Friday, December 6, 2013

Amaya at the Grand Del Mar - San Diego, Ca

The Grand Del Mar was saved for grand occasions and my birthday seemed like a good enough reason to indulge at Amaya. We’d already eaten at Addison’s, the second restaurant on the property, and it remained one of my most cherished dining memories to date, which meant Amaya had some impressing to do.

Jalapeno margarita: Jalapeno infused vodka with a few slices of the actual pepper sassed up this classic, as the spice naturally fell in step with the soft burn of tequila and rocky rim of salt.

Margarita with grapefruit juice and elderflower syrup: This played a little softer than the jalapeno version, but still had its own kick. Grapefruit juice grabbed at the throat as elderflower soothed the sour with its delicate, floral syrup.

Shrimp with chili and lime broth: I couldn’t fathom how the chef had cooked these shrimp so perfectly - down to the second. Shrimp’s short window of turning pink, but retaining its succulent, springiness was as elusive as glimpsing the green flash at sunset* – almost impossible. The chili/lime sauce was thick with butter and the squeeze of citrus turned up the chili’s heat, while keeping it tamed enough to spotlight every individual ingredient. Toasted baguette slices were there to sop up any remaining sauce and I assume to keep patrons from licking the bowl.

*Not sure if I only know about the green flash since living in San Diego, but it’s the rarely seen, green flash of light that lasts only a millisecond as the sun hits the horizon during sunset.

Duck proscuitto flatbread with arugula and Manchego cheese
Crispy dough, flat as a quarter, was the platform for paper thin slices of the deep maroon, duck proscuitto, whose salty, earthiness was mirrored like a twin in the Manchego's creamy tang, with arugula playing their peppery sister.

Duo of lamb: Little Bo Peep should have checked here when she went looking for her herd because this was where they were all hiding. Rib-eye of lamb fanned itself out in slices like a demur Southern Belle flaunting its rosy, (true) medium rare center, circled with a cracked crust of sea salt and ground pepper. Lamb chops crisscrossed themselves above with delicate Frenched bones grounded to the plate by their swollen lollipop heads, thick with meat.

Both the chops and rib-eye were seasoned better than most lamb I’ve eaten in my life and there was absolutely no negative critique I could give to this dish…other than I needed more lamb pancetta in the white beans and greens concoction beneath the meat. Yes, you heard me correctly: LAMB PANCETTA!! That’s when this duo turned into my type of threesome. What can I say? I’m a glutton for mutton.

Frozen lemon meringue pie with raspberry coulis: This pie was served with a lemon twist = lemon curd ice cream. If you haven’t been lucky enough to try lemon curd, then hustle down to Trader Joe’s and grab a jar. It’s meant for muffins and breakfast toasts, but not only was it fitting as a filling, but was easily one of the best ideas since someone realized that chocolate could rival jelly when it came to peanut butter. The topping wasn’t a true meringue because instead of whipped egg whites and sugar, the lightly bruleed top was thicker and had a texture like marshmallow (maybe to withstand the freezer?). But surprisingly I loved it, which impressed me all the more since I usually hate marshmallow. Bottom line: Curd is the word.

Pecan pie tart with buttermilk ice cream: Their buttermilk ice cream tasted pretty vanilla and the pecan tart seemed like it could have been bought anywhere. My guess? Dudsville, USA. Not bad, but nothing special.

A to A comparisons: Amaya’s food was perfectly seasoned, executed and presented. But Amaya cost around the same as Addison’s and the two weren’t even in the same ball park when it came to service or experience.

1. We were greeted by name
2. Hostesses and waiters performed a seemingly choreographed production of service while welcoming us
3. Giant tweezers were used to lay our napkins on our laps
4. Individually wrapped pieces of house-made shortbread and a printed version of the tasting and wine choices from our evening’s four-course menu were received as a parting gift.

1. Our waiter went missing for a bit, maybe since there was an event going on outside, but we were left unattended for a good while and were left waiting to order.
2. The sommelier was very attentive, genuine, funny, and seemed to be more present as a server than our actual waiter, but service was still spotty.

Conclusion: Amaya fan? Yes. But for the money, I’m all about Addison's.