In the last few years, pockets of San Diego County has seen a host of restaurants popping up to now becoming culinary destinations when you’re traveling south of Orange County. Del Mar is one of them. There have been several stand-outs including the stupendous Addison at The Fairmont (formerly The Grand Del Mar), Prepkitchen, and one of my favorites, Shimbashi Izakaya. Now, there is another stellar addition to that list.
We recently stop by Tasting Room Del Mar on a lazy afternoon. It is still Happy Hour (3pm-5pm daily) so we decide to grab a few drinks and some nibbles while we wait for the kitchen to switch over to its dinner menu. I adore the outdoor bar area, in addition to the limited inside seating, allowing diners to take advantage of the glorious southern California weather with al fresco dining.
The beer and wine menu is extensive and it may even be slightly overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re after. However, I am searching for hard cider and easily find several that catch my eye. Honest Abe Cider | Temecula Honey ($5.50 full/$3.50 half) and B. Nektar Meadery | Kill All The Golfers | Lemon/Tea Mead ($7.50/6oz) are both beautifully golden and possess hints of honey in varying degrees. Even though there is alcohol – less than 6% — I don’t detect much, so it is perfect for those wanting something light to pair food with.
The Happy Hour Menu is limited, but we find Roasted Potatoes ($5) served with a whole grain Dijon mustard aioli surprisingly good. It is simple with a sprinkling of espelette pepper, petals of chervil, and bits of frisee lettuce.
While Prager Bros. Bread ($4) is on the Happy Hour menu, it is also available on the regular dinner menu. The bread is good, REALLY good. The house-churned butter is rich and decadent. I alternate bites with butter and a pinch of La Jolla sea salt, then butter with a smear of homemade Concord grape jam. Simplicity at its finest!
When the switch to dinner menu happens at 5pm, our server Genevieve takes our order and we proceed on with our meal.
Chicken Liver Mousse ($9) is indeed delightful. I am not expecting how light the mousse is! Pair with that the rounds of crispy brioche, vine-dried raisin, violet mustard colored with grape must (freshly pressed juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the grape), cashew, and brown Turkish figs, it is a perfect accompaniment to whatever libation you’re drinking.
I am never able to resist sashimi, and Yellowtail Crudo ($9) is definitely worth ordering. Slices of yellowtail are sitting in a bath of gojuchang (Korean red pepper) vinaigrette, with Fresno chile and micro basil garnish. The gojuchang is not overwhelming, but lends a lot of flavor to the perfect balance of the vinaigrette. There is heat, acid, and piquant uniformity to the dish.
While I am not a big pork belly fan, I have a huge weakness for curry. I am glad I order Pork Belly ($14) because it is absolutely fantastic. Not only is the curry full-bodied — not a “dumbed down” version for the masses — the most impressive component of this dish is the perfectly executed pork belly. It is crispy on the outside, and so flawlessly rendered that the fatty bits just melt in your mouth.
I am having a hard time choosing between a few dishes, but after consulting our server and my dining companion, we opt for Truffle Risotto ($17) a beautiful presentation of al dente risotto dotted with tomato confit and caramelized corn puree. The summer truffle shavings are oozing that distinctive heady aroma, while the parsley oil adds a refreshing finish. I did find it just a tad under-seasoned which would have benefited from a little sprinkling of finishing salt!
I am not wanting dessert, but the lure of house-made Ice Cream ($3) is too enticing to resist. The coconut coffee ice cream is the perfect ending to a splendid meal. Bits of waffle cone crumble add a delectable contrasting component.
It is always joyous moment when I come across a spot where everything exceeds your expectation. It is therefore not surprising when I manage to chat with Chef Steven Lona for a few minutes, to find out that he helped open Marche Moderne and has spent some time at Charlie Palmer’s during its early stages. The small, but impressive menu will undoubtedly see the Tasting Room Del Mar catapult into the limelight of San Diego dining this year!
Tasting Room Del Mar
1435 Camino Del Mar
Del Mar, CA 92014