- Paul C. Apr 11, 2002 01:21 AM
I know that Chowhound is supposed to be about food "finds." But a great restaurant--in both food and ambience--in an architecturally dull hotel in Carmel Valley (of all places)? Say it ain't so. Well, it is so. And in that way it is a "find." Even if the co-owner is Bradley Ogden (reknowned chef of Lark Creek Inn in Bay Area).
First off, the room is gorgeous with rich but not overdone decoration. Think "less whimsical" version of Tamarindo. I liked the soft red leather chairs. You'll hardly believe you are in a Marriott.
Second the food, with a few misses, is excellent, and a great value even at this high price point ($22-28 entrees, $7-15 appetizers). I've eaten on two different occasions with consistent food and service. The food is California "market" cuisine, with emphasis on fresh produce and herbs. The best appetizers that I tried were the warm goat cheese tart with three kinds of beets, the caesar salad, and the foie gras with carmelized pineapple (an interesting combination). The blue cheese souffle was somewhat dull in comparison. For entrees, I loved the grilled wild salmon served with these little gnocchi-like herb dumplings. I also enjoyed the filet mignon, which had nice flavor and the veal cheeks, which were very tender. The scallops were ok by comparison. For dessert, the warm tapioca pudding(with real deal pearl tapioca) with passion fruit essence was novel and really good. The ubiquitous half-melted chocolate cake was typically rich and moist, but what set it apart was the tiny pitcher of chocolate malt to pour inside the cake. The strawberry-rhurbarb shortcake was also great for the non-chocolate lovers.
Third, the service, for a new restaurant, was as good as could be hoped for. All servers were friendly. The wine steward was also friendly and knowledgable.
Fourth, the wine list is interesting. There are only domestic choices, but there are some little wineries on the list that are fairly rare to see anywhere. Corkage is $15. Good selection of wines by the glass.
I heard there is sushi served at the circular bar in the restaurant's corner, but didn't try any. Would like to hear someone else's thoughts on it.
The others I dined with are also Chowhounders and tough critics. All agreed the place was one of the best in SD, on par with a place like Nine-Ten.
Finally, I asked the parking lot attendant as I was leaving what other diners were saying. He said that he had only heard great things, and not one bad comment. That's pretty good, even for Carmel Valley.