When I think of San Diego, I think of my quick weekend girls trips in college to the lively Gaslamp District, beers in the casual beach town bars or the awesome surf that lines the Pacific Coast. I've never really been exposed to the swanky, effluent part of SD that many speak of. So I was excited to make the drive down south over the weekend when I was fortunate enough to be invited to a dinner that Kevineats was organizing- a 10 course Tasting Menu with wine pairing at Kitchen 1540 in Del Mar, California.
The restaurant is located in the L’ Auberge Del Mar Hotel that underwent a $26 million renovation two years ago. The hotel is exactly the type of place I’d love to stay at. Unfortunately I didn't. I guess Marriott Points don’t work here. The ocean-front hotel is luxurious, yet still retains somewhat of a cottage charm.
The dining room of Kitchen 1540 is stark white and elegant.
In contrast, the outside patio, where we were seated, seemed classy yet trendy with large trees, a fire pit and cabana seating that is reminiscent of a chic Miami hotel where Jay-Z would party at.
And don’t be fooled. Kitchen 1540 isn't that hotel restaurant. You won’t find mediocre and dated culinary fare or breakfast buffets. The menu is modern and exciting, and the kitchen utilizes fresh and seasonal ingredients. Chef Paul McCabe has won numerous awards including a James Beard. You can read more about the restaurant, chef and menu at Kevineat's very extensive blog.
Chef McCabe presented a Tasting Menu tailored for Kevin and his guests.
Classic Mojito to start.
The bread selection included olive, french baguette and foccacia with grape and rosemary which is made in-house.
Amuse Bouche: Chicken liver Pate, Granulated Honey, Crows Pass Farm Apples
Lovely presentation. The creamy liver pate paired with an apple gelee and little bits of apple was an excellent first bite. That definitely engaged the palate and left me wanting more.
1st: Hiramasa Crudo, Compressed Pear, Mint, Jalapeno, Corn nuts
Kono Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2009
The yellowtail was fresh although could have been cut more precisely. The corn nuts added crunch and salt to the dish. I also liked the heat from the jalapeno.
2nd: Seared Scallop, Popcorn Puree, Salted Caramel, Candied Almonds, Nasturtium
Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2007
I enjoyed this dish which was a nice combination of savory and sweet. The scallop was cooked well and was richen by the creamy popcorn sauce. The dish was plated with popcorn cooked in liquid nitrogen.
Additional Course: Bison Tartare with smoked bacon sabayon, brioche and chive
Another standout dish. This wasn't on the Tasting Menu so it was a pleasant surprise. The Bison was made from North Dakota loin and you could tell that it was fresh as it melt in your mouth. The tartare was also adequately seasoned. I love spreading anything on bread so I could have used a bit more brioche.
3rd: Farm House Salad, Raw Vegetables, Pistou Gelee, Black Garlic, Orange Blossom Vinaigrette
Karl Joh. Molitor Riesling Rheingau 2008
This was probably my least favorite dish because I’m don’t swoon over vegetables, let alone raw vegetables. But I did appreciate that this was probably the most labor intensive dish of the night as many components seemed to be cooked in liquid nitrogen. There were a lot of ingredients in this dish, of which I enjoyed the sun dried tomato puree, ground pumpernickel and asparagus most.
4th: Stone Seared Hudson Foie Gras, Tangerine Pop Rocks, Black Pepper Financier, Tangerine Reduction
Pacific Rim Riesling "Vin De Glacier" Columbia Valley 2007
This next dish was a crowd favorite. The foie gras was seared on a 400 degree hot stone for 30 seconds. This is obviously quite a task for food bloggers attempting to take photos within that 30 second period.
The sizzling foie gras smelled amazing. It was rich and topped with cracking pop rocks. I've also mentioned numerous times before that financiers are one of my favorite baked goods, and this piece was moist and really added a nice sweetness. The dish was also paired with a lovely syrupy Reisling.
Palate Cleanser: Myer Lemon Snow Cone
I thought this was fun and playful. The tart lemon ice was complimented with a light coating of sugar on the cone in the bowl.
5th: Baramundi, Celery Root, Manila Clams, Pancetta, Tabasco
Domaine Jean Grivot Vosne-Romanee Burgundy 2004
Kevin correctly guessed the interpretation of this dish – a deconstructed clam chowder. Who knew? The dish included house made pancetta, crispy potatoes, clams and tabasco gelee. My piece of fish was a touch overcooked and the skin was a bit soggy. But overall, I enjoyed the flavor combination and the very spicy kick from Tabasco gelee.
6th: Bison Tenderloin, Hash, Smoked Lobster Mushrooms, Coffee, Chocolate
Turley "Dragon Vineyard" Zinfandel Howell Mountain 2007
The tenderloin was seared with three types of salt and served with a coffee chocolate reduction. The hash and mushrooms were like a taste of home. That is, if your mom cooked such refined side dishes.
7th: Cheese, Crottin De Chavignol, Vintage Gouda, Roaring Forties
Delas Saint-Joseph "Francois de Tournon" Rhone 2005
You’ll have to refer to Kevin’s post for thoughts on this course because I don’t like cheese. In my defense, I did try a tiny bite of the 10 year aged goat cheese but it still didn't win me over. I did however finish every last piece of the sharp Gouda, as well as the salt crystals and apple slices on the plate.
The cheese course was served with additional bread.
8th: Caramel Apple, Crumbled Crust, Sour Cream Ice Cream
Broadbent 5 Year Old Reserve Madeira Portugal
To be honest, I wasn't too excited about this dessert when I first read it on the menu. I've never been a fan of caramel apple. But this is not your every day carnival fair. It’s smart and inventive. The dish resembled a lasagna with apple slices in between flexible caramel. I really liked the texture of the caramel. The apple lasagna was served with crushed caramel with prosciutto, and ice cream.
The Madeira, which was full bodied and sweet, was one of my favorite wines of the night.
9th: Chocolate tart, Orange Marshmallows, Carbonated Orange, Chocolate Gelato
Grahm's 30 Year Tawny Port Portugal
Our tasting rightfully ended with chocolate. The chocolate tart was indulgent, not overly sweet and topped with sea salt. I also liked the crust which was buttery and crumbly.
This concluded an excellent dining experience. I thought the dishes were well conceived and well executed. The dishes were refined and you could tell a lot of thought went into them. I was impressed with the presentation and inventiveness of some of the dishes such as the foie and caramel apple. I also liked the textural contrast in some of the dishes and the subtle use of “molecular gastronomy” techniques. The wine pairing was phenomenal, with the Rieslings and dessert wines topping my list. My only critique is the long lull between courses. Our meal lasted almost six hours.
It was a great opportunity for us Angelenos to experience the fine cuisine of San Diego. Often times, there are too many other dining options in LA, but once in a while, it’s worth the drive to SD, to experience an amazing meal which starts with liver pate, transitions to scallops, foie, bison tartare and ends with a decadent chocolate tart.
Hits: foie, liver pate, scallops, desserts, wine pairing
Misses: 120miles from the Westside
1540 Camino Del Mar
Del Mar, CA 92014
The perfect end to my San Diego trip was getting up the next morning for a surf at Swami's in Encinitas. With consistent waves, mellow surf crowd and a view like that, it was definitely tough to leave this paradise.