By Frank Sabatini Jr. / Photos by Kate and Michael Auda
Back by popular demand (by 10 of the city's top chefs), PacificSD proudly presents the fourth annual Chain of Gourmand, wherein a local chef cites his or her favorite dish, and then the maker of that dish calls out his/her fave, and so on, until 10 chefs are linked. Starting this year's chain is Deborah Scott, a chef-partner with Cohn Restaurant Group who oversees four San Diego restaurants (Indigo Grill, Island Prime, C Level, Vintana Wine + Dine) and two food trucks (Ms. Patty Melt, Chop Soo-ey). Having recently struck a deal with Costco, wherein the company's 10 San Diego-area stores are already selling packages of her pepita-sesame crusted brie, Scott has plenty of reasons to smile - the big-box retailer has already ordered 20,000 units. (See Say Cheese.)
Next in the pipeline for Scott (and Cohn) is a new restaurant and bar on the water at the southern tip of Harbor Island. A floating events center will be moored alongside the landlocked part of the venue, filling the void left by the late Reuben E. Lee, a one-time boat-turned-restaurant that sunk in San Diego Harbor after being towed away for a remodel.
The soon-to-be amphibious chef has a weakness for Asian cuisine, which she sneaks into some of her menus in teasing measures: ginger-orange pork belly at Indigo Grill, black and white sesame salmon at C Level, ahi nachos with wasabi cream at Vintana. But Scott's heart melts for a particular Asian-style preparation of cobia created by French Chef Bernard Guillas of The Marine Room.
"I don't have time to dine very often," Scott says, "but when I do, I call Bernard."
Chef Deborah Scott's favorite dish
Nectarine-soy glazed cobia (at The Marine Room)
Created by chef Bernard Guillas
"Bernard has a way of pulling all the ingredients together. I like it so much better than the miso cod everyone else is serving." -Deborah Scott
Farm-raised in waters off Panama, this organic cobia boasts a luxurious, high-fat content. "It's a beautiful fish," says The Marine Room's chef Bernard Guillas, who lacquers the fillet with tangerine glaze containing wisps of honey, ginger, garlic and soy sauce. It's served with green tea noodles, locally grown trumpet mushrooms and a puff of eggplant-miso foam on the side.
The Marine Room
2000 Spindrift Dr., La Jolla
Bernard Guillas' favorite dish
Hamachi sashimi (at Nine-Ten)
Created by chef Jason Knibb
"The dish is super sexy and bright-tasting, and you savor it one bite at a time, ideally with a glass of nice champagne." -Bernard Guillas
Hamachi has been a mainstay on Nine-Ten's appetizer menu for seven years and isn't going away anytime soon, assures chef Jason Knibb. "I keep it simple and clean," he says, referring to his dressed-down presentation of adorning the fresh fish with only shitake mushrooms and scallion vinaigrette. Knibb sources the hamachi from Catalina Offshore Products, which specializes in sustainable, sushi-grade seafood.
910 Prospect St., La Jolla
Jason Knibb's favorite dish
Clam chowder (at Ironside Fish & Oyster)
Created by chef Jason McLeod
"I'm always left wanting more, because it's so full of flavor and very comforting." -Jason Knibb
A couple of sharp-cheddar biscuits are the bonus to this New England-style clam chowder laced with a sinful twist. Ironside Fish & Oyster chef Jason McLeod infuses the roux with bacon fat before adding onions, leeks and celery. "The bacon component isn't overpowering, but you know it's there," he says. "It's a top-selling starter that we've had on the menu since the restaurant opened."
Citing its richness and generous doses of tender clams, Knibb notes that the recipe reminds him of the chowder he ate as a child with his father when they visited Fisherman's Village in Marina Del Rey.
Ironside Fish & Oyster
1654 India St., Little Italy
Jason McLeod's favorite dish
Morning buns (at Bake Sale Bakery)
Created by chef-restaurateur Terryl Gavre
"They tear apart in light, flaky layers. It takes a whole lot of willpower to not eat three of them at one time." -Jason McLeod
Made with croissant dough harboring numerous layers of butter, chef Terryl Gavre's morning buns are round and puffy. "It's the elegant, older sister of the traditional cinnamon roll, because they're less gooey and something you can eat in your car," Gavre says. Baked daily and sweetened by raisins and dates, the buns don't need frosting. McLeod knows to seize them early in the morning, as they usually vanish from the shelves by noon.
Bake Sale Bakery
815 F St., East Village
Terryl Gavre's favorite dish
Braised pork shank (at La Bonne Table)
Created by chef-owner Renaud Tristan
"The meat falls right off the bone, which makes it easy to eat like a lady, but if necessary, I'd pick it up and eat it like a beast." -Terryl Gavre
Braised for five hours in veal stock spiked with tomatoes, fennel, celery and a dash of cayenne pepper, the mondo pork shank at La Bonne Table is listed on the menu as "jarret de porc." Chef-owner Renaud Tristan, a Parisian transplant who recently opened the cozy French restaurant in Hillcrest , says the flavor formula comes from his mother's recipe box and that it was served at his family's Sunday dinners. "Every Frenchman has a pig in his heart," says Tristan, who plates the shank on a bed of buttery, garlicky mashed potatoes kissed with a Frenchman's generous "touch" of cream.
