By Frank Sabatini Jr. / Photos by Giada Paoloni
Back by popular demand (by several of the city's top chefs), PacificSD proudly presents the third annual Chain of Gourmand, wherein a local chef cites his or her favorite dish, and then the maker of that dish calls out his/her fave, and so on, up to a perfect 10.
To keep things fresh, the chefs selected the dishes that had them seeing stars from the bumper crop of San Diego restaurants that opened within the past year.
Speaking of stars, this year's culinary chain gets rolling, literally, with Natasha Crnjac (see interview, page 35), a FOX TV MasterChef finalist from La Jolla .
"My husband and I got a sitter and had a nice date night at The Hake Kitchen & Bar," Crnjac says. "It isn't far from where we live, so we rode our bicycles."
Natsha Crnjac's favorite dish:
Steamed mussels at The Hake Kitchen & Bar
Created by chef Roberto Craig
"I loved the steamed mussels served in a broth infused with saffron and chorizo," says MasterChef Natasha Crnjac. "I cook with saffron as well, and this was used judiciously. The dish paired great with Chardonnay." Chef Roberto Craig steams large black mussels from Northern California in their own broth, which he spikes with chorizo, white wine, mustard and saffron. He adds lemon, oil and parsley at the end, giving the dish a clean, crisp flavor with a spicy aftertaste (from the chorizo). Served with grilled rustic bread, the appetizer could pass as an entrée.
The Hake Kitchen & Bar
(Opened June 2013)
1250 Prospect St., Ste. B10, La Jolla
Chef Roberto Craig's favorite dish:
Flatbread pizza du jour at Amaya La Jolla
Created by chef Camron Woods
"It was a colorful, beautiful dish. The crust was also excellent... crunchy, but not dry."
A riot of baby organics blanketed the flatbread pizza du jour when The Hake Kitchen & Bar chef Roberto Craig visited Amaya La Jolla for lunch. "I could clearly taste every vegetable on it, right down to the sugar snap peas and squash blossoms," Craig says. "It was a colorful, beautiful dish. The crust was also excellent... crunchy, but not dry."
Seasonal bounties from Suzie's Farm in Imperial Beach dictate the daily incarnations of Amaya's vegetable-topped flatbreads. These can include roasted beets, pea tendrils and zucchini, complemented by goat cheese. Chef Camron Woods intersperses the daily rotation with meat versions as well, using various sausages from his charcuterie supply. Made fresh daily, the dough contains a little honey for good measure. "I grew up in South Carolina, so I'm not a huge fan of really weird pizzas, but fresh vegetables and cured meats work well," Woods says.
Amaya La Jolla
(Opened March 2013)
1205 Prospect St., La Jolla
Chef Camron Woods' favorite dish:
The Scotch egg at Soda & Swine
Created by chef Jason McLeod
"It's a classic English dish that you rarely find in the United States."
"The Scotch egg at Soda & Swine is technically perfect," says Amaya La Jolla chef Camron Woods. "It's a classic English dish that you rarely find in the United States. The sausage wrapping wasn't lopsided, and it was perfectly crisped on the outside. There's a little bit of spicy heat in the meat, but not too much."
Sharing menu space with a variety of hand-rolled meatballs, the hardboiled egg is encased with chorizo and coarse-ground pork sausage that chef Jason McLeod accents with onions, garlic and thyme. Seasoned breadcrumbs serve as the final sealant before the eggs are baked and flash-fried. "I ate a lot of Scotch eggs in England and always wanted to put them on a menu somewhere," says McLeod. "People love them. On any given week, we sell up to 200."
Soda & Swine
(Opened February 2013)
2943 Adams Ave., Normal Heights
Chef Jason McLeod's favorite dish:
Petrale sole a la plancha at Fish Public
Created by chef Jordan Davis
"It's a play on sole amandine, with almonds, browned butter and green beans."
"I'm a big fan of classic flavors, and the Petrale sole a la plancha at Fish Public reminds me of eating at a bistro in France," says Soda & Swine chef Jason McLeod. "It's a play on sole amandine, with almonds, browned butter and green beans - one of those dishes that can be a big miff if it's not done right. This was bang on."
Sole amandine was exactly what chef Jordan Davis had in mind when he put this dish on the menu from the get-go. He refines his browned butter sauce with white wine and "lots of lemon," essentially turning it into beurre blanc. The sole originates from the Pacific Northwest, with the fillets weighing in at about sevens ounces per serving. Given the fish's seasonality, Davis swaps sole for cod during winter months.
(Opened June 2013)
4055 Adams Ave., Kensington
Chef Jordan Davis' favorite dish:
Hogs and Heffers burger at Queenstown Public House
Created by owners Matt Baker and P.J. Lamont
"Being that the restaurant used to be an old Craftsman house is really cool, too."
Fish Public chef Jordan Davis vows he'll soon return to Little Italy's Queenstown Public House for the Hogs and Heffers burger, which owners Matt Baker and P.J. Lamont discovered during their travels to Queenstown, New Zealand. Aside from the catchy name, Davis applauds the construct for its thick-cut bacon, gooey mantle of Edam cheese and flakey focaccia bun. "Being that the restaurant used to be an old Craftsman house is really cool, too," he says.
"We use the exact same recipes from Fergburger, in Queenstown, where we trained with the owner during our first visit down there," says co-owner Matt Baker, who also co-owns (with Lamont) Bare Back Grill in Pacific Beach and Raglan Public House in Ocean Beach. Along with a lamb burger that appears on all three menus, the Hogs and Heffers is a top-seller made with grass-fed beef. It's garnished with tomato chutney and garlic aioli. "The fact that it wasn't just mustard and ketchup intrigued us," Baker says.
