News flash to Addison newbies: Congratulations on finally discovering the undisputed best restaurant in San Diego, but it was this superb even before it earned a Michelin star
You don’t see them coming, but you know they will be back any second now.
Whether your water glass is a few sips low, you put your fork down after finishing one of the 10 exquisite courses or make even the slightest scooch in your seat to get up to use the ladies’ room, Addison’s army of stealth servers — how many are they, 100, 1,000? — will miraculously materialize.
Clad in all black and each possessing ramrod posture and poised relatability, they work in balletic unison, discreetly communicating to each other with glances, whispered cues and telepathic signals. No detail falls through the cracks, even though on this particular Thursday night, Addison’s dining room is busier than I’ve ever seen it in the 13 years I’ve been fortunate enough to eat there.
I’m sure all the first-time foodies who’ve swarmed there to check out San Diego’s first — and only — Michelin-starred restaurant think the air of precision and confidence swirling around the room is the afterglow of achieving the culinary world’s most prestigious honor. Maybe they imagine that the near-perfect cuisine emanating from executive chef William Bradley’s kitchen tastes even more sublime now, post-Michelin, or is even more Instagram brag-worthy.
Well, news flash Addison newbies: Congratulations on finally discovering the undisputed best restaurant in San Diego, but it’s always been this superb. This newly elevated perch is what it’s been bred for.
Ever since the June 3 ceremony for the inaugural Michelin Guide California in Huntington Beach that welcomed Addison into the world’s dining elite, nearly everyone I know and everyone I’ve met who finds out what I do for a living has asked me if the Carmel Valley bastion of luxurious contemporary fine dining is really that good, really worth the $165 or $265 for a five-course or 10-course tasting menu, respectively.
My immediate reaction is always yes — if that’s what you’d pay for a meal you’ll likely remember the rest of your life. But since so many would be scrutinizing Addison for the first time now, and at least a year had passed since I’d been, I saw it as my reporter’s duty to go back again.
Here are some reflections from my return visit.
It’s a hot ticket: Two weeks before our dinner, a friend tried to make a reservation (under his name) and the earliest available was 7:45 p.m. This is San Diego — that hour is the equivalent to 9:30 p.m. New York or L.A. time. That’s never happened to me before.
Was the bar menu always this pricey? We decided to go early and meet for a drink, bask in the opulence of the setting and let the anticipation for dinner build. There would be no snacking, even if we had an hour until our reservation. There were just four options, ranging from $25 for Bradley’s mind-blowingly magnificent, warm gougères (quarter-sized puff pastry bites) to $220 for caviar service. And while the wine-by-the-glass list is pretty impressive quality-wise, nearly all the reds started in the $35 to $45 a glass range. I was just about to ask for water when we were told a table opened up early and we could be seated.
It’s really a hot ticket: Most of the widely spaced tables were full when we sat down. Later, it appeared that they all were. Our fellow diners ran the gamut: young, older, families, couples, ethnically diverse, Instagram-addicted and smart phone-averse. In a quick visit with Bradley, we mention how uncharacteristically crowded it is for a weeknight, that it felt like a Saturday night. He replies that since Michelin Monday, every night is like a Saturday night.
Is it stuffy in here? Fine-dining haters might find touches like a purse stool or your napkin placed on your lap with a tweezer a tad precious. I adore it. It’s next-level pampering and effortlessly hygenic. What I do find dated is the heavy, overwrought décor that’s in such staid contrast to Bradley’s crisp, contemporary French cuisine. That’s why I’m happy to report that Addison’s dining room will undergo a refresh this year. Specifics to come, but perhaps finally the food’s elegant aesthetics will match the drapes.
