Eat | Drink

Chain of Gourmand 2018

Back by popular demand, PACIFIC presents the eighth annual Chain of Gourmand, which showcases a succession of local chefs who call out a favorite dish from a restaurant in San Diego County. The maker behind each of those dishes then names his/her fave, resulting this year in an eight-chef chain (plus a collaborating chef de cuisine) linked by mouthwatering cuisine ranging from upscale to casual.

Kicking off the sequence is Lori Sauer, corporate pastry chef for Blue Bridge Hospitality. The company operates Liberty Public Market in Point Loma, as well as a portfolio of Coronado hot spots such as Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge, Stake Chophouse & Bar, Maretalia Ristorante, West Pac Noodle Bar and the recently launched el Roy’s Tequila Bar + Kitchen.

Pastry chef Lori Sauer at Crafted Baked Goods in Liberty Public Market.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Since taking the position two years ago, Sauer oversees the dessert menus for the group’s multiple ventures. She also keeps the display cases stocked with eye-grabbing sweets at Crafted Baked Goods in  Liberty Public Market.

Armed with diverse pastry experience from previously working at several notable San Diego restaurants (read more about Sauer’s background here), including George’s at the Cove, she knows a superior dessert when biting into one. Hence, her love for peaches and cream made by sous chef Keaton Henson at Saiko Sake & Sushi Bar in North Park. The dish, she says, “isn’t as simple as it sounds.”   

Lori Sauer’s favorite dish: Peaches and Cream

Chef: Keaton Henson

Restaurant: Saiko Sake & Sushi Bar

“The flavor of the grilled, fresh peaches blended really well with yuzu and plum syrup, which made the dish explode. And I liked the temperature contrast of the hot peaches to the cold crème fraiche. It’s the best dessert I’ve had all year.” — Lori Sauer

Sous chef Keaton Heston from Saiko Sake & Sushi Bar.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

This summer’s heat wave in San Diego prompted sous chef Keaton Henson to put a chilled dessert on the menu — or in this case, something partly chilled. A native of rural Illinois, peaches with cream came to mind because he grew up eating the combo on hot days. Henson sources the fruit from the Thursday North Park Farmers Market. He cuts it up, sprinkles it with yuzu and salt, and grills it. The wedges are then tossed in cold crème fraiche and encircled by caramel-like plum sauce spiked with brown sugar, honey, thyme and vanilla. For winter, he’ll replace the peaches with “whatever looks good at the markets.”

Saiko Sake & Sushi Bar: 2884 University Ave., North Park, 619.677.3907,

Grilled peaches and cream dessert from sous chef Keaton Heston of Saiko Sake & Sushi Bar. 
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Keaton Henson’s favorite dish: Yellowtail sashimi

Chef: Davin Waite

Restaurant: Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub

“The sashimi is a course in Davin’s omakase tasting menu that I’ve had multiple times. It has some kind of tropical fruit sauce. It’s mind-blowing because the herb oil in the dish reminds me of fresh-cut grass, and the acidity from pickled veggies on top is like drinking lemonade on a summer afternoon.” — Keaton Henson

Chef-owner Davin Waite of Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Complex passion fruit “jello” cut into small cubes garnishes the sashimi, which is draped with a blend containing some of the fruit’s seeds, fish sauce and a little honey. The remaining seeds are smoked to further garnish the yellowtail in concert with pickled onions and pinches of seaweed and ghost peppers. The chilies, said chef/owner Davin Waite, play off the sweet components of the dish. (Waite’s opah belly bacon was a favored dish in last year’s chain.)

Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub: 1815 S. Coast Hwy., Oceanside, 760.271.0531,

Yellowtail sashimi from chef-owner, Davin Waite of Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Davin Waite’s favorite dish: Spicy smoked fish taco

Chef: Andrew Bent

Restaurant: Lola 55

“This taco takes a pepper — the Carolina Reaper — that’s typically difficult to harness and manipulates it with other ingredients so you have something that’s spicy, but not so hot that it isn’t enjoyable. You get sweet, spicy and smokiness all in one bite.” — Davin Waite

Chef Drew Bent of Lola 55.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

It took chef Andrew Bent and his business partner, Frank Vizcarra, six months to perfect this top-selling taco, which captures a mesquite-roasted jalapeno stuffed with local opah belly. The pepper gets folded into a corn tortilla with bacon, mustard frill (bitter greens) and citrus soy sauce. Its subjective burn stems from salsa containing Carolina Reapers and two other chilies that are kept secret. “On a heat scale of 1 to 10, this is a 12,” Bent warns.

