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Delicias - 9-Course Tasting Menu or Keeping up with Chef McCabe

Full review and photos: http://twofoodiesonejourney.blogspot....

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.

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  1. Excellent report honkman!
    How much was that 9 course meal?

    4 Replies
    1. re: Beach Chick

      The tasting menu was $95. We also had a wine pairing for $45 with very generous pours (more or less nine regular glasses of wine)

      1. re: honkman

        "more or less nine regular glasses of wine"

        Wow! You really know how to throw down. A ChowBow to you!

        That's one way to do Rancho Santa Fe. You should have titled your post . . . "A crawling tour of Rancho Santa Fe" or "How to See Rancho Santa Fe Face Down"

        Seriously, great write-up. I am very jealous . . . . drool . . .;-)

        1. re: RhonelyInsanediego

          Let's just say it was good that my wife couldn't drink alcohol at that night and so we had somebody to drive. And normally after tasting menus we normally end the night at a bar, e.g Grant, Starlite with a few cocktails which we didn't do that night.

        2. re: honkman

          9 glasses of a generous pour for $45 has love written all over it..

      2. masterful writeup. love the photos too. this will drag me to Rancho Santa Fe.

        I heard through the grapevine that the chef got a very sweet deal with unlimited creative license. I wish him and his partners good health and bon appetit to the people of RSF.

        2 Replies
        1. re: pickypicky

          You should definitely go, based on your comments about some of your favorite restaurants, e.g. A.R. Valentien, you will enjoy the food from McCabe.

          1. re: honkman

            It's such a treat to have Good News here on CH. Thanks again.

        2. Thanks for the write up- based on this and the other comments here I think I need to give Delicias a 3rd try- I may do so on Thursday

          1. Great writeup Honkman. I'll be busy while I'm home in December but I might have to try and sneak this in. TBL3 too. Sounds like a hell of a deal for $95.

            1. What a great writeup!

              We were on the fence about heading out there, but this has put them on my local bucket list. Thanks, honkman. :)

              1. Sounds like a great time. I think this is the leading contender for an upcoming 10th anniversary dinner next month, though I'll need one of my parents to drive us home if I drink 9 glasses of wine (or my wife drinks 2).

                1. News flash from the U/T

                  Paul McCabe is moving from Delicias to the La Valencia effective Nov. 1


                  6 Replies
                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    holy cow. so much for partnerships made in heaven.

                    1. re: pickypicky

                      Glad I read this today, I'll find somewhere else other than Delicias to eat tonight.

                    2. re: DiningDiva

                      Folks...don't get too excited. I live in the neighborhood and could not be more thrilled to have McCabe in walking distance. However, the current owners of this hotel have hired and spit out a couple of top-tiered chefs in less than the year and a half since they have taken over the property.

                      They first brought on Michelin award winning Chef Jason McLeod as a consulting food and beverage guru. Didn't last long. They fired the over-qualified GM that they hired less than 6-months after they took over.

                      Then they spent over a million dollars to upgrade the Sky Room and hired a locally acclaimed chef who is now being fired with the entire staff of the Whaling Bar. Turns out, they never had the permits to do the million dollar upgrade. Sky Room will be closed, with no permits to reopen after New Years Eve.

                      With the closing of both the Sky Room, and the Whaling Bar ( in a couple of weeks), it looks like Chef McCabe (of whom I am a fan) will be limited to a very small, and unpopular (stuffy) venue (The Mediterranean Room).

                      I really hope this works. But I have no faith that the current ownership will stand behind this commitment for long. In this case, it is the failure of the ownership and not the talent that they hire.

                      1. re: foodiechick

                        All you have to do is google the La V's parent company. Luxury hoteliers they are not. They own Best Westerns and Marriotts. I can't believe this is a good career move or a stable one, but then I'm not a hotel chef, which I might add is a different fish-- and that's what McCabe cites as his reasoning. It reminds me of the Del's inability to hold a decent chef.

                        I do hope that Delicias will hire some young hot up and comer to take McCabe's place, so that I can get out there.