Was the wine list always this reasonably priced? Wine director Rafael Sanchez oversees a truly impressive, world-class, 12,000-bottle wine collection. Prestige labels abound and bottle prices can soar up to $9,000. That’s a given for any restaurant of this caliber. At the same time, peppered generously throughout the encyclopedic wine list are great values in the $40 to $75 range. I’ll drink to that. Except, I didn’t. Wanting the true Addison experience, I opted for Sanchez’ carefully curated wine pairing — which is included in the price of tasting menu. Now that deserves a toast. From the opening 2007 Cristal Champagne to the Chateau d’Yquem Bordeaux blanc, a Basque getariako txakolina rosé, a grand cru Burgundy, a premier grand cru Bordeaux and the 1995 Madiera, each perfectly complemented Bradley’s creations.
Yes, chef: Addison eliminated its à la carte menu in June, adopting an ever-evolving five- and 10-course tasting menu-only format — which means you are in the chef’s hands. And what masterful hands they are. Bradley takes you on a journey through flavors, textures and techniques like few others. Dishes are creative in a playful, not pretentious, way as with the smoked salmon rillettes pirouette that begins your meal and the cheeky interlude of potato chips with onion dip, served with Krug Champagne. Silky, velvety, luscious — and every other synonym for them — how to describe so much of what comes to the table, whether it’s the oyster with pear, the whipped yogurt fouetté with green tea and yuzu granité, olive oil crème glacée with the fruits de la terre, the Kaluga Queen caviar with the confit of sturgeon, loup de mer, or the caramelized cornbread and aged comté, shredded tableside, like snow, with the ris de veau glaçage.
About that ris de veau: Bradley loves him some ris de veau, aka veal sweetbread. For years, it’s been a constant on his menu. And for years, I’ve avoided ordering it. Organ meat simply doesn’t appeal to me. Experiencing Addison full-on this time meant eating it. It was delicious, and yes, silky. But, it was also the single bump in our 10-course progression. After a succession of light, vibrant, colorful dishes, it arrived with a bit of a thud. Its glaze was brown and sticky and a jarring departure from what had preceded it. I’m glad I tried it, but it would have benefited from a better transition after the livelier loup de mer.
Single best bite: Spoiler alert: One of the first things you try might be the best. Bradley’s signature, warm, amuse bouche gougère, with sea salt and sherry crémeux, is meant to be eaten in a single bite. Close your eyes and savor the perfection.
Délicieux doggie bag: When the pre-dessert cheese cart is rolled over, the waiter sees we’re nearing our consumption breaking point and says we can select as many as we we want and he’ll pack it up for us to go. We choose to enjoy it there, with the Madeira. But when the post-dessert dessert comes (three little gourmandises) arrives, we audibly groan and we’re once again offered a doggie bag. We take him up on it this time. It’s waiting for us at the reception desk when we leave, along with a ribboned box of homemade toffee. It’s a sweet reminder on Friday of our unforgettable meal.
Where: 5200 Grand Del Mar Way, Carmel Valley
Phone: (858) 314-1900
Aug. 27: Bradley is heading to SingleThread Farm, in Healdsburg, for an all-star, $350 per person Relais & Châteaux collaboration dinner. SingleThread’s three-Michelin star chef Kyle Connaughton and three-Michelin star chef David Kinch, of Manresa in Los Gatos, welcome Michelin first-timers Bradley and Justin Cogley of Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel. Relais & Chateaux is a global collection of luxury hotels and gourmet restaurants. Online: exploretock.com/singlethreadfarms
Sept. 21-23: Addison will again host the Robb Report Culinary Masters ulra-luxe weekend at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar. Headlined by Bradley, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and Jérôme Bocuse, the gastronomic weekend includes such other culinary luminaries as Gavin Kaysen, Paul Bartolotta, Cogley, Timothy Hollingsworth and Michelle Karr-Ueoka. Tickets to the multi-course gala dinner Sept. 21 are $1,500 per person. A two-night package (hotel, gala, golf, cooking class and more) is $3,700 per person, $5,200 per couple. Online: rr1.com/event/culinary-socal