Delicias (San Diego)
Posted 23 October 2012 - 11:37 PM
There is hardly any part of daily life which hasn’t been deeply affected and changed by the internet over the last two decades. Starting from how we purchase nearly every kind of goods, how we keep up to date with news, how we gather information or how we communicate with each other. It is amusing and also sad at the same time to see how many people you see today in restaurants who instead of talking to each other are more occupied to stare on their smart phones and communicate through social networks with each other and the world. Suddenly everybody, even people you have never met in your life before, are “friends” and the importance of anything is measured in how much everybody “likes”. All those social networks from the established to the new ones have/had very little appeal for us as they seem to be more advertisement platforms or trying to extract every detail of your life even without any permission but there is one exception – Twitter. While Twitter is far from something we would truly call communication with its 140 character limitations and often pointless “discussions” it has one major attraction for us as foodies – the possibility of “direct” interaction with chefs. There are many ways to contact a restaurant through their web page or Facebook page but these possibilities normally only give you access to the FOH. Any time you wanted to discuss dishes or menus with any chef there was hardly any other way than going straight into the kitchen during a dinner. Twitter changed this as many chefs started to use it personally to keep in touch with colleagues and customers and it opened up many new possibilities to interact with them.
When we recently had unexpectedly some reasons for a celebration we considered a few possible restaurants as good places for an extensive dinner or preferably a multi-course tasting menu. But when we went over our lists we remembered that one of our best dinners we had last year was an outstanding tasting menu at Kitchen 1540 under Chef Paul McCabe. Chef McCabe started to have an impact on the culinary scene in San Diego about ten years ago when he worked as Executive Chef first at Top of the Cove and then Star of the Sea. But he really made a name for himself far beyond San Diego once he started heading the kitchen at Kitchen 1540 and made it to one of the premier dining spots in San Diego. And so it took many by surprise when he suddenly announced end of last year that he would leave Kitchen 1540 for Delicias in Ranch Santa Fe. Delicias was one of these restaurants which exist for many years, 19 in the case of Delicias, but never made a real lasting impact on the dining scene in San Diego. Our single visit some time ago showed good but unremarkable food especially for the relative high prices. Once more details about the move from Chef McCabe surfaced it become more apparent that it was quite lucrative as not only he took over the kitchen but also became partner to owner Owen Perry, at the same time as Alex Campbell, formerly of Bertrand’s at Mr.A, with not only plans to revamp Delicias but also opening additional restaurants over the next years. Through his Twitter account he posted regularly photos of his new dishes and it became obvious that even though Delicias might not have the same customer base as Kitchen 1540 the cooking style of McCabe didn’t change much. Once the renovation of the restaurant and the revamp of the menu were completed recently we felt that now was a good time to try out Delicias. And after just a few tweets with Chef McCabe within several minutes we were able to set up a tasting menu at Delicias on a short notice.
1st Course: Shrimps - White shrimp blanket, spot prawn sashimi, ceviche, eggs and tempura
This course was presented as a variation on shrimp ceviche which didn’t do the dish enough justice. In this complex dish we had a number of different shrimp preparations yielding a broad range of textures and flavors - starting from the soft and mild white shrimp blanket to the sweet and tender spot prawn sashimi to the citrusy ceviche with tempura adding some texture. Ceviches can often dominate a dish with their citrus-based sauce but in this dish it was well balanced with some spicy- and saltiness rounding out the flavor profile. A very good start to the tasting menu as the dish helped to awaken the taste buds.
2nd Course: Salad - Compressed vegetables and fruits
The trend of having one dish to showcase the abundance of great produce in San Diego also continued with this tasting menu but at the same time it was fascinating to see how different the presentations are between the different chefs or even for Chef McCabe himself compared to his “produce” course during our tasting menu at Kitchen 1540. Whereas at Kitchen 1540 we had a very complex presentation with different dressings and powders here we had the mere opposite – simplicity. Using modern techniques to vacuum seal fruits and vegetables with looser cell structures and high water content helps to intensify the flavors yielding in dishes of stronger tastes of fruits and vegetables like watermelon and cucumber in this course. A great example that modern technique and pure and unadulterated flavors don’t have to be a contradiction.
3rd Course: Corn Agnolotti, poached Maine lobster, chanterelle mushrooms, summer truffles
One would expect that a dish which contains lobster, chanterelle mushrooms and summer truffles would center around these special ingredients but even though they were integral for the dish they took a backseat to the most mundane one – corn. Wonderful sweet but not overly saccharine it elevated the agnolotti to light pillows of pasta but also formed the fitting foundation for all other ingredients.
