There is hardly any part of daily life which hasn’t been deeply affected and changed by the internet over the last two decades. Starting from how we purchase nearly every kind of goods, how we keep up to date with news, how we gather information or how we communicate with each other. It is amusing and also sad at the same time to see how many people you see today in restaurants who instead of talking to each other are more occupied to stare on their smart phones and communicate through social networks with each other and the world. Suddenly everybody, even people you have never met in your life before, are “friends” and the importance of anything is measured in how much everybody “likes”. All those social networks from the established to the new ones have/had very little appeal for us as they seem to be more advertisement platforms or trying to extract every detail of your life even without any permission but there is one exception – Twitter. While Twitter is far from something we would truly call communication with its 140 character limitations and often pointless “discussions” it has one major attraction for us as foodies – the possibility of “direct” interaction with chefs. There are many ways to contact a restaurant through their web page or Facebook page but these possibilities normally only give you access to the FOH. Any time you wanted to discuss dishes or menus with any chef there was hardly any other way than going straight into the kitchen during a dinner. Twitter changed this as many chefs started to use it personally to keep in touch with colleagues and customers and it opened up many new possibilities to interact with them.
When we recently had unexpectedly some reasons for a celebration we considered a few possible restaurants as good places for an extensive dinner or preferably a multi-course tasting menu. But when we went over our lists we remembered that one of our best dinners we had last year was an outstanding tasting menu at Kitchen 1540 under Chef Paul McCabe. Chef McCabe started to have an impact on the culinary scene in San Diego about ten years ago when he worked as Executive Chef first at Top of the Cove and then Star of the Sea. But he really made a name for himself far beyond San Diego once he started heading the kitchen at Kitchen 1540 and made it to one of the premier dining spots in San Diego. And so it took many by surprise when he suddenly announced end of last year that he would leave Kitchen 1540 for Delicias in Ranch Santa Fe. Delicias was one of these restaurants which exist for many years, 19 in the case of Delicias, but never made a real lasting impact on the dining scene in San Diego. Our single visit some time ago showed good but unremarkable food especially for the relative high prices. Once more details about the move from Chef McCabe surfaced it become more apparent that it was quite lucrative as not only he took over the kitchen but also became partner to owner Owen Perry, at the same time as Alex Campbell, formerly of Bertrand’s at Mr.A, with not only plans to revamp Delicias but also opening additional restaurants over the next years. Through his Twitter account he posted regularly photos of his new dishes and it became obvious that even though Delicias might not have the same customer base as Kitchen 1540 the cooking style of McCabe didn’t change much. Once the renovation of the restaurant and the revamp of the menu were completed recently we felt that now was a good time to try out Delicias. And after just a few tweets with Chef McCabe within several minutes we were able to set up a tasting menu at Delicias on a short notice.
1st Course: Shrimps - White shrimp blanket, spot prawn sashimi, ceviche, eggs and tempura
This course was presented as a variation on shrimp ceviche which didn’t do the dish enough justice. In this complex dish we had a number of different shrimp preparations yielding a broad range of textures and flavors - starting from the soft and mild white shrimp blanket to the sweet and tender spot prawn sashimi to the citrusy ceviche with tempura adding some texture. Ceviches can often dominate a dish with their citrus-based sauce but in this dish it was well balanced with some spicy- and saltiness rounding out the flavor profile. A very good start to the tasting menu as the dish helped to awaken the taste buds.
2nd Course: Salad - Compressed vegetables and fruits
The trend of having one dish to showcase the abundance of great produce in San Diego also continued with this tasting menu but at the same time it was fascinating to see how different the presentations are between the different chefs or even for Chef McCabe himself compared to his “produce” course during our tasting menu at Kitchen 1540. Whereas at Kitchen 1540 we had a very complex presentation with different dressings and powders here we had the mere opposite – simplicity. Using modern techniques to vacuum seal fruits and vegetables with looser cell structures and high water content helps to intensify the flavors yielding in dishes of stronger tastes of fruits and vegetables like watermelon and cucumber in this course. A great example that modern technique and pure and unadulterated flavors don’t have to be a contradiction.
3rd Course: Corn Agnolotti, poached Maine lobster, chanterelle mushrooms, summer truffles
One would expect that a dish which contains lobster, chanterelle mushrooms and summer truffles would center around these special ingredients but even though they were integral for the dish they took a backseat to the most mundane one – corn. Wonderful sweet but not overly saccharine it elevated the agnolotti to light pillows of pasta but also formed the fitting foundation for all other ingredients.
4rd Course: Local White Bass, warm summer bean salad, house pancetta, pistou vinaigrette
The White Bass was cooked nicely and very tender and flakey. The bean salad had numerous different types of beans and was a good choice for the mildly flavored fish. But what really brought this dish together was the pistou as it paired well with bean salad as well as the fish and was the overarching theme of the course.