Gavre commends the dish for its flavor and presentation, especially coming from a kitchen she says is "the smallest I've ever seen."
La Bonne Table
3696 Fifth Ave., Hillcrest
Renaud Tristan's favorite dish
Wild boar ragu pasta (at Parma-Cucina Italiana)
Created by chef-owner Leonardo Ciriminna
"The thick, meaty sauce with the pasta is the perfect match. And oh, my God, it's filling."
Offered as an occasional special, the wild boar ragu pasta at Parma-Cucina Italiana is made with what chef-owner Leonardo Ciriminna describes as the "best parts" of the animal, referring to the shoulder, leg and rib sections. After shredding the meat, Ciriminna then cooks it slowly in tomato sauce flavored with rosemary, garlic, black pepper and olive oil. "Wild boar is a difficult meat to cook," he says. "But we know how to make it juicy and tender, because it's in our culinary tradition where I grew up in Parma, Italy."
Tristan's La Bonne Table is located a block from Parma, so he follows his nose down the street whenever it's cooking.
3850 Fifth Ave., Hillcrest
Leonardo Ciriminna's favorite dish
Molten cake thingy that everyone has (at D Bar)
Created by chef-owner Keegan Gerhard
"We have something similar to the recipe in Italy, but this is a lot richer." -Leonardo Ciriminna
On paper, everyone may have it, but chef and former Food Network Challenge host Keegan Gerhard's molten chocolate cake transcends the others. It's constructed with Madagascar chocolate made with 100 percent Criollo beans, considered the Cadillac of cocoa beans. It's also glutenfree. Versions of the dessert rotate periodically. "Sometimes the molten is caramel, other times it could be white chocolate," says Gerhard.
The accompanying ice cream changes, too. Ciriminna had his cake served twice with Sicilian pistachio, leaving him to say that "it tasted like real Italian ice cream." He first paired it with coffee, but discovered later that it washes down even more swimmingly with Prosecco.
3930 Fifth Ave., Hillcrest
Keegan Gerhard's favorite dish
Local yellowtail (at George's at the Cove: California Modern)
Created by chef Trey Foshee
"I'm a guy who likes fish grilled with nothing on it, but this blew me away." -Keegan Gerhard
Raisin chutney, chanterelle mushrooms, okra and cauliflower pistou (cold sauce made with garlic, basil and olive oil) set the stage for a six-ounce hunk of fresh yellowtail that George's at the Cove: California Modern chef Trey Foshee recently added to his seasonally driven menu. "We try to use as much local product as we can, and it's really nothing fancy," says Foshee. "We cook the fish on the plancha, and that's about it."
Especially fond of the cauliflower component, Gerhard applauds the smidgen of heat emanating from the chili flakes in the chutney, which, he says, "wasn't offensive or feisty, but just enough to brighten the dish."
George's at the Cove: California Modern
1250 Prospect St., La Jolla
Trey Foshee's favorite dish
Bucatini guanciale (at Cucina Enoteca)
Created by chef Joe Magnanelli (and enhanced by chef de cuisine Andrew Bachelier)
"The yolk of the egg mixes with the sauce, so the dish gets creamier as you go along." -Trey Foshee
What started out resembling the classic Roman dish Bucatini al Amitricia, in which pasta is tossed with cured pork and a peppery tomato sauce, has morphed into an enhanced version featuring charred Napa cabbage and a delicately poached egg on top. Cucina Enoteca chef Joe Magnanelli first introduced the entrée in its basic form at Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill before chef de cuisine Andrew Bachelier modernized it. "Our bucatini is a classic dish with a twist, and definitely a favorite among our guests," says Magnanelli. The dish is now available at both restaurants in its updated form.
"They do pastas very well," says Foshee, giving thumbs up to the dish's balanced ratio of pasta to sauce and the sweetness imparted by the cabbage.
2730 Via de la Valle, Del Mar
Joe Magnanelli's favorite dish
Octopus tostada (at Común Kitchen & Tavern)
Created by co-owner-chef Chad White
"The octopus was soft and perfectly cooked, with just the right amount of chew." -Joe Magnanelli
The delicate flavor of octopus remains intact despite being presented amid red onions, cilantro and the negro romesco sauce crowning these ambitious tostadas, which you won't find at your corner taco shop. "While I was snorkeling in Isla Verde, Puerto Rico, I was with a young boy catching octopus, and that night we made octopus for dinner with romesco, almonds, chiles and garlic," says chef and co-owner Chad White, who opened Común Kitchen & Tavern earlier this year with the promise of presenting traditional Latin dishes in new ways. "This is kind of a version of what we had that night on the beach." (If octopus isn't your thing, consider White's beef heart tartare tostada instead.)
Joe Manganelli was particularly fond of the textures in White's tostada, noting that the tenderly cooked octopus plays nicely with the creaminess of the avocado.
Común Kitchen & Tavern
935 J St., East Village