Lola 55: 1290 F St., East Village, 619.542.9155,

The spicy smoked fish taco from Chef Drew Bent of Lola 55 has a Carolina reaper pepper salsa.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Andrew Bent’s favorite dish: The “dirty flattop” cheeseburger

Chef: Brandon Zanavich

Restaurant: The Friendly

“Here’s an example of sound culinary technique applied to something as pedestrian as a burger. When it hits your lips, it over-delivers on any expectation you had. I’ve probably eaten a baker’s dozen so far.” — Andrew Bent

Chef-owner Brandon Zanavich of The Friendly.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Using beef sporting a 73/27 meat-fat ratio, chef Brandon Zanavich “smashes out” some of the fat in the grilling process, but leaves enough in to keep the meat juicy. “It reminds me of all the burgers I grew up eating in Detroit,” he said, noting that the oozy creation comprises two patties, two slices of American cheese, caramelized onions, and garlic aioli made in-house. No substitutions or omissions are allowed. It’s served on a buttered, grilled bun.

The Friendly: 4592 30th St., North Park, 619.892.7840,

The dirty flattop cheeseburger from chef-owner, Brandon Zanavich of The Friendly.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Brandon Zanavich’s favorite dish: Pacific halibut

Chef: Brad Wise

Restaurant: Trust

“On paper, it doesn’t seem to make sense. There’s fried mushrooms and kumquat chutney on top. Underneath is baby bok choy, squash, salumi and scallop buerre blanc. But when you eat it, everything comes together so well.” — Brandon Zanavich

Chef Brad Wise of Trust.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Chef/partner Brad Wise’s gussied-up halibut appears on the menu each year in spring and remains until halibut season wanes in early winter, at which point he swaps it out for local cod. The salumi element, he notes, is a hash of various meats while the buerre blanc is infused with scallop muscles and forms a moat around the pan-seared filet. (The intricate construct is Wise’s third dish in as many years to appear in our annual chain.)

Trust: 3752 Park Blvd., Hillcrest, 619.795.6901,

Pacific halibut bedded on boo ahoy, squash and salumi hash topped with fried mushrooms and kumquat chutney and encircled with scallop burr blanc sauce from chef Brad Wise of Trust.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Brad Wise’s favorite dish:
Prime 10-ounce New York steak

Chef: Jason Knibb

Restaurant: Nine-Ten

“You normally don’t see classical dishes cooked to this level of perfection. It came medium-rare as requested, and with vegetables that included sunchokes roasted into candy-like morsels.” — Brad Wise

Chef Jason Knibb of Nine-Ten.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The bonus to this glistening hunk of beef is shallot-herb butter spiked with lobster stock, which chef Jason Knibb reduces to a near paste. “It gives the dish a surf-and-turf twist,” he said. Summer asparagus that appeared in the set will likely give way to squash by wintertime. But the treatment of the flame-grilled steak won’t change with its simple seasoning of thyme and cracked black pepper.

Nine-Ten: 910 Prospect St., La Jolla, 858.964.5400,

A 10-ounce prime New York steak with sun chokes, other veggies, herb-lobster butter and mushroom demi glace from chef Jason Knibb of Nine-Ten.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Jason Knibb’s favorite dish: Tuna crudo

Chef: Ryan Johnston

Restaurant: Whisknladle

“The colors of the tuna, cantaloupe, pickled watermelon rind and cilantro were really beautiful. Served with chili oil and watermelon granita on top, the flavors were fresh and crisp.” — Jason Knibb

Chef Ryan Johnston (right), culinary director of Whisknladle and chef de cuisine Natallie Avitia.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Inspired by halibut crudo with cucumber granita (shaved ice) that he ate in Paris, chef Ryan Johnston shared photos of the dish afterwards with Whisknladle’s chef de cuisine Natallie Avitia, who came up with the idea to use watermelon instead of cucumber in the granita. The duo utilized the rinds and pickled them for garnish, and chose tuna over halibut as the final tweak. The fish is seasoned with ginger, lime and salt. Available only in summer, Johnston assures it will return by early June.

Whisknladle: 1044 Wall St., La Jolla, 858.551.7575,

Tuna crudo with watermelon shaved ice from Whisknladle.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Ryan Johnston’s favorite dish: Firebird chicken sandwich

Chef: Richard Blais

Restaurant: The Crack Shack

“After recently eating hot chicken in Nashville, I gave this a try and thought it was perfectly crispy. There was also a nice sauce on it, and the cooling properties of the ranch dressing were very comforting and delicious.” — Ryan Johnston

Chef Richard Blais of Crack Shack and his Firebird chicken sandwich.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Celebrity chef/cookbook author Richard Blais and his team have indeed taken cues from the Deep South for this fried chicken sandwich, served on a potato roll. The buttermilk-brined thigh flaunts a crunchy batter kissed with cayenne pepper and paprika. It’s crowned with crispy onions and a “handful” of pickles (“two are not enough,” Blais notes), all of which enjoy a cascade of creamy ranch dressing as the requisite Southern California spin.

The Crack Shack: 2266 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy, 619.795.3299,

Firebird chicken sandwich from The Crack Shack.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)