4rd Course: Local White Bass, warm summer bean salad, house pancetta, pistou vinaigrette
The White Bass was cooked nicely and very tender and flakey. The bean salad had numerous different types of beans and was a good choice for the mildly flavored fish. But what really brought this dish together was the pistou as it paired well with bean salad as well as the fish and was the overarching theme of the course.
5th Course: Pot Pie - Beef tongue, foie gras, vegetables, puff pastry
When we originally set up this tasting menu we agreed on an 8-course menu with Chef McCabe but at the beginning of the night he explained to us that there would be an additional course. For this course McCabe came out of the kitchen to present this dish as the additional free course – a variation on pot pie which included foie gras. Obviously with the current ban on foie gras in California having the rare opportunity to eat this delicacy alone was very exciting but what made the course really stand out was how it was integrated into the dish. The easy way to serve foie gras would have been in a classical presentation au torchon or seared but this pot pie dish was a prime example where the sum is greater than its parts. Using the often underutilized beef tongue as meat for the pie was refreshing as it infused a strong, yet unique, beefy flavor but the foie gras in the sauce elevated the dish to a completely different level. Every bite of the dish included the taste of foie gras but it was balanced enough not to dominate everything but yet the dish wouldn’t have worked without it – simply a brilliant dish and not only a highlight of this tasting menu but one of the best dishes we had in a long time. And it doesn’t happen very often that we talk so much about a dish even days after the tasting menu when we were hoping to have it one more time for dinner at home.
6th Course: Colorado lamb rack, faro, harissa yogurt, compressed onion, cucumber, olive
It is always hard to talk about the philosophy of a chef as they often draw their inspiration from many different sources but perhaps this dish is a good example of what we feel is part of Chef McCabe’s philosophy. On one side a rather classical interpretation of a rack of lamb but at the same time supporting the earthy flavors with an ancient, and rarely seen on menus, grain like faro. On the other side using modern techniques to create ingredients and flavors like the compressed onion and cucumber which present an unexpected twist leading to interesting contrasts, might it be, as in this case, by temperature, texture or flavor.
7th Course: Cheese – Coach Farm Triple Cream Goat, Roaring Forties Blue, condiments
The cheese course presented two different extremes – a triple cream goat which was very mild but rich and had some light tangy flavors. Whereas the Roaring Forties Blue had a much more pronounced, bolder flavor with nutty undertones.
8th Course: Yuzu curd, miso graham cracker, meringue
Yuzu with its distinct taste somewhere between grapefruit and mandarin with some floral notes is a good palate cleanser between the savory courses and the dessert. The miso graham crackers not only added some texture but also interesting umami flavor which reinforced the transition from savory to sweet courses.
9th Course: Chocolate tart, crunchy praline, toasted marshmallow, chocolate sorbet, maldon
The tasting menu finished in a classical way with a chocolate based dessert. The chocolate tart had some interesting textural variety by the crunchy praline and toasted marshmallow. Adding some salt flakes helped open up the flavor of the tart. Using chocolate sorbet instead of the ubiquitous chocolate gelato ensured a certain lightness of the course. Perhaps not the most creative and unusual way to end the night but still a satisfying end to a great tasting menu.
The outstanding experience we had with the tasting menu at Kitchen 1540 under Chef McCabe and his Twitter pictures of some of his dishes since he started working at Delicias set our expectations quite high. At the same time our first dinner at Delicias more than a year ago was unremarkable and the expected clientele at a restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe might imply that a chef has to hold back his creativity to be successful. In the end our concerns appeared to be unfounded and our experiences with a tasting menu at Delicias were on a very similar level as at Kitchen 1540. The creativity and execution of the dishes clearly showed the style we expected from Chef McCabe and it was interesting to see that some of the courses of the tasting menu were variation of dishes from the regular menu, like the lamb or agnolotti. And even though most of the off-menu courses showed a greater level of creativity the flow between off and on menu dishes throughout the tasting menu was uninterrupted and indicated the impact McCabe had on the quality of the regular menu.
As much as bad service can ruin a dinner with great food, good service as we experienced at Delicias can elevate an already great night. And it is often the small details like well paced courses, enough time to enjoy some cocktails without being “forced” to start the tasting menu and attentive but unintrusive service which you see surprisingly seldom even at higher end restaurants that set the tone for great service. If there was perhaps one minor quibble than even though the current dining room feels less stuffy than on our last visit it was surprising to see that they used booths with very high backrests close to the kitchen to separate the dining room from the kitchen instead of creating a dining room with an open kitchen which would bring a much better dynamic and liveliness to the restaurant.