                        1. re: pickypicky

                          I'm not sure if Molina will go with McCabe or not, but if he took over the kitchen that would be enough reason for me to visit.

                        2. re: foodiechick

                          but wasn't McLeod just there to redesign the menu? He was never running the kitchen to my knowledge. He's with Arsalun and crew now.

                          "For the time being, he’s under contract with The Mediterranean Grill at La Valencia Hotel, designing its menu. He’s in the process of looking for his own restaurant space" http://bit.ly/RgnhXB

                          The recent closure doesn't sit with me all that well, mostly on account of the staff - but it's hard for me to be too judgmental without more information.

                      2. Last time when we had a tasting menu at Kitchen 1540 Chef McCabe left shortly after the restaurant. Looks like it happened again - we have a tasting menu and he is moving to another restaurant - he is leaving Delicias and becoming Executive Chef at the La Valenica Hotel.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: honkman

                          So this is your fault?

                          ::starts over with anniversary dinner plans::

                          1. re: honkman

                            honkman, please, please, do not dine at Addison!!!

                            I am also very confused by the mixed messages here regarding La Valencia closing the bar downstairs and the restaurant upstairs!

                            1. re: 4wino

                              Addison's also on our bucket list, so I'm curious as to why you're advising against it. (?)

                              1. re: inaplasticcup

                                jesting, I love Addison, and honkman is bad news. (kidding again)

                          2. And Chef McCabe has left Hotel Valencia (and San Diego) to move to Scottsdale (Royal Palms). Hugh loss for San Diego

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: honkman

                              Dang, another one bites the dust. Didn't you speculate when he left Delicias for the La Valencia that this would happen? Sorry to see him go.

                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                San Diego has lost a number of great chefs (McCabe, Martinez, Schmidt etc) and promising restaurants recently (Avenue 5, Cavallion, Blanca, El Bizcocho, Better Half etc). It's kind of depressing. We are living now 12 years in SD and at the beginning the dining scene wasn't really grest but improved quite a lot over the first 7-8 years but over the last 3-4 years it's getting really bad again. Yes, there are still restaurants opening but it seems that many of them are just variations of the same casual gastropub/burger concept with often very similar menus. I am really starting to miss some diversity of different restaurants "types"

                              2. re: honkman

                                Very sad news, but not surprising. I really hoped (especially after the recent Chef's Celebration dinner) that he might break the bad mojo record at this place. I'm afraid it is a huge challenge that will never be met under the current ownership (who, imho, are hot headed amateurs at running this kind of operation on any level - luxury hotel or dining). However, if any of you travel to Scottsdale (my stepdaughter and her family live there), The Royal Palms is very deserving of his talent.

                                1. re: honkman

                                  Wow..sorry to hear this.
                                  As a frequent guest at the Royal Palms in Scottsdale with T. Cooks that is a fantastic restaurant and lovely resort...a great bar too with Dwight on piano.
                                  Killer deals in summer.

                                2. Tommy Gomes from Catalina sums up the current sad state of dining in SD quite nicely:


                                  42 Replies
                                  1. re: honkman

                                    What did Tommy Gomes sum up? How did he do it nicely?

                                    Sorry, that was one of the worst Yelp! reviews I have read in a long time.

                                    1. re: Stiflers_Mom

                                      I guess we disagree, he sums up many similar discussions on CH - In theory SD has a lot of potential for a great food city with some of the best ingredients you can find anywhere but every talented chef who is coming to SD will give up after sometime and move somewhere else since there is no customer base in SD for any reasonable interesting cooking. The only way to survive in this city with a restaurant is by having the generic SD gastropub menu (burger, shortribs etc) with craft beer you seem to find in 99% of all non-ethnic restaurants.

                                      1. re: honkman

                                        Yelp! Reviews? Anyway... with Tommy being one of San Diego's biggest seafood experts and champion of responsible food sourcing, I would say he certainly has hit the nail on the head.

