By Frank Sabatini Jr. / Photos by Brevin Blach
During my five years of writing about Finest City food for PacificSD, I've covered many of the city's top culinary artists and their beautiful creations-and loved every bite.
For this, my tastiest assignment yet, I was charged with identifying the to-die-for dish in all of San Diego.
After days of deliberation, I chose Pamplemousse Grille's $50 grilled cheese, made with chunks of poached lobster and shavings of winter truffles. (One bite and you'll kiss American cheese and white bread goodbye.)
To spread the love like so much remoulade, I asked the chef who created this sumptuous sandwich, Jeffrey Strauss, to pick his favorite local entrée. His choice: Chef Martin Woesle's wiener schnitzel at Mille Fleurs.
Next, I asked Chef Woesle to pick his flavor fave, and the city's ultimate 10-course meal flourished from there...
My (Frank Sabatini, Jr.'s) favorite dish:
$50 GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH
by Chef Jeffrey Strauss
514 Via de la Valle #100, Solana Beach
Chef Strauss picks...
Chef Jeffrey Strauss's favorite dish:
by Chef Martin Woesle
6009 Paseo Delicias, Rancho Santa Fe
Strauss says: "It's awesome and served with brown butter and makes you feel like you're in Austria."
Inside dish: In classic Austrian style, Chef Woesle uses veal loin to make his wiener schnitzel, adding a twist by serving it with a fried quail egg, sliced caper berries and lemon butter sauce. During busy weeks, he sells more than 100 orders each day.
Chef Woesle picks...
Chef Martin Woesle's favorite dish:
by Chef Paul McCabe
Kitchen 1540 (at L'Auberge Del Mar)
1540 Camino Del Mar
Woesle says: "It was served to me as a simple quenelle-shaped appetizer. The meat was very red and tasted absolutely great."
Inside dish: Chef McCabe, who's moving over to Delicias in Rancho Santa Fe on November 15, uses the filet mignon of the bison in a tartare that traditionalists find otherworldly. The raw meat is bound by bacon fat and whipped egg yolks (bring your Lipitor) and further swooped up with chives, shallots and chipotle. "I don't like anything to stay too long on the menu," says McCabe, "but since we get a lot of requests for it, we're running it often as an appetizer special."
Chef McCabe picks...
Chef Paul McCabe's favorite dish:
50-FOOT RADIUS SALAD
by Chef Anthony Sinsay
3964 Harney St., Old Town; 301 Mission Ave., Oceanside
McCabe says: "I had it a few months ago. The presentation was gorgeous-it looked like it was growing out of the ground. There were beets, stinging nettles, Swiss chard and sunflower petals in there."
Inside dish: From the center of a beet patch at the organic Suzie's Farm by Imperial Beach, Chef Sinsay forages 50 feet in each direction to pick his salad's ingredients, including baby carrots, black kale, flower petals and stinging nettle (weeds that grow alongside beets). "The salad changes all the time," says Sinsay, "and we now pick from a lot of different farms, including a private garden we help manage next door."
Chef Sinsay's picks...
Chef Anthony Sinsay's favorite dish:
RASPBERRY MERINGUE SPHERE
by Chef Mark Pelliccia
25 Forty Bistro & Bakehouse
2540 Congress St., Old Town
Sinsay says: "The dessert is technically perfect-a hollow orb filled with raspberry syrup. It's completely encased and I can't figure out how the chef injects the syrup into the sphere. I order it every time I go there."
Dishing it: Chef Pelliccia builds mystery around the unblemished orbs by starting with semi-sphere molds, which he fills with basic meringue. Once they're frozen, he scoops out their centers, fills them with raspberry sauce then closes the two halves together quickly. A roll through dry meringue hides the seams. "I saw something similar when I was working as a chef in Italy," Pelliccia says. "It always intrigued me."
Chef Pelliccia picks...
Chef Mark Pelliccia's favorite dish:
GNOCCHI WITH VEGETABLE SAUCE
by Chef Chad White
Sea Rocket Bistro
3382 30th St., North Park
Pelliccia says: "The gnocchi are very different than the kind I make. They're much denser, but I like that they're seared and have a little bit of crunch to them. And I really like the vegetable sauce."
Dishing it: Chef White is unwavering when it comes his strict, two-day process for dumpling assembly, but he's flexible with the vegetable sauces that crown his handmade gnocchi. Squash, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and a host of other veggies wind up in the dish. Look for pumpkin, burrata and tarragon to start appearing this season. "We don't every do anything the same here," White says.
Chef White's picks...
Chef Chad White's favorite:
CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS
by Chef Matt Gordon
3823 30th St., North Park
White says: "It's a comfort dish that reminds me of having it at home during the winter with my grandmother in Washington State. Matt's gravy is excellent. The chicken is cooked perfectly, and you can tell that the dumplings are really fresh."
Inside dish: Chef Gordon's chicken and dumplings has ranked as a top seller at Urban Solace since he opened the restaurant in 2007. "It's the most straightforward dish on my menu," Gordon says, "even though I give the dumplings a little extra flavor twist by using buttermilk and chives." The gravy is made from chicken bones-Gordon utilizes the whole bird.
Chef Gordon's picks...
Chef Matt Gordon's favorite dish:
by Chef Trey Foshee
George's at the Cove
1250 Prospect St., La Jolla
Gordon says: "It's 'fish tacos' on the menu, but you really get anything but. The shells are actually little slices of raw tuna folded up around crispy avocado. There's crema and maybe some crushed corn nuts in there, too. It's like eating inside-out tacos."
Inside dish: Indeed, the menu description for Chef Foshee's fish tacos (Foshee says he slings about 500 of them a month) reads: "Hard to explain, just try it." The tortilla shells are completely eliminated in lieu of yellowfin, which is meticulously folded around fried avocado and crema.
Chef Foshee picks...
Chef Trey Foshee's favorite dish:
JAMAICAN JERK PORK BELLY
by Chef Jason Knibb
910 Prospect St., La Jolla
Foshee says: "The pork belly is spicy from chilies and sweet from plantains and sweet potatoes, and it's served with black-eyed peas. It's one of the best dishes in town and it comes from Jason's Jamaican background, which is filtered through his Cali-French training and curiosity for the modern. I don't order the same thing twice very often, except this."
Inside dish: Pork belly turns sexier when Chef Knibb unleashes his Jamaican roots on the dish. He marinates the meat in jerk spice, braises it and then gives it a habanaro gelée glaze. Black-eyed peas, plantains and yam puree clench the deal. "It's spicy and complex," says Knibb, "and I sell about forty orders a week."
Chef Knibb's picks...
Chef Jason Knibb's Pick
by Chef Mike Liotta
1044 Wall St., La Jolla
Knibb says: "They look like little chicken nuggets, super crispy and served with fingerling potatoes, beets and capers. I've ordered it four times already as an appetizer."
Inside dish: After an overnight soaking in milk, the sweetbreads are braised in chicken stock and anise liqueur before resting in buttermilk until ordered-when they are finally dragged through flour and fried in peanut oil. Once Chef Liotta sets the sweetbreads atop a warm salad of beets, potatoes and lemon butter, you may not believe you're eating organs.
Hopefully you left room for San Diego's ultimate 10-course dessert...