Back by popular demand, PACIFIC presents the ninth annual Chain of Gourmand, which showcases a succession of local chefs who name a dish that sent them over the moon from a restaurant within San Diego County. The maker behind each creation then calls out his/her favorite, resulting in a 10-chef chain linked by dishes that often differ from cuisine they’ve mastered in their workplaces.
Kicking off the sequence is Joe Magnanelli, executive chef and partner at Animae. The Pan-Asian restaurant, distinguished by show-stopping Art Deco appointments and lush draperies, opened recently in downtown’s new Pacific Gate luxury condo building.
Adjoined by the casual Animae Cafe, it is a splendorous $5.5 million addition to the Puffer Malarkey Collective (Herb & Wood, Herb & Eatery, Farmer & The Seahorse, and the upcoming Herb & Sea, to name a few), which was founded by designer-entrepreneur Chris Puffer and celebrity chef Brian Malarkey.
Animae’s menus are largely authored by Magnanelli, but under the envelope-pushing vision of Malarkey.
“Brian’s concept is to make sure everything has big, bright and bold flavors,” Magnanelli says. “He’s always: ‘More, more!’”
The result is a repertoire of meat, seafood, noodle and rice dishes accented by Asian ingredients, and with tropical fruits sometimes surfacing in Hawaiian spins. A charcoal-fueled grill and oven amplify the flavors in many of the meals, which will evolve with the seasons.
Magnanelli is no stranger to culinary challenges. As a self-taught chef who abandoned studying criminal justice in college (much to his mother’s chagrin), the Maryland native answered his calling by taking cooking jobs in Washington, D.C., first in a French restaurant and then at The Ritz Carlton.
After moving to San Diego in 2004, he served as sous chef at the former El Bizcocho (now Avant) in the Rancho Bernardo Inn. But it was his 13-year stint working for the Urban Kitchen Group and its fleet of former and current restaurants — and becoming executive chef for the group’s Italian-style Cucina establishments — that primed him for a leap into modern Asian cuisine.
“I’ve always taken to noodles. It’s something I really enjoy. And the transition [to Animae] is enjoyable,” he said, referring in part to the menu’s butter-filled dumplings presented with cabbage, escargot and wagyu beef carpaccio, and his yuzu egg noodles accompanied by pork belly and calamari.
When hitting the dining scene, Magnanelli gravitates toward carbs, admitting he eats lots of ramen and loves artisan baguettes and Japanese milk bread. But he’s particularly fond of the pizza crust at Buona Forchetta, which has three locations in San Diego County, and with a fourth due to open in Coronado early next year.
969 Pacific Highway, animaesd.com
Joe Magnanelli’s favorite dish: Any pizza at Buona Forchetta
Chef-owner: Matteo Cattaneo
Restaurant: Buona Forchetta
“It’s the Neapolitan-style crust I really love, which has the perfect crumb. The dough is cooked in a hot wood-burning oven so it’s crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. No matter what toppings you choose, you’re going to get a good pizza.” — Joe Magnanelli
Matteo Cattaneo teams up with master “pizzaiolo” Marcello Avitabile to create a dough at Buona Forchetta that he says “isn’t simple.”
The recipe requires a mix of flours imported from Italy, plus cold water and a light measure of yeast. After rising twice, it’s “shocked” in a 900-degree oven, where it bakes quickly. “It’s all about mixing ingredients in the right order and how you touch the dough. It is very much like a baby,” Cattaneo adds.
3001 Beech St., South Park (additional locations in Liberty Station and Encinitas), buonaforchettasd.com
Matteo Cattaneo’s favorite dish: Hawaiian ahi crudo
Chef: Scott Gestring
Restaurant: Death by Tequila
“I’m Italian and I’m not inclined to try new things. But thanks to my wife, I tried this. Oh, my God. The tuna melted in my mouth and the flavor of the coconut kaffir-lime broth was very different and delicious. A good chef like this knows how to mix ingredients without hiding anything.” — Matteo Cattaneo
The ahi crudo has been a brisk seller since Death by Tequila opened in mid-2018. “We plate about 75 orders a week,” says chef de cuisine Scott Gestring, who tweaked the dish slightly after fellow chef Angelo Sosa introduced it. Set in a turmeric-kissed broth accented with kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and coconut, Gestring swapped the dish’s yellow onions for spring onions sourced from nearby Aschbrenner Acres farm.
“They give it a sweeter flavor,” he notes. In addition, he upped the visuals by serving the crudo in a glossy black bowl instead of a white one. “It makes the pink-red tuna and the yellowish broth pop,” adding that customers are encouraged to raise those bowls to their faces to drink the remaining broth.
Death by Tequila
569 S. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, deathbytequila.com
Scott Gestring’s favorite dish: “Orange-ish” chicken
Chef: Eric Brannon
“It’s like old-school orange chicken but with twists such as crispy garlic and candied mandarins. The flavors are explosive with a balance of sweet, salty and sour. And I love the depth of the citrus notes.” — Scott Gestring
As the restaurant’s name suggests, CHIKO pays homage to Chinese and Korean fare. “But we don’t try to replicate authenticity. The orange-ish chicken is a play on the traditional Chinese takeout version,” says Eric Brannon.
Setting the dish apart from standard orange chicken is the separation of chicken and sauce. The fried poultry pieces are tossed in gochugaru (dried Korean chilies and sesame seeds) and served alongside a semi-thin mixture of orange juice, chili paste, ginger, sugar and Chinese rice wine. “You dip and dunk. We put a lot of love into it,” Brannon adds.