                                        As much as I love a good burger and brew, there is also MUCH needed room for improvement and enthusiasm for the better dining experience and chefs like Paul McCabe were braving the territory to give it to San Diegans. There is certainly a market for the burger/brew combo. This is a distinguishing part of San Diego culture but there is a saturation point.

                                        Luckily, we do still have some wonderful taste makers in town and I am hoping that they will inspire more to come and more of the public to understand the food, becoming bigger participants and champions themselves.


                                        1. re: honkman

                                          "Every talented chef" might be stretching it a bit. But thematically I get what he's saying.

                                          He is, however, a KLR rider, so....

                                          1. re: Fake Name

                                            What is a KLR rider? Excuse my lack of knowledge for this acronym. I have just never heard of this one.

                                          2. re: honkman

                                            I disagree with Tommy on the craft beer rant, though. This was an area in which San Diego was and is on the forefront, but a lot of the foodies in this town turned up their nose at it. Rather than be part of the momentum, they chose to liken all beer to Bud and stick with their wine.

                                            They missed the boat.

                                            1. re: RB Hound

                                              Not an either/or proposition.

                                              There are plenty of us who don't "liken all beer to Bud" yet refuse to buy into the Flaming Fad known as Craft Beer.

                                              Nothing wrong with beer, nothing wrong with craft. But, like short ribs, macncheese, truffle fries and burgers, the saturation point has been passed some time ago.

                                              1. re: Fake Name

                                                If having quality beer options on tap is a fad then I, for one, hope it never goes out of style.

                                                1. re: Fake Name

                                                  I understand your point, Fakey. But like many other things that have reached saturation, this not necessarily a bad thing. The good places will survive, the meh places will not.

                                                  But it wasn't so long ago, not even five years, that you could go to some of the highest regarded restaurants in town and discover that their idea of premium beer selection was Heineken. To repeat myself, there was a blown opportunity here.

                                                  1. re: RB Hound

                                                    I love that we have the option of craft beers in San Diego and some have good food and if that is what you are in the mood for, there is a plethora of choices.

                                                    The problem is that our food culture in San Diego could shortly go to the opposite extreme where the burgers and brew joints will be a dime a dozen and when you go to look for a different kind of experience, a tasty, quality option won't be available. We will re-visit the days when San Diego had a very dismal food culture, one that was homogenous, un-inventive and consistently generic. That wasn't too long ago. If we keep running our creativity out of town, we all lose.

                                                    1. re: ILove2EatIlove2Drink

                                                      "The problem is that our food culture in San Diego could shortly go to the opposite extreme where the burgers and brew joints will be a dime a dozen" - Shortly ? I would love to hear some your "pleothora of choices". Not that there aren't any but you can count them on two hands

                                                      1. re: honkman

                                                        lol. Noted. You are right about the two hands. I can only say I have really "enjoyed" the food at some of the burger and brew places. I used to LOVE Encinitas Ale House but the consistency of the burger quality discontinued. If you are just looking for beer and burgers, it isn't hard to find but a GOOD take on a burger takes some hunting.
                                                        I love the interpretation of the traditional burger that some chefs are taking, especially with sliders... The Lion's Den has amazing Antelope Sliders (and cocktails), Solace and the Moonlight Lounge has a different take on them with their Cheddar & Chive Biscuit Sliders with Duroc Pork Belly (AND they have a great beer selection) It is this type of creativity and CHOICE that I hope we can sustain.

                                                    2. re: RB Hound

                                                      "The good places will survive, the meh places will not." - I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions about restaurants in SD. Much more often the meh places are surviving because money is only willing to support absoutely "safe" proposals any longer which leads to just one main restaurant concept in SD.

                                                      1. re: honkman

                                                        I didn't say that statement applied to restaurants in San Diego, Honkman - just the microbreweries. Restaurants are a bit more complex than that.

                                                        1. re: honkman

                                                          ""The good places will survive, the meh places will not." - I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions about restaurants in SD. "

                                                          Long, slow loud applause.

                                                          100% correct.

