People ask me all the time “do you ever get sick of eating?” The answer is “more than you’ll ever know.” Because of the nature of my job, the ritual of eating out is a given, but it also means from time to time, I experience palate fatigue where I find it extremely difficult to be truly moved or excited about a meal.
A few weeks ago, my senses were awakened by an OC Filipino chef whose cuisine has been on the top of my list for years. Last week, my tastebuds were invigorated once again, this time by another Filipino chef, but in San Diego.
Chef Anthony Sinsay currently heads JSix at Solamar Hotel in downtown San Diego. He’s only been here a matter of months and the menu he’s created is beyond solid. I am extremely curious about the Filipino ingredients as well as preparation styles Sinsay has incorporated on the menu.
Our tantalizing journey begins with Roasted Local Squash ($13) comprising Japanese kuri squash, sous vide acorn squash and pickled acorn squash ribbons. There is frisee and chicory adding hints of bitterness to the sweetness of the squashes. Caramelized goat cheese brings savoriness, but it is the banyuls vinaigrette that dances on my tongue. The flavor explosion of sweet, tart, salty is exactly what I (always) want in everything I eat.
Next, Spicy Warm Beet Salad ($11) prepared “paksiw-style” — a Filipino style of braising with vinegar — is mouth-puckering and marries exquisitely with the heat from the serrano chiles. A touch of manchego cheese lends piquancy, while the ubiquitous crispy garlic in southeast Asian completes the flavor and textural profiles of the dish.
Venison Tartare ($16) catches my eye, and rightly so! The tartare is meticulously seasoned with horseradish, grain mustard and mustard flowers. Rye croutons, and barrel-aged Worcestershire sauce add another flavor dimension, but it is cured egg yolk grated into the venison mixture that enhances ever so subtly. Hands down one of the best tartares I’ve ever eaten!
Charred Octopus Confit ($18) is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. Tender octopus tentacles sit atop an umami-packed squid Bolognese, dotted with house-made chorizo – yes, you heard that right, squid Bolognese! Sprigs of baby celery, slivers of crispy garlic, and sourdough croutons all come together to make that perfect bite. Confit with papaya seeds, the octopus is tenderized naturally and retains a viable texture in my mouth. The Bolognese is stupendous, and you’ll want to lick the bowl if it was deemed appropriate behavior.
Stir Fried Vegetable Rice Noodles ($23) pays homage to “pancit bihon” a popular Filipino noodle dish served at every occasion imaginable. Chef Sinsay’s version includes farmers market vegetables such as broccoli, eggplant and squash, fried egg, and a hybrid calamansi fruit – not as tart as the calamansi itself — to squeeze over the plate. Comfort food at its best!
Seared Sea Scallops ($30) is another example of sheer perfection. I am recalling another scallop dish I recently experienced at a well-reputed LA restaurant — pedestrian at best in comparison. I am blown away by this preparation. The scallops are flawless, paired with maitake and chanterelle mushrooms, then finished with miso butter for an added layer of umami. The raw choy sum leaves and flowers are lightly dressed in a Meyer lemon vinaigrette adding brightness to this immaculate dish.
But wait… there’s more! Gone Straw Farms Roasted Chicken ($32) may look straightforward on paper, but once you sink your teeth into the juicy chicken, you may want to rethink that statement. Accompanied by crunchy charred long beans and a bowl of jasmine tea infused rice, this phenomenal dish’s secret ingredient is in the sauce. Chef Sinsay has created his version of mang tomas, a Filipino liver sauce, to accompany the chicken. The traditional mang tomas uses pork liver, but Chef Sinsay substitutes chicken livers to create a far more sophisticated result. Indescribably creative on chef’s part, and incredibly satisfying on my palate.
As full as I am, there is one dessert on the menu which I highly recommend. It is Whole Roasted Japanese Sweet Potato ($9) three chunks of tender sweet potato coated in feuilletine and drizzled with smoked vanilla milk tableside. It is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. I love the crunchy component of the feuilletine with the softness of the sweet potatoes.
The manner in which Sinsay injects his Filipino roots into many of the dishes is the key to this stupendous menu. While some of the ingredients or preparation styles may not be familiar, the dishes remain mainstream enough for the less adventurous diners to embrace. For me, the happiest, most satisfying experiences are those which tickle my senses and where I’m being surprised at every turn.
As we drive away, I’m smiling from ear to ear. Thinking out loud, I utter “if Chef dropped another plate of venison tartare, or chicken in front of me, I would have found some space to eat it,” as I unbutton my pants and lean back into my seat.
When you are in San Diego next, make sure you stop by JSix and experience what a truly innovative meal feels like. I know I will be talking about this dinner for a very long time.
** valet parking is available at the hotel for $10 with validation**
at Hotel Solamar
616 J St
San Diego, CA 92101