(Opened April 2013)
1557 Columbia St., Little Italy
Matt Baker's favorite dish:
Buttermilk fried quail at Sea & Smoke
Created by chef Matt Gordon
"Anytime you see quail, you've got to give it a try."
The buttermilk fried quail at Sea & Smoke was a no-brainer for Queenstown Public House co-owner Matt Baker, who gravitated to the dish because of its scarcity on local menus. "Anytime you see quail, you've got to give it a try," Baker says, commending the dish's tangy fried coating, juicy meat and kicky sauce.
Sea & Smoke chef-owner Matt Gordon (also the chef-owner of Urban Solace in North Park, and Solace & The Moonlight Lounge in Encinitas) recently added the partially de-boned birds to his menu, stuffing them with farro and currants before dredging them in buttermilk, organic Worcester and seasoned flour. Weighing about four and a half ounces each, they fry to a Southern-style crisp in 14 minutes. Housemade Romesco sauce - involving pureed peppers, onions and almonds - lends a Spanish accent.
Sea & Smoke
(Opened July 2013)
2690 Via De La Valle, Ste. D-210, Del Mar
Matt Gordon's favorite dish:
House-smoked grass-fed beef brisket at Great Maple
Created by owner Johnny Rivera
"I actually went to the kitchen door afterward and told the staff how much I enjoyed it."
Sea & Smoke chef-owner Matt Gordon, who loves going out for breakfast, recently found himself diving into the house-smoked, grass-fed beef brisket hash at Great Maple. "I actually went to the kitchen door afterward and told the staff how much I enjoyed it," Gordon says, referring to the "nice smoky flavor and how the meat was cooked just right." Despite sharing the egg-topped dish with his wife, he says, "It was hearty enough that we couldn't finish it."
The hash is super-charged with smoked bacon, charred kale, cherry tomatoes and piquillo red pepper sauce. The addition of peewee potatoes adds a shot of carbs, although that's no excuse for passing up the hot donuts circulated throughout the brasserie-style dining room during breakfast. Owner Johnny Rivera, who conceived the dish, says the veggie components in the hash change seasonally.
(Opened February 2013)
1451 Washington St., Hillcrest
Johnny Rivera's favorite dish:
Tagliatelle carbonara at Veladora
Created by chef Eric Bauer
"I'm a big fan of this dish and the Pecorino cheese and egg that go into it."
The unconventional inclusion of cauliflower and lemon zest in Veladora's tagliatelle carbonara struck a high-note for Great Maple owner Johnny Rivera. "They added a unique freshness to the salt and fat of the pancetta that I haven't seen before in carbonara," he says. It's available as an entrée, but Rivera ordered it as a small plate. "I'm a big fan of this dish and the Pecorino cheese and egg that go into it," he says. "Because it's so heavy, the smaller portion is terrific, because it's less of a commitment."
Chef Eric Bauer added the classic Roman dish to Veladora's menu in early summer, although it will evolve in the coming months to include winter vegetables. His goal is to add healthy components to the carbonara with seasonally compatible organics that take it beyond its traditional foundation of egg, cheese and cream.
(Opened November 2012)
5921 Valencia Cir., Rancho Santa Fe
Chef Eric Bauer's favorite dish:
Center-cut rib eye at AVANT
Created by chef Nicolas Bour
"The smoking allows me to get a mesquite flavor in the meat."
Veladora chef Eric Bauer recently found his favorite steak dish at Rancho Bernardo Inn's AVANT, in the form of a prime center-cut rib-eye crowned with torpedo onions and chanterelle mushrooms. The dish further wows with organic Yukon Gold potatoes cooked three times in duck fat.
AVANT chef Nicolas Bour smokes the 14-ounce rib-eye for 15 minutes before grilling it to a glistening finish. "I love cooking over wood, and we don't have that here, so the smoking allows me to get a mesquite flavor in the meat." The all-natural steaks hail from Vintage Meats in El Centro, while the thrice-cooked tubers originate from regional farms. Bour assures that the dish will stick around through the holidays.
(Opened in June 2013)
17550 Bernardo Oaks Dr., Rancho Bernardo
Chef Nicolas Bour's favorite dish:
Loch Duart salmon at Blue Ribbon Rustic Kitchen
Created by chef Marlaw Seraspi
"When customers open the parchment paper at their tables, they're hit with a blast of aromatic steam."
"The Loch Duart salmon en papillote at Blue Ribbon Rustic Kitchen is really good and not over-manipulated," says AVANT chef Nicolas Bour. "There's no butter or cream in the recipe, which is hard to find. They instead serve it with a straightforward herb puree that is very satisfying and healthy."
Cooked in parchment paper, the salmon steams to a tender, flaky finish. (Thank the French for this virtuous method of cooking fish.) In keeping with Blue Ribbon Rustic Kitchen's rustic European theme, the fillet is plated with parsley pistou, baby artichokes and sautéed spinach.
"When customers open the parchment paper at their tables, they're hit with a blast of aromatic steam from the fish and the broth and the vegetables that go inside it," says Blue Ribbon chef Marlaw Seraspi. "There's a ton of flavor in there."
Blue Ribbon Rustic Kitchen
(Opened June 2013)
530 University Ave., Hillcrest