                                                  2. re: honkman

                                                    I guess the succinct, hitting the nail on the head summation of the sad state of dining in SD got lost on me somewhere in between the multiple WTF's, shits, bad speeling and righting, and the fact that San Diego is such a crappy dining town, Tommy is now being forced to buy a Prius so he can drive all the way to Arizona to eat McCabe's food.

                                                    He didn't touch on anything new - burger angst, beer angst, chef angst, diner angst, crappy seafood, etc. It was just that, execution-wise, his rant was worthy of being recorded and played in Craft & Commerce's restroom. And whatever Cur8eur is trying to be, they should maybe consider editing guest posts in the future. Though, something tells me this might be some good coverage for Cur8eur.

                                                    1. re: Stiflers_Mom

                                                      "He didn't touch on anything new - burger angst, beer angst, chef angst, diner angst, crappy seafood, etc" - It might be nothing new for people participating on CH but Cur8eur has a different customer group where it might be news

                                                      1. re: honkman

                                                        Something tells me your link on CH was the primary driver of traffic to that story.

                                                      2. re: Stiflers_Mom

                                                        While i dont have a lot of $20.00 words, my grammar and spelling is that of a 7th grader (AT BEST) I am sure that "some" got what i was saying. While not all the talented Chefs are leaving San Diego, (give it time) and we still have some great young talent. Most of which come in to see us here at COP and they ask questions about seafood and I show em how to break down fish and blaa blaaaa blaaa, (opps sorry about that). Some have passion for the food they serve, while others clearly are not in the game for long and it shows. My rant was on my facebook page, not a YELP review, while i do not drink the KOOL-AID of yelp.

                                                        My comment about the whole craft beer thing, stems from the fact that i have been to 15 or so craft beer dinners (so called) and being a person who loves food, and not beer (well i love alcohol so much so every time I drink it i break out in handcuff because i,m a gutter drunk) wait, back on track here Oh yea beer dinners if I wanted to have dinner with a bunch of drunk frat boys i would go to P.B.

                                                        Now Cur8eur sent a message asking me if they could use that rant, so why not? Please put me in contact with the janitor for CRAFT & COMMERCE so i record it for them. :)

                                                        1. re: bluefin2na

                                                          I got what you were saying, i just thought the execution was Yelp-like. Go read it out loud and remember to RAISE YOUR VOICE when you get to the CAPS LOCKS PHRASES you used.

                                                          I don't equate craft beer w/ frat boys or PB. Sorry, that you do. I equate a nice, dry stout with a plate of freshly shucked oysters on the half-shell. Given the opportunity, I will take a malty amber ale or hefeweizen with my Old Bay spiced shrimp or Maryland blue crab. I can almost taste the Prima Pils right now as I think about eating some grilled fish tacos in my backyard on a hot summer day. Seafood and beer, who'da thunk it?

                                                          PS - I've put the hair net on many times before. Come to think of it, some of my friends - who i am pretty sure were frat boys - have put the hair net on, too. Glad to hear business is good.

                                                          1. re: bluefin2na

                                                            Please don't confuse a generic college boy for a "college boy", Tommy - there's not need to be insulting about it.


                                                        2. re: honkman

                                                          "yet we as a city shit all over these talented chefs and when they leave wonder what happened."

                                                          Even more truth - it's not just lack of support by those not "yet" interested in more progressive cuisine, but for those who are - support it. Talk about it in a positive light - encourage more of it. Don't just bitch about the things you don't like.

                                                          1. re: honkman

                                                            I don't know about all this. Sure, I think there are a few exceptions to the rule in regards to some chefs whose food/techniques weren't cut out to make it in the SD market. McCabe however, imo, is a victim of his own poor choices. He put himself in a postion where he had to switch jobs and then chose the wrong ones. That shouldn't be put on the "sad state" of SD dining. There are plenty of chefs not doing the burger and fry gig that are doing well in town. SD has a fraction on the population of LA, SF, Chi NY or whatever other big metro area. SD can't support that many Ballerinas is all, to use a great mad men quote.

                                                            1. re: mjill

                                                              "SD has a fraction on the population of LA, SF, Chi NY or whatever other big metro area. SD can't support that many Ballerinas is all, to use a great mad men quote."

