Say you've got a restaurant on Prospect Street in La Jolla, facing the Pacific, but you don't have an ocean view. What do you do? If you're the proprietors of The Hake Kitchen & Bar, you give your customers something else to admire. Namely the food.
Open since June, The Hake occupies a space adjacent to the lower level of George's, that iconic, culinary cash-cow, famed for its food as much as its prized perch above the sea.
Marketed as a global brasserie,The Hake's menu is moderately priced by Prospect Street's standards and is dominated by seafood and deftly unites influences from the Mediterranean, Latin America and Asia without feeling all over the map.
Six varieties of tiraditos, or sashimi-style preparations of tuna, scallop, tuna and hamachi, are strikingly pure and light in that Nobu Japanese/Peruvian tradition. Flavor-packed standouts are the two hamachis, one with miso, yuzu, jalapeño and garlic chips, the other a tartare, with shiso, yuzu, house-cured pickles and lemon olive oil. Each finds its balance in the chef's restraint: There's just enough this, without too much that.
The tiraditos aren't out of place in a restaurant that also serves Rosarito shrimp tacos with creamy, kicky chipotle mayo, a bowl full of crunchy Mexican tuna chicharrón, ethereal lime-jalapeño marinated ceviche or even steak frites and grilled octopus with tzatzki.
What brings it all together under one flag is the kitchen's impressive ability to present ingredients in their most natural state. Dishes are focused and simply adorned - but never boring.
Instead of tweezer-precise micro-green placement, you get rustic, almost rough-hewed presentations. That plate of cayenne jumbo shrimp with heirloom tomatoes is just that. Shrimp, spice, tomatoes.
Don't let the simplicity fool you. There's real thought that goes into everything at The Hake. Start with creative craft cocktail (a zesty mandarin mule anyone?) and a $4 bar bite (who knew avocado tacos could taste so avocado-y?) I passed on the 10 mescals and 12+ tequila and went straight for the well-edited, international wine list (Napa and New Zealand, Paso Robles and Priorat, Spain). A satisfying but not too sweet dessert ends your meal (can we skip the key lime semifreddo and just order a trough of the accompanying silky basil cream, please?)
Plenty of care has also gone into The Hake's relaxed-yet-chic brasserie dining room. Bright and modern, while warm and comfortable, tables are well-spaced near or in sight of the bustling open kitchen.
Service is professional if at times overly enthusiastic. And the occasional live music can be a distraction: A roving guitarist pops up suddenly tableside warbling "Lady in Red." Huh?
On all three occasions that I visited for dinner, the restaurant was hopping. The crowd was a cosmopolitan mix of trendy singles, couples out on the town and smartly dressed solo diners tapping away on their smartphones. One night, a group of eight Spanish-speaking young women were ordering more plates of food than you'd think they could ever eat, considering the size of their dresses.
The Hake's co-owner, Ricardo Dondisch, said the women and other customers familiar with his restaurants - the Tintorera Hospitality Group operates 13 popular and renowned places in Mexico City - have specifically sought out the La Jolla location.
With The Hake's assured cooking and welcoming vibe, word is now getting around fast about Dondisch's 14th venture.
The Hake Kitchen and Bar
Address: 1250 Prospect St., La Jolla
Phone: (858) 454-1637
Read more at utsandiego.com