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La Valencia on 9.22.13 (because it will change a lot)

I'm not big on the reviews that identify every dish and every morsel. I don't take notes when I eat, I don't ask fellow diners to tell me five adjectives to describe the dish they're eating. And if there's not good light, I don't take pictures.

I do, however, enjoy sharing my food experiences and I feel an obligation to CH to offer as much as I receive in guidance and suggestions.


La Valencia.

Lots going on here, and they've been in something closely related to a State of Chaos. New owners, a parade of new chefs, extensive renovation and modernization, and ruthless (for some) evisceration of the grand olde Whaling Bar, a nexus of many memories for La Jolla locals.

Time moves on, and so does LaV.

Last night, MrsName and I had dinner with two of the La Jolla Cognoscenti- dear friends and regulars for years at LaV. I know it was going to be difficult for them. Many LaV favorite employees had been unceremoniously dumped with previous management changes, and their favorite spaces gutted with promises of more even more change.

We'd heard about Daniel Barron, the new Executive Chef there, and thought we'd jump in to the deep end during this time of great change.

Yes, we loved it.

One has to like Barron's style of food, which I'd classify as "without restraint". His words were something like " Where other people stop, I just keep going further, way over the top". If that's not your style, you will likely dislike this place.

We had all kinds of food- the brussels sprouts with guiancale, a tasty appetizer of hummus and other gooey stuff, a beet salad (tasted better than the predictable kind). We shared another appetizer that closely resembled a seared product illegal in the State of California served on yummy toast with some sort of sweet berry reduction and about a thousand other ingredients. Must have been faux.

About this point, the sunset had happened, and it started getting a little cold, so management moved us (with our consent) to the dining room, which was empty. Completely empty. Wonderfully quiet, beautiful view, and blissfully empty.

Good company, extremely high-level food and a quiet room- Fake Name Heaven.

Barron explained earlier that he had a wedding in another room, and had a few portions of Chilean Sea Bass leftover. Yes, the erstwhile ugly Patagonian Toothfish, redlined by the fish people who claim it's overfished (and may be correct). But there are boats taking Patagonian Toothfish in a sustainable way, and are certified by the people that certify such things. Mine arrived in Barron style- cooked perfectly in Foie Gras fat, with a poached egg on top, some guiancale underneath and a sauce of a thousand-ish ingredients in a puddle on the plate. Over. The.Top.

Other dishes around the table included a badass pork chop with the long bone intact, providing a lovely handle for my friend who, to my great admiration, gnawed it down like a global tyrant. Some salmon with a billion ingredients- all well-received by diners.

Overall, a very good meal with close friends in a warm, welcoming environment that was hushed and wonderful.

The picky: LaV is in a state of transition, and will likely be that way for several months. What was once the Whaling Bar is a construction zone, and the dining room we enjoyed is slated for rehab/remodel/refit/re-do soon as well. Didn't interfere with our meal, but definitely has that "temporary" feel to it. The meal was a financial splurge. I didn't see the bill, but our friends have the undying gratitude of our family, and I'm confident they'll be able to sell a car or something before the credit card bill arrives.

Still, I'd go back tonight. And tomorrow.

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  1. Fakey!
    Patagonian Toothfish. . .one of my fave's.

    I'm still trying to get over Manny and the beloved mural in the Whaling Bar.

    Glad you were in 'Fake Name Heaven'.

    1. What a beautiful thing you have shared with us SD CH'ers. Grazie!

      1. All hail Chef Daniel Barron, I hope he and the venue (newly minted as "The Med". Get it? The Mediterranean Room - newly to be hip and happening = The Med.) get the accolades (and crowds) that they deserve. As your friend Tommy says "get here" and "get some".

        Oh, and the global tyrant's convertible sports coupe may be for sale.

        Lastly, two words: food hangover.

        1. Fascinating in-depth review of a memorable meal. Sounds like one for the books!

          I just hope La Valencia doesn't destroy the ambience of the bar in the same way that the Grant Hotel did theirs. The Whaling Bar was just right just the way it was. When the Hotel Del remodeled they pretty much wiped out the ambience of the old lobby area, including eliminating the lobby bar entirely. These classy, classic old hotels need bars that have a consistent atmosphere. For "trendy modern" there's no shortage of other places to go.