It will be interesting to see how Chef McCabe will position Delicias as a restaurant in the near future. He has to find a balance to keep the regular menu interesting but not too unusual to attract his regular customers in Rancho Santa Fe but at the same time also create creative dishes to expand the influence of Delicias beyond being just a neighborhood restaurant. Perhaps he might take a similar approach as Chef Foshee at Georges in La Jolla who has an interesting regular menu to satisfy his regular customers but also more recently started TBL3, a special tasting menu, which gained a lot of attention for his restaurant far beyond San Diego. Using a tasting menu like we experienced with Chef McCabe will be the right step to make Delicias such a destination restaurant.
Posted 18 August 2013 - 11:25 PM
Pop-Up at Delicias with Chefs Zach Hunter and Steven Molina
Full review and photos: http://twofoodiesone...-pop-up-at.html
In every profession people tend to grow throughout their careers and develop their own style and identity. Part of this development is often based more on a trial and error approach but another part originates through the influence of mentors/supervisors. These influences can originate by a teacher-scholar relationship but more often they form unconsciously over time by just working together and continuously observing. Cooking on a professional level is perhaps one of the occupations where such influences are often particular distinct. At the same time, since chefs early on in their careers often work or stage at a number of well-known restaurants, these influences get mixed together so that at the end each chef has his unique style but the different influences are often noticeable even throughout single dishes.
San Diego has a rather fast rotation of chefs especially on a fine dining level so that very few of them stayed for a longer time and had a significant influence on subsequent generations of chefs. Some of the notable exceptions are Trey Foshee at George’s Modern, Jeff Jackson at AR Valentien and Paul McCabe formerly at Kitchen 1540 and Delicias. The most recent, unexpected move from Chef McCabe to Arizona was quite a blow to the fine dining scene in San Diego but during his stint at Delicias he worked with Sous Chef Steve Molina who took over the kitchen as Chef de Cuisine after McCabe’s departure. Chef Molina graduated in 2008 from the San Diego Culinary Institute and started working in the industry under Chef Vignau at Savory in Encinitas. He then moved to L’Auberge Del Mar were he started as a pantry cook before rising up the ranks to become Sous Chef under McCabe at Kitchen 1540.
McCabe’s move to Delicias generated quite some buzz around the restaurant and its future plans which was throughout the years more known as a kind of neighborhood restaurant for the wealthy in Rancho Santa Fe with good but not really ambitious cuisine. The future direction of Delicias was quite uncertain after the recent changes in the kitchen but we were for some time thinking about trying to set up a tasting menu with Chef Molina when we heard about a 9-course tasting menu at Delicias as a pop-up with Chefs Zach Hunter and Molina. Chef Hunter graduated in 2005 from the Arizona Culinary Institute to start at Wildfish Seafood Grille in Scottsdale where he quickly became Executive Chef. He decided afterwards to move to Mugaritz in Errenteria/Spain, one of the most respected restaurants in the world. After moving back to the US and working together with Molina under Chef McCabe at Kitchen 1540 he moved to New York to work as Sous Chef at Atera. Most recently he made the decision to move to Austin to work on an own restaurant concept in the near future but had a stopover in San Diego with this pop-up restaurant night which gave us the opportunity to experience two McCabe alumni with a hopefully daring tasting menu.
Snack 1: Albacore, pickled watermelon, pork fat, ice plant
The night began with a number of snacks to wet one’s appetite. First we had a small piece of slightly cured albacore, topped with a layer of pork fat and some pickled watermelon – light, refreshing and well balanced.
Snack 2: Chicken skin, romesco, dried corn
A play on chicharrones with puffed chicken skin - the slightly smoky romesco with peppery notes didn’t overwhelm the chicken skin too much and the dried corn not only added some additional texture but was also well integrated in the playful presentation with its chicken wire.
Snack 3: Fermented corn, dried shrimp, panko, aioli
The highlight of the four snacks – the corn was fermented for ten days and had a slightly sour taste not unlike good sauerkraut, the dried shrimp added some saltiness and panko gave texture to the dish. A wonderful combination of sour, salty and Umami, of which one was really hoping to have a whole cob of corn.
Snack 4: Chicken rillette, mole negro, peach butter
This dish presented in a small cocotte had a nice interplay of the crostini, smoked chicken rillette and mole negro but what brought this dish together was the slight fruitiness of the peach butter.
It is always interesting to see the interactions of a kitchen team during work and this night was no difference with both chefs and their team working side by side. It is still surprising why Delicias is not using this open kitchen better to bring a different dynamic and ambience to the restaurant instead of hiding it behind some high partition walls.
