Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Addison's at the Grand Del Mar - San Diego

Addison’s earns its stars

Author’s Note: Apparently Bubba and I have a curse with the disappearance of pictures from important dinners. The day after we were married, we went to Butter in Manhattan for a five course tasting menu – I left my camera in the park. On our third anniversary at Addison’s, we captured every bite with painstaking accuracy – Bubba’s phone crashed and lost the photos a few days later. So, put on your imagination goggles and picture this:

*Gulp* - talk about high society. The Grand Del Mar couldn’t get any higher than if Cheech and Chong were toking a joint on the front lawn. European architecture sprouted from the hills of Del Mar, about 25 minutes outside of central San Diego, in a secret upper crust community masquerading as a hotel, fully equipped with its own golf course, night club, spa, shops and restaurants. Addison’s stood out amongst it all, enough to earn its ranking as the only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond restaurant in Southern California.

Grand (Del Mar) Entrance
My dusty Toyota pulled up between BMWs and Lexus’ so shiny I could see the pores in my reflection, but the valet acted as if we’d arrived in Cinderella’s carriage as he extended his hand to help me out. By the time Bubba gave him the keys a brunette hostess with slicked back hair and a fitted jacket welcomed us by name and wished us a happy anniversary.

Inside we were greeted by a second similarly-styled, blond hostess that made me question if I was in an elite rendition of a Robert Palmer video. The smell of old money and vintage books flooded my nostrils as we were led past a formal library with a stoked fireplace that was taller than my husband, but dwarfed beneath vaulted ceilings, and out to the veranda overlooking the golf course for complimentary cashews and two Grand Margaritas: fresh kiwi, pineapple and strawberry with Patron Anejo ($22 each x 2 = a left hook to the pocketbook!).

Dinner Theater
A choreographed team of servers worthy of Bob Fosse’s approval appeared within seconds of our seating - working together, yet separately - offering best wishes with complimentary sparkling or still, laying napkins in laps with what appeared to be an oversized pair of tweezers, and finally parting the way for Nicolas, our waiter who reminded me of the critic from Disney’s Ratatouille (serious in demeanor, but warmed through by the thrill of the meal). He extended a silver platter bearing a card from Executive Chef, William Bradley, and the kitchen staff, who again, wished us a happy anniversary.

Musical chairs would have been a challenge here since tables were set for the exact number of diners in each party. The glass-walled, wine vault’s sliding, wooden ladder drew the eye, but I was hypnotized by curtains of wavy air emitted from yet another grand, stone fireplace that reminded me of some secret portal from a C.S. Lewis novel. And this land was as foreign to us as Narnia, but we tried to keep up with the customs as Nicolas began listing the choice of menus:

1) Le Menu Gourmand ($225): 10-course menu
2) Seven-course Carte Blanche menu ($165): blind tasting as chef decides each course
3) Four course tasting (our choice - $98): selection of three savory courses and one sweet from menu*

*We asked if they offered wine pairings with the meal, but never asked the price - it ended up costing as much as the food! But their expert pours were specifically chosen to match our individual selection of each course, so the personalized service justified the high price tag.


Amuse bouche: Grapes three ways in a champagne broth
We giggled as Bubba exclaimed in a falsetto voice, “My palate is dancing,” but we both knew he wasn’t exaggerating. These three varieties of grapes must have been named Pop, Lock and Drop it because my tongue was doing the electric boogaloo.

First Bread Course: Gruyere bread popover with sherry
I was immediately reminded of that gum with a gushing, liquid center because as soon as I bit down on my popover, a burst of sherry squirted from within. Besides the novelty of it all, its flavors mimicked a pocket-sized French onion soup (minus the onion) – genius.

Second Bread Course: Meyer lemon and sea salt twist
This twist’s measurements were similar to a breadstick, but the texture was like a savory funnel cake with its crisp edges and feathery, pillow-like center encased in a thin coating of citrus and dotted with jagged grains of sea salt.

First course:
Kona Kampachi – uni, red radish and cucumber
What the f*** was a soft spoon? The cutlery alone was a learning experience, and a useful one since this pounded out piece of flattened metal made it easy to herd the finely chopped fish around the plate. The precise knife cuts and richness gave the indulgent taste of a tartar, but instead of an egg yolk, a luxurious spoonful of uni was perched like a crown on top.

The kampachi’s buttery nature was cut by radish and cucumber, served in a separate bowl of colored glass that looked like it had been time-warped in from the 50’s, and brought an earthy, cleansing crunch that reset the palate for every bite.

Kawarau Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Central Otago, New Zealand 2010;
Kiralyudvar, Furmint Sec, Tikaji-Hegyalija, Hungary 2009**

** This was the only course where Bubba and I overlapped, but even though we had the same dish, they still paired us with two different wines so we could see the range in flavor – grassy (New Zealand ‘10) vs. floral (Hungary 09’).