          1. Did you ever tried one of jos Evolve pop-ups ? And if yes, how does his cooking style at LaV compares ?

            1 Reply
            1. re: honkman


              I'm not cool enough for pop-ups.

            2. It is indeed changing a lot - Chef Barron is already leaving La Valencia (seems to be real fun to work there after burning through two chefs in less than two years with Barron and McCabe)

              6 Replies
              1. re: honkman

                Which raises the question, of course, of who will choose to be the next.

                1. re: DoctorChow

                  According to Troy Johnson of San Diego Magazine: A new chef has already been hired. "The resort is pulling James Montejano back to San Diego. Montejano spent the last two-and-a-half years as exec chef of The Trident in Sausalito (a famed venue started by the Kingston Trio in the ’60s), Montejano was also the chef at the short-lived Jade Theater in Downtown San Diego from 2007-2008." Chef Barron's last day is Monday.

                  Chef McCabe weighed in yesterday on FB, stating that while La Valencia is "a nice hotel with very bad management. This patten will continue until such time that they wake up and hire a new GM". I'll go one step further and say that the new owners need to flip that property! They don't seem to have a clue how to run an upscale, historical property with a loyal, local clientele. Fire almost the entire service staff? Done. Fire the chef? Done. Run the highly talented new chef off (McCabe)? Done. Instead of refreshing a historical old venue, tear it apart and introduce a new concept (that sits pretty empty and is lit up with what appears to be neon lighting at night)? Done. Fire the new, talented and innovative chef (Barron) because his name alone doesn't bring in enough new dining customers (and the hotel management has done no visible marketing for the dining venue)? Done.


                  1. re: foodiechick

                    'They don't seem to have a clue how to run an upscale, historical property with a loyal, local clientele.'

                    Ding. .Ding. .Ding. .Winner Chicken Dinner!

                    The Gods of La Jolla are weeping and his Chica's too. .

                    1. re: Beach Chick

                      It's what SD does best in the restaurant bus, take something that needs a tweak and ruin it.

                    2. re: foodiechick

                      "Montejano was also the chef at the short-lived Jade Theater in Downtown San Diego from 2007-2008."

                      Umm..yeah. Anyone eat there?


                      I'd like to think Management designed the menu, and Montejano was the frustrated artist, needing a job to feed his kids, and crushed by the thumb of management's bad ideas.

                    3. re: DoctorChow

                      If the menu at the Trident and my memory of the Jade Theater are an indication in which direction they want to go with La Valencia I am afraid they are going back to the time when we looked for a restaurant for our wedding reception and had some of the worst and boring food ever in San Diego at La Valencia.

                  2. Sometimes change is not for the best. Glad Barron is gone since he did not seem to know when to let food speak for but the management of the Hotel should go back to wherever they came from. Jim Irwin is spinning in his grave.

                    1. I will not go into the La Valencia....They fired the long-time French GM Patrick Halcewicz in the 90's and slowly got rid of all the great long term employees. You can find most of them at Manhattan in LJ or at the French Market Grill in Poway. The Collins were ok owners. but out of touch. New owners are treating the La V as an asset manager would manage an office bldg.

                      Won't go into Manchester properties for the same reason

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: buzznutter

                        With you on all of the above - when Patrick was ousted and down the line to Manny - it might as well be a Residence Inn. But cut the Collins some slack, there was a good reason.

                      2. Gosh and I thought the Sultan's treatment of the Bel Air Hotel was heavy handed. It is a shame when they don't respect the property or the staff. I was wondering if something was up, I have been seeing discounted rooms on various travel websites. Make that one more place that I don't need to go to. I guess I will do my stay-cation some place else.

                        17 Replies
                        1. re: littlestevie

                          I highly recommend the Hotel Del. We have staycationed there several times. Top notch service and accommodations.

                          1. re: foodiechick

                            That is exactly where I was thinking!

                            1. re: foodiechick

                              We did a staycation at the Del once upon a time and had a great time. But that was before the lobby was eviscerated in the remodel. Most of the rest of the old part of the hotel retains its charm, thankfully.

                              Before the Del remodel, we'd also stayed at El Cordova across the street. We liked it there so much that we've been back twice since, and frankly would recommend it over the Del now. Not in the same tuxedo league as the Del, but we like it for that, in part.

                              Each time we've stayed at El Cordova, it's been in one of the suites on the second floor that now overlook the little plaza that was built out front, and that face the Del. Wonderful!