101 N. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, chikoca.com
Eric Brannon’s favorite dish: Duck meatball
Chef: Brian Redzikowski
Restaurant: Kettner Exchange
“This isn’t your grandma’s meatball, but grandma would approve. It’s as big as your fist, soft and pillowy, and served on a bed of rich, buttery grits. The tomato sauce gives it a little bit of herbaceousness and acidity. I recommend ordering it with a side of grilled bread.” — Eric Brannon
Chef Brian Redzikowski says the duck meatball was inspired by his Italian mother’s Sunday suppers.
“I thought it would be cool to do an Italian dish since our menu is 95 percent Asian. It’s been available for about four years as an appetizer,” he says. The orbs each comprise six and a half ounces of thigh and breast meat. They’re baked until a crust forms, topped with San Marzano tomato sauce, and then baked again briefly. Their bed of creamy grits adds further sustenance, making it entree-worthy if paired with a salad.
2001 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy, kettnerexchange.com
Brian Redzikowski’s favorite dish: Opah pastrami toast
Chef: Brad Wise
Restaurant: Fort Oak
“There’s such a depth of flavor in this dish. The airy house-made sourdough bread is the best in San Diego. The pastrami spice in the Opah brings me home to New York. And the egg sauce (gribiche) used on the plate is something I haven’t seen since I worked in France in 2000.” — Brian Redzikowski
Chef Brad Wise gives rich, oily Hawaiian Opah the Jewish-deli treatment in a spiced brine used typically for pastrami. The fish is then hot-smoked, flaked, and tossed in gribiche, a French-inspired admixture of egg whites, onions, garlic, herbs and vinegar. A generous slice of house-made sourdough provides a hearty foundation for the gussied Opah.
“We stack it up,” says Wise, adding that the toast is further crowned with herb salad containing mustard seeds, shallots, and egg-yolk caviar.
1011 Fort Stockton Drive, Mission Hills, fortoaksd.com
Brad Wise’s favorite dish: Aussie pot pie
Chef: Gan Suebsarakham
Restaurant: Pop Pie Co.
“There are two different crusts; the bottom is rich and dense, and the top is flaky like a croissant. It’s filled with a ground beef mixture that reminds me of when my mom used to cook sloppy Joes. The flavor of onions, garlic, ketchup and Worcestershire hits home for me. I’m salivating talking about it.” — Brad Wise
The Aussie pot pie has become an obvious hit within San Diego’s Australian community ever since chef/co-owner Gan Suebsarakham introduced it a couple of years ago. Constructed with two different crusts — traditional all-butter crust on the bottom, and an extra-flaky sheath resembling puff pastry on top — the ground beef filling receives a flavor enhancer that’s foreign to American palates.
“We add a little bit of Vegemite to it,” Suebsarakham reveals. But nobody minds or notices, as the pie also sells impressively at the eatery’s newest location in Costa Mesa.
Pop Pie Co.
4404 Park Blvd., University Heights, poppieco.com
Gan Suebsarakham’s favorite dish: “Bees mode” pizza
Chef: Matthew Lyons
Restaurant: Tribute Pizza
“I like everything that’s sweet and savory. This pizza is sweet from honey, and savory from tomatoes, cheese and meat. It’s also a little spicy from chilies in the honey. I order it every time we visit, and I request the sesame crust, which adds a toasty, nutty flavor.” — Gan Suebsarakham
Chef-owner Matthew Lyons says the star of bees mode pizza is Mike’s Hot Honey, a brand product from New York City.
“We used to make our own chili-infused honey, but when we did a side-by-side comparison, we liked Mike’s better,” he adds. The 13-inch pies use organic crushed-tomato sauce, mozzarella and ricotta cheeses, soppressata (salami), sweet peppadew peppers and the honey. Lyons sums up the pizza as “a little sweet, salty, creamy and spicy all at the same time.”
3077 North Park Way, tributepizza.com
Matthew Lyons’ favorite dish: Vegan burger
Chef-owner: Jordan Brownwood
“Royale has its own farm and a lot of the produce comes from it. I’m vegetarian and love that I can get something as comforting as a burger using the best ingredients from farmers you know. The burger is made in-house. It’s voluptuous and almost gluttonous, yet doesn’t make you feel guilty.” — Matthew Lyons
Jordan Brownwood notes: “This is our diner burger but with a vegan patty used instead of beef. It’s a popular off-menu request.”
The burger is made with a base of quinoa and black beans, and seasoned with shallots and balsamic vinegar. Flax meal serves as the binder. Caramelized onions, house pickles and secret sauce are the default garnishments. So is American cheese, which nudges it out of the vegansphere. But that can be omitted in lieu of pickled beets, cucumbers, carrots or a slice of eggplant — all from Brownwood’s family farm in Valley Center.
4204 Voltaire St., Ocean Beach/Point Loma, royalesd.com
Jordan Brownwood’s favorite dish: Cream buns
Chef: Crystal White
Restaurant: Wayfarer Bread & Pastry
“They’re like round croissants, real flaky and buttery, and with cream and seasonal fruit in the center. I recently had a bun filled with passionfruit that’s grown right in front of the bakery. The whole thing melts in your mouth. I probably eat a baker’s dozen every season.” — Jordan Brownwood
Before pastry chef Crystal White opened her bakery last year, she introduced the cream buns to enthusiastic consumers at pop-ups. “The buns have taken on a lot of different forms,” she notes, referring to numerous seasonal fruits she can use. The honey-sweetened cream inside mimics vanilla pudding, and it’s baked inside the buns. White sells about 350 per week. The passionfruit buns will stick around until mid-November. After that, she’ll likely switch to pears or blood oranges.
Wayfarer Bread & Pastry
5525 La Jolla Blvd., Bird Rock, wayfarerbread.com