When eating in a restaurant it is often possible to experience some of the best meals in small, unknown restaurants with chefs who still fly under the radar. And one might argue that hunting for those hidden gems is a major drive for many foodies, including us, as it can be very satisfying. On the other site, many well respected chefs and restaurants often deserve their high reputation, even though there are sometimes exceptions when restaurants are just living of former fame. These well established restaurants are cornerstones for the culinary landscape of each city by setting new culinary trends and also providing places to train new chefs.
Our first Chef Celebration dinner of 2010 at Pamplemousse Grille was overall a good start for this year’s dinner series, but just based on the reputation of the participating chefs we were really looking forward to the Chef Celebration dinner at Nine-Ten which included some of the most well known chefs of San Diego – Trey Foshee (George’s Modern), Brian Sinnott (1500 Ocean), Jason Knibb (Nine-Ten), Jeff Jackson (A.R. Valentien), Tim Kolanko (A.R. Valentien) and Jack Fisher (Nine-Ten). We were curious to see if these chefs were able to match our high expectations to come up with an interesting tasting menu.
Nine-Ten is situated in the historic Grand Colonial Hotel in the heart of La Jolla. It occupies the right part of the ground floor.
The restaurant consists of one long rather winding room with a bar in the center.
Amuse Bouche: Crab Salad with orange gelee
Fresh and good tasting crab but the gelee didn’t add much flavor to the amuse bouche.
1st Course: Chilled spring pea soup, marinated clams, smoked ham, almond milk sorbet (Trey Foshee). Normally we are skeptical about chilled soups and are often disappointed but this combination sounded to interesting to miss. Very intense but fresh pea flavor which was together with some asparagus a nice reminder of spring. The accompanying clams and ham gave the soup a nice smoky flavor but also a textural counterpoint. The excellent almond milk sorbet which had a very distinct but light almond taste was the perfect last missing component of the dish. An outstanding dish which would convert anybody to become a chilled soup lover.
2nd Course: Halibut cheek, black spaghetti carbonara, fava leaves, kumquat, squid (Brian Sinnott)
Another highlight of the dinner. Halibut cheeks seem to become one of the current trendy ingredients with a very tender, buttery taste and texture which is somewhere between fish and crab meat. They were unusually paired with black spaghetti carbonara which had a slightly more earthy flavor than conventional paste due to the cuttlefish ink. The squid pieces were the culinary bond between those two main parts of the dish with the kumquats adding some slight bitterness.
3rd Course: Duck breast, spring onions, rhubarb, faro, five spice reduction (Jason Knibb)
Duck breast might appear on every menu and people might get tired of it but what elevated this dish was the use of more unusual ingredients one does not see often enough on menus – rhubarb and faro. Rhubarb which is normally just present as rhubarb jam in dishes was used here as large, very tender pieces of this vegetable to add some bitterness to cut through the fat of the duck breast. Faro, which is one of the many underappreciated grains, added some interesting nuttiness.
4th Course: Bittersweet chocolate cream, devil’s food cake, chocolate sorbet, crunchy meringue (Jack Fisher). What on paper might look like one of these chocolate overkills you sometimes see at the end of tasting menus turned out to be a very light and refreshing take on different chocolate flavors.
Mignardises: Dark chocolate truffle, macaron
We came to this iteration of the Chef Celebration dinner series with rather high expectations but we weren’t disappointed. We were somewhat surprised that in contrast to other Chef Celebration dinners in the past Nine-Ten did not offer a wine pairing. It was interesting to see how these remarkable chefs were able to create a very interesting tasting menu together. Especially the first two courses were outstanding dishes which combined many different flavors in a very clever way. There seems to be a good reason why these chefs have such a high, justified reputation.
910 Prospect StreetLa Jolla, CA 92037-4144