1st Course: Uni, crispy grains, dashi gelee, powdered yogurt
The first course as the start of the dinner reminded us on breakfast at the start of the day. Not unlike cereals with milk in the morning we had in this dish a variety of different grains and seeds with powdered yogurt but what deviated it from your standard sweet morning dish was the inclusion of some pieces of uni and dashi gelee which gave the dish a wonderful salty, maritime flavor. Interestingly this strong dish vaguely reminded us of a course we recently had at Atelier Crenn
2nd Course: Tuna tartare, smoked trout roe, lettuce, smoked chicken gelee, breadcrumbs
The presentation of this course was unexpected with a larger piece of lettuce as the centerpiece and the other ingredient coating or surrounding it. At first the combination of the crunchy lettuce with the tuna and smoked roe tartare seemed not really to work but after a few bites the dishes started to grow on us and ended up as a surprisingly balanced dish.
3rd Course: Salt roasted potatoes, dried squid, egg yolk vinaigrette
Sometimes good dishes don’t have to rely on unusual ingredients or complex preparations but live through their simplicity – here we had simple salt roasted potatoes with a matching vinaigrette – simple and homey yet somehow elegant. The dried squid chip didn’t add much to the dish and was more of a distraction.
4th Course: Lobster, shaved Chinese sausage, Meyer lemon – ginger emulsion
The presentation reminded us on some fish’n’chips we got when we lived in England and the pork-fat poached lobster with its “coating” of shaved Chinese sausage worked also along this lines. As good as the surprisingly large piece of lobster was, not unlike fish’n’chips, some kind of starch component was missing in this dish which was a bit too one-dimensional.
5th Course: Spot prawns, bone marrow, roasted summer squash, wheatgrass emulsion
This course was one of the highlights of the dinner with its perfectly cooked prawns and the roasted summer squash. The wheatgrass emulsion mixed with the liquid bone marrow gave the dish an earthy foundation.
6th Course: Fermented long beans, aged lamb, Meyer lemon emulsion, lamb fat aioli
This was one of the dishes where it is necessary to get a little bit of everything at each bite to get a balanced flavor. The fermented long beans had a surprisingly sour taste which was tamed by the lamb fat aioli whereas the aged lamb brought some gaminess and minerality.
7th Course: Venison loin, roasted tomato confit, charred onion
It was interesting and refreshing to see that throughout the night both chefs used some unusual successions and presentations of the dishes not always seen with tasting menus but it appeared with this course they seemed to step back to the default path of ending the savory part with a meat-heavy course. Even though technically very well made with tender sous-vide venison and strong tasting tomato confit the dish seemed to be out of line with the progression of the tasting menu so far and felt too monotonous with its focus on one large piece of meat.
8th Course: Tartare of beet and sour cherry, coconut tapioca
The use of vegetables as part of desserts is becoming increasingly popular and this dish had a very unusual combination of beets and sour cherry which was mainly overshadowed by the earthiness of the beets with some hardly noticeable sweet undertones from the cherry and coconut tapioca. This dish was paired with an unusual cocktail based on champagne and vinegar which actually helped to lighten up the dish with its acidity but it was still a rather challenging course.
9th Course: Candied carrots, chocolate-stout gelato, fermented carrot chocolate ganache
The last course was another, but much more successful, take on vegetables as dessert – the natural sweetness of the carrots paired perfectly with the maltiness of the chocolate stout and the fermented carrot ganache acted as an overarching theme to bring both together with the unexpected funkiness of the fermented carrots – a perfect ending to the tasting menu on a high note.
A pop-up restaurant event has always a unique character as the chef doesn’t really have to rely on return customers and so has the chance to take some culinary risks and try out some unusual flavor and ingredient pairings. It was good to see that Chefs Hunter and Molina were willing to take this road and served interesting courses with some highlights like the uni, spot prawns or the carrot dessert. And even courses which didn’t really work for us like the beet dessert are laudable as it shows their willingness to try to express their own culinary vision without much compromise. Hopefully Delicias will be encouraged by the good attendance of this pop-up, and GM Alex Campbell mentioned that they are thinking of having such events as a seasonal occurrence.
When two chefs cook together it is of course hard to determine who had which influence on which course but overall it was interesting to see how far the cooking style of these both chefs has evolved from that of their mentor Paul McCabe. It will be interesting to track how Chef Hunter’s first attempt at an own restaurant in Austin will turn out to be (and hopefully it won’t be the last time he cooked in San Diego) but the night also really reminded us that it is time for us to set up a tasting menu with Chef Molina at Delicias and experience his cooking first-hand.