Second Course:
Alaskan King Crab – asian pears, melon and avocado ($20 supplement)
I found it intriguing how again this dish was comprised of multiple vessels. Bubba was first presented with a bowl of balls - pears, melon, avocados - rounded into perfect circles of produce, while three naked crab legs were spaced neatly in their own ceramic square like a well-laid garden of gams. And apparently someone had left the hose on all night because the entire dish was flooded with melted butter.

Bodega Bueyes, Torrontes, La Rioja, Argentina 2010

St. Pierre “au beurre sel” – pistou and green garlic a la grecque
Thoughts of the lovable Dory from Finding Nemo swam through my head as I learned that St. Pierre was also known as the John Dory fish. But my mind was put at ease when I found out it was a different breed all together. Though, as I made my way through St. Pierre’s white, flaky flesh, I yearned for a bit of that spirited, over-the-top personality from Ellen Degeneres’ character because even bathed in butter, this guy was a bit dry. But there was a light in the shallow pool of pistou that shone like an herbaceous beacon with grassy green brightness and garlic-y overtones, breathing life back into the sinking St. Pierre.

Franz Hirtzberger, Reisling, “Stienterrassen” Federspipl, Wachau, Austria 2008

Third Course:
Kobe Beef Short rib – potato croustillant and cremini gratin ($25 supplement)
I’d never heard of potato croustillant before, but apparently it translates into quarter-sized dollops of mashed potatoes, each topped with a single, homemade potato chip = one sinful stack of starch. The Kobe beef was heavenly enough that Adam would have demanded this rib back from Eve and the peaty mushroom gratin sowed itself seamlessly into this euphoric garden of eating.

Poderi Aldo Conterno, Barolo, Piemont, Italy 2006

Coffee roasted canard – koshihikari rice and candied peanuts
“Pssst,” the young server laid a plate of roasted duck breast before me along with a separate, small bowl of rice, when out of the side of his mouth he whispered, “I don’t want to say anything…but there’s a chunk of duck confit at the bottom of your rice bowl!” I was still digesting the thrill of this news as he exited, and I smiled at the delivery of his “secret information” like a CIA agent, “The duck flies at midnight. The confit is in the rice.

But there was nothing undercover about the expert placement of this notable nugget, well-hidden, but still a visible stand-out. The balanced, yet sweet peanut sauce on the breast could have been easily been too cloying if it wasn’t served with the subtle, sticky rice and crunchy notes of scallion all dressed in a light coat of duck fat from the shreddable confit that lay like a Cracker Jack prize at the bottom of the bowl. Cherry on top? Never again. Duck on bottom every time!

Chateau del Clotte, Bordeaux Blend, Cotes deCastillon, Bordeaux, France 2006

Artisan Cheese course ($25 supplement):
When they wheeled the cheese cart over, I felt like a proud auntie peering into a stroller and admiring the attributes of each bundle of joy. We had four selections - petite Basque, Humboldt Fog, truffle pecorino and a blue - everyone of these cuddly curds stole my heart.

Ridge Zinfandel, “East Bench” Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma California 2009

Fourth Course:
Brownie a la mode – sour cherry marmalade and pistachio
Dense, sweet, nutty – this had all the components needed for a good brownie, but even the tart, cherry marmalade didn’t add anything that made it more memorable than others (I'd rather have another Gruyere popover).

Peanut butter terrine – cocoa nib tuiles and port wine ice cream
Tasty, but I’d made an amateur mistake by ordering peanut for dessert after a peanut laden entrĂ©e - a not so sweet repeat. I got sucked in by the port wine ice cream, which was impeccable.

Since my port was enjoyed in ice cream form, we refused our dessert wine and instead, I sipped a snifter of Frangelico and cappuccino, while Bubba ordered single-malt scotch (paired with a side of chipped ice and a mini-shovel).

Adieu, to you, and you, and you:
As we neared the exit, several of our synchronized servers (including my CIA specialist), the two Robert Palmer hostesses and Nicolas emerged to present one last gift. Along with a piece of individually wrapped shortbread, we were each handed an envelope with our first and last name on it. We opened them to find printed menus listing our personal selections for the evening, including our specific wine pairings with each course. It was the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, the duck on bottom.

Five Star Salute:
I’ve eaten at several upscale restaurants in Manhattan, LA, Paris and Madrid, but nothing has compared to the service we received at Addison’s. It was the like being back in a Jane Eyre novel where there are butlers and ladies-in-waiting and footmen, all who play an intricate role in the evening’s supper running smoothly for the Mr. and Mrs.

Not used to such lavish customs, I felt more like the wayward cousin visiting from the country than the lady of the manor, but the staff’s proficiency and genuine pride in their job not only put us at ease right away, but made me comfortably slide into the idea that everyone deserves a taste of the finer things in life. Like any classy hostess, Addison’s understood the true definition of what it meant to be five-star: Treat everyone like a king, even if they’re a jack-of-all-trades.

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