There’s a lot of talk about “foodies” these days. This relatively new entry to the urban dictionary has become one of American society’s most overused words, albeit with good reason. Finally we have a politically correct term that accounts for our unapologetic indulge in our greatest food comma fantasies, extra reason to go Paula-Dean-heavy or Mary-Kate-Olsen-light on the butter, and an excuse to take meticulous note of the ingredients and preparation of food (without being classified as clinically food obsessed). It’s no longer shameful to travel distances far and wide with the sole purpose of a personal feeding frenzy; in fact, it’s now trendy and almost mainstream.
That said, in my global travels and 365-days-a-year restaurant lifestyle, I’ve found only a handful of cities anchored by such great eats to warrant a foodie pilgrimage – none more so than the San Diego area. It seems that central and northern California’s farm-to-table revolution has trickled down to the state’s southern reaches, gaining some extra personality, audacity, and robustness on the way. Think: blow-your-mind experiential gastronomy with drink lists to match.
Below are three restaurants that should headline your foodie bucket list and will send you packing your loosest jeans for a west coast eating and drinking bonanza.
Flavor (flavordelmar.com, 858.755.3663, Del Mar). Doling out breathtaking views of the SoCal coastline through its panoramic glass windows, this uber-creative restaurant plays up the yin and yang elements of gastronomy, with acclaimed Chef Brian Redzikowski engineering some wildly new taste sensations. The meal begins with house bread and butter accompanied by a quarta of rotating salts (e.g. black garlic, honey jalapeno, sage, and basil). Next up, “raw,” and “warm” starters like the “Tartare of Hawaiian Ahi” with yuzu aioli, black garlic, and chili oil and “braised local baby beets” over a citrus-beet puree, Maytag blue cheese and toasted macadamia nuts. For the main course – divine interventions of “surf,” “turf,” and veg, such as the “local halibut en sous vide” over rock shrimp and Meyer lemon risotto, pancetta, pea tendril salad, and saffron hollandaise.” Flavor’s idyllic upper story location means a front row ticket for the best sunset in town, and naturally a few sunset libations not to miss, like “Salt & Pepper,” grey goose, yellow bell pepper, lime, agave, sprinkled salt and pepper garnish and “Tangerine Jalapeno,” tequila, Cointreau, tangerine, lemon, lime, house made jalapeno puree, and a chili- lime salt rim. Bursting with “Flavor,” this is American’s raging “foodie and cocktail revolution” at its best.
Grant Grill (grantgrill.com, 619.744.2077, Downtown San Diego). Grant Grill proves that you don’t need to be a newbie to be a foodie favorite. For six decades, the renowned restaurant of THE US GRANT HOTEL has consistently reinvented its menu with each approaching season, letting the creative juices simmer through the season’s top produce and ingredients. The 3, 4, or 5 course monthly tasting menu (with or without wine pairings) offers varying degrees of indulgence, and a divergence from other seasonally returning favorites like the “Dungeness Crab Risotto,” the “Grant Grill Mock Turtle Soup” and the “Frontiere All Natural Buffalo Loin” with Butterball potatoes, Maui onion rings, King trumpet mushrooms, and Marrow gremolata. Despite an evolving menu, the restaurant stays delightfully true to its circa 1951 roots, with the dark and elegant feel of a gentleman’s club that transforms into an old school speakeasy on weekends. It should come as no surprise then that the Grant Grill serves as a drinking institution in San Diego. Manager-Sommelier Jeff Josenhans is regionally famous for his wine and cocktail menu. Josenhans says the trick to a fabulous cocktail is “ingenuity and balance,” followed by a process of “sketching and experimenting.” Josenhans reveals that a major synergy of forces merits the Grill’s house of libations reputation; but house made syrups, reductions, and daring ingredients don’t hurt. This holiday season, Josenhans brings back the “Smashing Pumpkin” from the Grill’s Food Network fame – pumpkin infused rum, all spice liqueur, Ginger liqueur, Meyer lemon, Grand Marnier, and cardamom bitters. Now, I’ll toast to that!
Searsucker (searsucker.com, 619.233.7327, Downtown San Diego). It’s a magical equation of originality + calories at Searsucker – the colossal, vibrant, and trendy eatery that’s still commanding a hefty wait nearly a year after opening. The menu breaks things down simply into categories of: “bites,” “smalls,” “greens,” “ocean,” “ranch,” “farm,” and “milk + sugar,” further revealing pithy descriptions of the dishes themselves, like “farm bird lollipops + snake oil + blue fondue” and “crab cake ‘carb free’.” Yet these short descriptions are loaded like a one pound baked potato! The “crab cake ‘carb free’” is indeed rich in protein, but it’s also coated in lemon aioli, tomato jam, and cilantro reduction. It’s more than a nice surprise; it’s heaven on a plate! Similarly, the “butternut” arrives as rich, squash lasagna; and the “mahi mahi” as a beautiful presentation of fresh fish over a bed of fried onions and chipotle, topped with balsamic reduction and blue cheese. No matter what you order, Searsucker is an all out love affair with food and all things caloric!