                                                              I'm not sure why that's true. San Sebastian has a population of about 200K (and the entire Basque region is about 2M), and they have at least 5 of the best restaurants in the world. Plus a lot more restaurants that are damned good too.

                                                              1. re: DougOLis

                                                                I think I'm talking apples when you're talking oranges. San Sebastian is probably the number 1 vacation spot in all of Spain. This is where the Euro who's-who goes to relax, eat and drink. Plus basque cuisine itself is a very popular. Not a good comparison to SD to say the least.

                                                                1. re: mjill

                                                                  Well, that's not what you said. And anyway, San Diego gets over 14M tourist visitors a year while San Sebastian gets over 400K. So yeah. There's that.

                                                                  And you need the restaurants first to become a dining destination. The craft beer industry in San Diego has proved that it definitely is a "if you build it, they will come" situation. Beer tourism pretty much did not exist in San Diego as recent as 10 years ago but now pulls in at least $300m/year (http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/...).

                                                                  1. re: DougOLis

                                                                    Good point about the craft beer industry but I think that is more easily relateable to a wider audience than high end avant garde food. But, there has sprung up food catering to that scene, which is just about everything that is being complained about here. I would be willing to wager a large amount of those tourists numbers into SD fall into 2 categaores, families and people going to some type of convention downtown with no ready access to transportation other than cabs.

                                                        3. re: honkman

                                                          I'm sorry, but I fail to see how the dining scene in SD is in a "sad state".

                                                          What's so sad about it?

                                                          That it doesn't fit your definition of great, or good, or whatever?

                                                          That it isn't on par with places like SF or NYC? Or Portland? Or someplace else?

                                                          Having only been here a short time, I can say that SD is certainly better (or less sad) than alot of other places in the country.

                                                          Take DC, I think the SD dining is far more interesting than DC (just talking DC, not the suburbs). DC reminds me of one giant corporate-expense account restaurant. SD, while it might lack the star quality of DC in terms of fine dining, certainly has more interesting nooks and crannies, like the Filipino cuisine in National City, or the now-oft mentioned but much derided craft beer scene, or the revival in pizza making here.

                                                          Or someplace like Phoenix, which is like the zombie of food scenes. Outside of one or two notable places (Bianco, NOCA, Kai) the whole place is filled with chains, bars for Scottsdale plastic, breast-augmented crowd, or cheap taco stands.

                                                          Is the SD dining great? Maybe, maybe not. But it certainly is not as bad as people make it out to be.

                                                          Why not simply enjoy and cherish what we do have, instead of lamenting and whining about what we don't?

                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                            honkman is upset because San Diego dining isn't on par with Berlin dining. But seriously, you don't think it is a big deal that there is a revolving door with well respected chefs?

                                                            1. re: RB Hound


                                                              Chefs come and go. This happens just about everywhere, not just in SD.

                                                              Being a chef is a peripatetic way of life (at least the types of "chefs" people are talking about here).

                                                              In fact, in many instances as a restaurant owner or investor, I would be very wary of a chef that did *want* to stay in one place for a long time, or one who didn't want to move on (for whatever reason).

                                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                Yeah- like that Thomas Keller guy. He's been at French Laundry too long.

                                                                And that Eric Ripert. Him, too.

                                                                1. re: Fake Name

                                                                  Keller started in NYC, then went to LA, then to SF/Yountville.

                                                                  He no longer cooks at French Laundry (Breeden does). Keller is no longer a chef, but a restaurateur and consults now (for his several restaurant ventures in LA/SF/NYC/LV), just like folks like Colichio, Puck, etc.

                                                                  Same with Ripert. He started in France, landed in DC when he came to the states, then settled in NYC. Now, he like the others mentioned up above, is a restauranteur with ventures in Philly, NYC and DC. And if I have my timeline right, Muller is the actual person cooking at Le Bernardin these days. Ripert is too busy appearing on Top Chef with his buddy Tom.

