovely terrace overlooking the courtyard for those who prefer to dine al fresco. They offer a really good brunch menu with a large selection of food options that are all presented with careful attention to detail. Their jaw-dropping pancake charcuterie tower had us all crowding around it to photograph the display, almost too attractive to eat. The plates are colorful and each one is unique to the others used at the table, bringing together a burst of color to the neutral tones of the space. You may appreciate that a protein shake is on the menu, along with a wide selection of cocktails for those who prefer a boozy brunch. You'll find plenty of enticing dishes to choose from as you linger in the comfortable seating and ease into your Sunday.
My list of restaurants to delve into continues to accumulate, leaving me optimistic and giddy. There are just so many outstanding options in San Diego and I'm starting to realize I may not get to them all in one lifetime, although I am certainly up for the challenge! Despite the cloudy skies, I'm quite lucky to live here. Just looking at the egg yolks in the photo above, reminds me of little suns. That's the beauty of combining well-used ingredients, they can take you back to a different time, or a different place, and even bring you sunshine on a cloudy day.