                              There's a Mexican restaurant in the middle of the courtyard that shuts down at 10, so noise isn't really a problem even though the back of the suites are almost on top of it.

                              The food at the Mexican restaurant is ok; just so-so (IMO), but hey -- you can go across the street, or you can walk a little -- and find a lot.

                              We'd always wanted to do a staycation at La Valencia, too. Alas, we "missed an opportunity" I guess (as Seinfeld's "Kramer" famously said -- in one episode, in a different context).

                              But who'd have ever thought that La Valencia, one of our Fair City's most iconic hotels, would turn into what people have described here?

                              I miss that cool old bar...

                              1. re: foodiechick

                                I like the Del but some of the rooms are dated in the old part and the tower has beach views..
                                I want to stay in the villas but I'd have to take out a second on my home.

                                1. re: Beach Chick

                                  I hear you, but I think most of the rooms in the old building have been updated. That is where we stayed last time and the room was sleek and modern. Gorgeous!

                              2. re: littlestevie

                                Has anyone done a staycation on Shelter Island? Specifically at the Island Palms or Kona Kai Club?

                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                  We checked it out last fall and the Kona Kai remodel is ok, I'm a bit nostalgic as that is the first place I lived when my mother moved us to San Diego when I was 13 in the 19**'s. The food however, is deplorable.

                                  1. re: DiningDiva

                                    It's been along time but I see that both resorts have remodeled and on Kayak/expedia have deals for $129+ and if you work it with a concert at Humphrey's with drinks and pupus at Bali Hai, could be a lot of fun.

                                    1. re: Beach Chick

                                      Exactly my thought BC. I was thinking about doing that the last time Lila Downs played Humphrey's.

                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                        We just stayed last weekend in Del Mar and went to the Belly Up to see Suzanne Vega which wasn't my first choice but just going to see a live music act and utilizing the shuttle service so you can have a couple of drinkie poo's and play tourist in ga ga gorgeous SD was awesome!

                                        Great lineup of music at Humphrey's..
                                        Steely Dan. .Ringo Starr. .Chicago

                                        Plus, you can crawl back to the Palms if needed.
                                        ; )

                                  2. re: littlestevie

                                    LS, if you're not adverse to crossing the border, can I suggest the Rosarito Beach Hotel? Easy drive south and they give you a FAST PASS for the return trip AND printed instructions on how to find the FP line.

                                    Centrally located, pool is old-style, beach access, decent to good restaurant and bar. 45 minute drive to the wine country...

                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                      Since the days of us parking our car on the dirt lot on the US side of the Tecate border crossing and waving to the border guard as we crossed over and back are long gone, I really don't want to cross. Coronado is fine for us, enough good restaurants, nice beach, lots of walkable places to make it fun. There is that B&B behind Miguel's or the old
                                      Sprekel's mansion that we might try.

                                      1. re: littlestevie

                                        Is that El Cordova you are talking about behind Miguel's..love that place.
                                        Loew's has some great deals for $100+ and they used to have shuttle service into town to dine.
                                        Marriott where the Meridan used to be is a nice place.

                                        1. re: Beach Chick

                                          Just looked it up, it is the 1906 Lodge I was thinking of. We stayed at the Loew's about a year ago, and it was ok. They had some Self Realization type of convention going on at the time and I felt a little odd eating any meat in the restaurant. The Loew's was just too far away from the village, which could either be good or bad, however we just wanted to be able to stroll around town after dinner.

                                          1. re: littlestevie

                                            We do a lot of 3-5 days in Scottsdale in the summer at 5* resorts to eat and drink for around $100+..

                                            Four Seasons, Boulders, Phoenician, Royal Palms, Fairmont Princess and Sanctuary are lovely resorts to swim, eat, drink, repeat.

                                            5+ hours from SD road trip.
                                            Lots of great eating in PHX and it's a DRY heat!

                                            1. re: Beach Chick

                                              We are heading back to the sizzling Scottsdale summer in a couple of months under the guise of visiting my husband's daughter. In reality, it's mostly to spend a couple of nights at the Royal Palms and revisit Paul McCabe's food since is now running that kitchen.

                                              1. re: foodiechick

                                                Love love love the Royal Palms Resort and T. Cooks and their bar is wonderful and haven't been since Paul took over but I bet he kills it.

                                                I'll be at the FS in a couple of months.
                                                Maybe we'll be there same time.