5th Course: Pot Pie - Beef tongue, foie gras, vegetables, puff pastry
When we originally set up this tasting menu we agreed on an 8-course menu with Chef McCabe but at the beginning of the night he explained to us that there would be an additional course. For this course McCabe came out of the kitchen to present this dish as the additional free course – a variation on pot pie which included foie gras. Obviously with the current ban on foie gras in California having the rare opportunity to eat this delicacy alone was very exciting but what made the course really stand out was how it was integrated into the dish. The easy way to serve foie gras would have been in a classical presentation au torchon or seared but this pot pie dish was a prime example where the sum is greater than its parts. Using the often underutilized beef tongue as meat for the pie was refreshing as it infused a strong, yet unique, beefy flavor but the foie gras in the sauce elevated the dish to a completely different level. Every bite of the dish included the taste of foie gras but it was balanced enough not to dominate everything but yet the dish wouldn’t have worked without it – simply a brilliant dish and not only a highlight of this tasting menu but one of the best dishes we had in a long time. And it doesn’t happen very often that we talk so much about a dish even days after the tasting menu when we were hoping to have it one more time for dinner at home.
6th Course: Colorado lamb rack, faro, harissa yogurt, compressed onion, cucumber, olive
It is always hard to talk about the philosophy of a chef as they often draw their inspiration from many different sources but perhaps this dish is a good example of what we feel is part of Chef McCabe’s philosophy. On one side a rather classical interpretation of a rack of lamb but at the same time supporting the earthy flavors with an ancient, and rarely seen on menus, grain like faro. On the other side using modern techniques to create ingredients and flavors like the compressed onion and cucumber which present an unexpected twist leading to interesting contrasts, might it be, as in this case, by temperature, texture or flavor.
7th Course: Cheese – Coach Farm Triple Cream Goat, Roaring Forties Blue, condiments
The cheese course presented two different extremes – a triple cream goat which was very mild but rich and had some light tangy flavors. Whereas the Roaring Forties Blue had a much more pronounced, bolder flavor with nutty undertones.
8th Course: Yuzu curd, miso graham cracker, meringue
Yuzu with its distinct taste somewhere between grapefruit and mandarin with some floral notes is a good palate cleanser between the savory courses and the dessert. The miso graham crackers not only added some texture but also interesting umami flavor which reinforced the transition from savory to sweet courses.
9th Course: Chocolate tart, crunchy praline, toasted marshmallow, chocolate sorbet, maldon
The tasting menu finished in a classical way with a chocolate based dessert. The chocolate tart had some interesting textural variety by the crunchy praline and toasted marshmallow. Adding some salt flakes helped open up the flavor of the tart. Using chocolate sorbet instead of the ubiquitous chocolate gelato ensured a certain lightness of the course. Perhaps not the most creative and unusual way to end the night but still a satisfying end to a great tasting menu.
The outstanding experience we had with the tasting menu at Kitchen 1540 under Chef McCabe and his Twitter pictures of some of his dishes since he started working at Delicias set our expectations quite high. At the same time our first dinner at Delicias more than a year ago was unremarkable and the expected clientele at a restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe might imply that a chef has to hold back his creativity to be successful. In the end our concerns appeared to be unfounded and our experiences with a tasting menu at Delicias were on a very similar level as at Kitchen 1540. The creativity and execution of the dishes clearly showed the style we expected from Chef McCabe and it was interesting to see that some of the courses of the tasting menu were variation of dishes from the regular menu, like the lamb or agnolotti. And even though most of the off-menu courses showed a greater level of creativity the flow between off and on menu dishes throughout the tasting menu was uninterrupted and indicated the impact McCabe had on the quality of the regular menu.
As much as bad service can ruin a dinner with great food, good service as we experienced at Delicias can elevate an already great night. And it is often the small details like well paced courses, enough time to enjoy some cocktails without being “forced” to start the tasting menu and attentive but unintrusive service which you see surprisingly seldom even at higher end restaurants that set the tone for great service. If there was perhaps one minor quibble than even though the current dining room feels less stuffy than on our last visit it was surprising to see that they used booths with very high backrests close to the kitchen to separate the dining room from the kitchen instead of creating a dining room with an open kitchen which would bring a much better dynamic and liveliness to the restaurant.
It will be interesting to see how Chef McCabe will position Delicias as a restaurant in the near future. He has to find a balance to keep the regular menu interesting but not too unusual to attract his regular customers in Rancho Santa Fe but at the same time also create creative dishes to expand the influence of Delicias beyond being just a neighborhood restaurant. Perhaps he might take a similar approach as Chef Foshee at Georges in La Jolla who has an interesting regular menu to satisfy his regular customers but also more recently started TBL3, a special tasting menu, which gained a lot of attention for his restaurant far beyond San Diego. Using a tasting menu like we experienced with Chef McCabe will be the right step to make Delicias such a destination restaurant.
6106 Paseo Delicias
Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067