                                                                  Like I said, I don't think those are the kinds of "chefs" that Honkey was talking about. The chefs he refers to were the Kellers and Riperts that were extant in the 1980s before they made it "big".

                                                                  1. re: Fake Name

                                                                    I have received many phone calls from Chefs in this State about the rant. It seems to have made its way up past SF, and back along the coast. Gezzzz, who knew. While i was a young kid, i was able to grow up on a tuna vessel during the summers here in San Diego then just stayed on em and became a fishermen (kind of), I remember one "COOK" we had a french guy from NY City, who always wanted to work on a boat. I will never forget the meals he served on that vessel. As a kid he would talk to me about restaurants and service, and how it was not all about the food, he also told me something that i will never forget, A Chef, a real Chef will always taste the food before it goes out on the floor,Same goes with the food and beverage director for a major Hotel line as he cooked with us for 7 years, before walking off the vessel in Costa Rica in 1979 and living his dream. Now, i,m no food writer, but I know that during the 38 years my mother managed TARANTINOS on N. Harbor drive, i learned a lot about service and food, while we lost many great places to dine, like John Tarantinos, Lubucs (SP), the old MARINE room and the old Mr. A's , yeah i know Mr. A's and the marine room are still open, but trust me they are not the same as our food sources have changed and most of the family owned meat companys are gone and we must buy from US FOOD, (we keep kitchens cooking) and other 55 foot long trailers, meanwhile if anyone is interested in opening a place here, these are some guildline offered up by a "FRIEND" via email
                                                                    Recipe: How to Open a "New" Restaurant in San Diego

                                                                    Step One:
                                                                    Select: Random Names (preferably put two together)

                                                                    Step Two:
                                                                    Add: Mostly Fat Driven Menu = Tuna – Seared or Tartare (form in ring mold, Mango Optional), Burgers (Lots), Short Ribs, Shrimp n' Grits, Pork Belly, Truffle Fries (Correctly called "2,4-Dithiapentane Fries", there is NO truffle in them), Sweet Potato Fries, Charcuterie, Mac 'n Cheese, Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, Pan Fried Brussels Sprouts
                                                                    Quick Tip: Have small plates to create the allusion of "Value"

                                                                    Step Three:
                                                                    Select: A "Mixologist" AKA Bartender = Sprinkle with Skinny Jeans and Ridiculous Mustache (Optional: Tats and/or Piercing)
                                                                    Blend Together: Stupid Name, Fill Glass with Mostly Ice, Charge 13.00

                                                                    Step Four:
                                                                    Mix: Reclaimed Wood, Mismatched Furniture, Bad Art, Look at Me Poorly Trained Servers
                                                                    Add: LOUD Music (so you don't have to hear the people you actually wanted to converse with)

                                                                    Step Five:
                                                                    Avoid: Hiring a Chef

                                                                    Serve Eventually

                                                                    1. re: bluefin2na

                                                                      2na, your FRIEND hit it on the nose. Made me laugh but, unfortunately, only because it's all too true.

                                                                      Tuna, burgers, short ribs, truffle fries, mac 'n' cheese and beet salad with goat cheese...no wonder I haven't been going out to dinner as much lately...

                                                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                        Wonderful new veggie dish at Starlite avoids these cliches: pickled baby artichokes, shaved fennel, roasted asparagus, arugula, white bean & goat-cheese puree (the beans predominate, cheese mostly for texture), and charred Meyer lemon oil. Delicioso.

                                                                        1. re: notjustastomach

                                                                          I had this Monday and it was most excellent. And a lovely change of pace from generic_salad_02.

                                                                      2. re: bluefin2na

                                                                        I remember Mr. Alessio and his dark, Rat Pack, heavy red velvet laden restaurant in the sky. It was certainly a different time. If you look you can be surprised even if you are surrounded by reclaimed wood.

                                                                        I just had an amazing experience at Solace and the Moonlight Lounge by Chef Matt Gordon that reminded me that service is NOT dead is San Diego but you might have to squint to find it. I was so impressed I blogged it, tweeted it, instagram'd it etc. And pop-up dinners like the one Chef Chad White & Chef Diego Hernandez held last night prove that we do have access to great ingredients and passionate good chefs will cook with intent to please, surprise and test.

