Chef Richard Blais-helmed Ember & Rye restaurant opens in Carlsbad
Fellow “Top Chef” alumni Brian Malarkey and Claudette Zepeda also have restaurant opening news this week
Two years after Del Mar celebrity chef Richard Blais sat down with officials at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort in Carlsbad to talk about creating a new signature restaurant together, Ember & Rye opened on Thursday.
Blais, the “Top Chef: All Stars” victor who helped launch Juniper & Ivy in Little Italy seven years ago, said he’s thrilled with how the resort executives embraced his sometimes kooky culinary ideas — like a 30-ounce Thor’s Hammer cut rib eye and an “Uncrustables”-inspired pimento cheese sandwich. But Geoff Gray, general manager of Park Hyatt Aviara, said hiring Blais was clearly a sound decision. There were 100 tables reserved for the first lunch service on Thursday, and all of the tables the restaurant can seat under the new red tier guidelines this weekend are fully booked.
Ember & Rye isn’t the only restaurant connected to a local “Top Chef” alumnus making news this week. Tonight, Brian Malarkey will reopen his flagship restaurant, Animae, in San Diego’s Marina District, following a winterlong shutdown related to stay-at-home orders. And most likely in mid-April, Claudette Zepeda will debut her signature restaurant, VAGA, at the Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas, which opened Wednesday morning in Leucadia.
Ember & Rye took over the resort’s 30-year-old Argyle Steakhouse, which overlooks the 18th hole of the resort’s golf course on the north shore of Batiquitos Lagoon. Blais said the new restaurant, designed by GrizForm Design Architects, will serve the less-laboriously prepared food he cooks at home for his wife, Jazmin, and their daughters Embry and Riley, whose names inspired Ember & Rye. The restaurant reopening is the final piece of the resort’s $50 million, 18-month renovation.
As a nod to the public’s increased desire to dine outside, Ember & Rye’s wrap-around patio has expanded outdoor seating and its focal feature is a Santa Maria-style wood-fired grill where diners can watch their steaks being cooked. The restaurant has a full bar with an inset tapas “snack bar” prep area where the pimento cheese sandwiches and other light snack items will be made to order. There are also two indoor dining rooms and a 14-seat private dining room.
The just-unveiled menu looks straightforward on first glance, but Blais said it’s packed with playful twists on traditional ideas. Some examples are his $40 caviar and pancake starter, which replaces blini with buckwheat flour Japanese-style taiyaki fish-shaped pancakes. His $26 burger is made with a blend of dry-aged Flannery beef and served with kimchi ketchup and triple-cooked French fries that Blais said take three days to prepare. Steaks range from a 10-ounce, 14-day aged strip steak for $55, to $190 for a 12-ounce A5 Japanese Wagyu sirloin skinny cut. And because Blais loves steak sauces, the menu has a whole menu of toppers, including rye whiskey gravy, blue cheese butter, pickled walnuts and his own branded Richard Blais Steaksauce, which sells for $15 a bottle.
The bar’s mainly whiskey and rye-based cocktails are also innovative, like the Smoking Ember, a $24 mezcal drink topped with a poppable bubble of citrus smoke. Bargoers who order drinks on the rocks can get everyday ice for free, or they can pay $2 to $3 more to get a custom-shaped clear “artisan ice” cube in rock, sphere, spear or other shapes.
Blais said Ember & Rye will be his local “headquarters” whenever he’s not traveling for work, like promoting the upcoming season of “Top Chef,” on which he’ll be a weekly judge, beginning April 1. Manning the kitchen on a daily basis will be executive chef William Griggs, who was the longtime chef at Argyle Steakhouse, and sous chef Brad Chance, who has worked with Blais in the past at Juniper & Ivy and Flip Burger Boutique in Atlanta. As he did at Juniper & Ivy, Blais will help out in the kitchen when needed and he’ll be a regular presence in the dining room, greeting guests and happily posing with fans for photos.
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