                                                                        There is a short list. I keep mine close.

                                                                2. re: ipsedixit

                                                                  San Diego has access to great ingredients like nearly no other city in the US. San Diego county has the highest number of organic and non-organic farms of any county in the US but there are hardly any restaurants in SD who use this abundance of ingredients beyond your standard salad, (steamed) vegetable side dish, braised short ribs etc. There is an overlap of the items on the menu on most restaurants in SD I haven't seen in any city of reasonable similar size (including DC). The quality of a city regarding restaurants/food is for me defined by the breadth of different "types" of restaurants offering good to very good dishes which is less and less given in SD. And yes, good chefs come and go to restaurants in different cities but it is normally an equilibrium, in SD over the last few years it is just a brain drain (interestingly SD life science industry is experiencing a similar brain drain currently which started around the same time). Excellent, well known chefs are critical for the development of a "food city" as they are "allowed" by the customers to do more unusual, creative cooking without losing customers which then allows other chefs to do similar things. Those chefs help to "educate" customers about many aspects of different cuisines. ( You can see a similar (not chef driven) effect with Napolitean style pizza in SD - once one restaurant (Pizzeria Bruno) started it, educated customers and was successful many restaurants are doing the same style of pizza all over SD). There was a time about 8-10 years ago when the culinary scene in SD started to get some really interesting momentum and started to develop but unfortunately it didn't lasted lomg enough to be sustainable for various reasons. And you mention th interesting nooks and crannies, like ethnic cuisines but there are very few which are worth mentioning like Vietnamese, some aspects of Mexican and Japanese but again surprising little compared to many other cities of similar size. And yes, we should enjoy what we have but (and that is the point you are missing as you haven't been living for longer time in SD) the choices of interesting restaurants are getting significantly less and less over the last 2-3 years

                                                                  1. re: honkman

                                                                    It's not just access to ingredients. It's demand. Or more precisely demand for those ingredients.

                                                                    What you're really complaining about is the demographics of SD's dining clientele. There's nothing wrong with the chefs or the restaurants. If anything they're doing just fine - they are meeting and probably exceeding demand. Just probably not yours.

                                                                    And which other cities of similar size have better and more interesting ethnic choices than SD?

                                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                      As discussed in many threads on CH before (and also by many chefs if you talk with them and there is a reason why for example Cooks Confab is hardly doing anything anymore) ultimately the problem for any culinary development in SD is of course the limited culinary horizon of the overwhelming majority of dining customers. And I disagree that there is nothing wrong with chefs or restaurants ( and again many chefs say the same) - everything is fine as long as the majority of the menu covers well known ground, e.g. burgers, short ribs, flatbread, steak - the moment you step outside of these SD dishes a lot of things are wrong for chefs and restaurants in SD. And in this case it is like in every other business/profession some people are working in jobs because their main point is to earn money, some people are in their jobs because they have a vision/aspiration and want to have an "impact" - chefs with an own culinary vision tend to leave SD rather quickly beside very few exception

                                                                      1. re: honkman

                                                                        Cooks Confab tickets have gotten increasingly more expensive and they've exceeded the threshold most San Diegans are willing to pay. To be sure there are some exceedingly talented, not to mention creative, chefs in that group. It's also equally true that most in San Diego are not willing to pay the price for the true cost of producing the caliber of food for which that group is known. The price/per value isn't there for most.

                                                              2. Interesting interview with Chef McCabe by Candice Woo here:


                                                                Seems like several questions are pretty pertinent to the discussion on this thread.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: beantowntitletown

                                                                  Lesson to be taken from that interview:


                                                                  What do you hope comes next for San Diego in terms of food?

                                                                  I hope people continue to appreciate what's already there. San Diego has it going on and I think people are looking too far into the future to what it could be and missing what it already is. Allow the natural evolution to happen, don't rush and just appreciate what you have.