Black crowned night heron © Robert Sommers 2023

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Best of Times...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities


Open Tuesday through Saturday, dinner only.
Bar: 5:30 pm – 11:00 pm
Dinner: 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm


"I've had it with pretentious food!" Our host, a lovely and urbane woman, measured and sophisticated, shocked us with her blunt candor.

Last night, Leslie and I attended a birthday dinner at Addison Restaurant, located at the Grand Del Mar Resort.  Our hosts and guests were all very wonderful and intelligent people and we all had looked forward to the night with anticipation.  A limo stocked with some very nice champagne took us on the hour long trip down the coastline. When we got to the restaurant, we were whisked to a fantastic round table in the center of the dining area.

The room itself did it's best to be clubby, but lacked much real warmth or intimate touches.  The ceiling is characterized by beautiful beams and the dining area looks out on a lovely garden. We got our menus and were given an option of either ordering a la carte, a four course prix fixe or a seven course tasting menu.  I wanted to go the four course route but all for one and one for all,  we decided to all go for the seven.

There was a lot of staff at this place.  The table was almost overstaffed. Very expert as well.  The sommelier Jesse Rodriguez, a French Laundry alum, who admitted that he is soon to be taking his master sommelier test, clearly knew his business. We started off with a choice of three champagnes, one which was personally mixed by the sommelier in France. The first was forward, focused, delicious. The second offering was rounder, flatter and settled at the back of the palette.

The meal started with an amuse bouche of a single raspberry with a dollop of creme fraiche sitting in a pool  of a tangy chilled clear melon broth. A veloute with basil creme. Throughout the night, we were treated to the extravaganza of little covers being simultaneously pulled off dishes with much pomp and circumstance. Actually got a little bit tired. I looked at the lone berry and had the scary premonition that I was in for a long night.

We had chosen the wine pairing option and I can't go over each specific wine, but while they were esoteric and quite distinctive, it was heavily weighted to whites, and I am a red guy. Suffice it to say, there wasn't a single wine that I would ever order again. Two port like reds, a pruny, almost dirt flavored barbaresca, a reisling, a burgundy, some fortified wine. The grenache "port" type wine was served very early in the meal and over sweet for its position on the roster. We ended the night, a bit tipsy, bordering on a diabetic shock from all the alcohol and sugar.

The food was challenging and  difficult for me. Food is selected by its seasonal availability but there was no salad course or leafy vegetables with the exception of one small lone leaf o' arugula on a piece of salmon along with an onion chip. It was not a great dish.

We had a very rare fois gras in a corn puree with chanterelles which was okay but lacked toast points.  The puree and chanterelles were heavenly. The bread all night was very ordinary spongy round rolls and not what I would expect from a fine restaurant.

We were then served a double sea scallop dish with foam and a dollop of golden caviar that suspiciously looked like black caviar. Delicious, perfectly cooked, the best dish of the night, by far.

Our next course was a mystery meat. I guess I wasn't listening.  I thought maybe I could tell. I finally asked if it was chicken? Turned out to be a flash cooked "veal something" that was so underdone it scared the hell out of me and a few of my fellow diners. Like biting into a live, wet muscle. Didn't know you could screw up veal but I learn every day. A couple of my compatriots had short ribs which they raved about.

Had a nice cheese course with an extremely tasty pink blue cheese along with a sheep's milk cheese.

I was starting to get punchy round about this time. I had alienated our sommelier earlier by suggesting that he refrain from clinically characterizing a wine as having a "saline smell" and instead say something more poetic like "it shines with the scent of the fresh ocean air". He informed me that he was bobbing and weaving and was plenty poetic. Fine. The other thing that was weird was the flatware. They kept turning the forks upside down, changing all the flatware out for each of the seven or eight courses. Our server said it was termed an aristocratic service or something like that but it was a little odd in my opinion. And I don't think all of that flatware was so necessary.  It wasn't like somebody else was putting my fork in their mouth.

Being at a round table in the middle of the establishment, a loud boisterous table with you know who maybe leading the charge, I am sure that we alienated several of our fellow diners. Speaking entirely of myself, maybe borderline rude and obnoxious. We also openly discussed and graded our food experience in what might be called somewhat wincing terms.  I gave it a 6, a couple of our party were in the 8 range.

The dinner ended with a slightly rancid mint ice cream with bitter chocolate shavings that I personally found inedible. Followed up by an equally inedible "macaroon" with no hint of coconut.  Should be some relevant truth in advertising statute. Or gentiles should be not allowed to have anything to do with making macaroons. Frankly the only adjective it shared with an actual macaroon was round.  Then we were served a peanut butter and chocolate terrine that was very good but we just weren't hurting for sugar at that point.

The chef came out at the end and we talked frankly about the meal, the positives and the negatives.  He said that the delicious short ribs took two days to make.  He promised to make me a salad next time. He was a very cool guy and a bit tired.

Our hosts, who are just the finest people, spent a fortune on this meal.  A couple of the people at the table really loved the food.  I think if I had ordered the tenderloin off the regular menu I would have been happier. Two or three of our party, I must sadly confess, got physically sick after the meal.  I think it was too many disparate flavors and food types, along with the high powered sweet wine.  The most common characterization of the dishes was interesting. That is not a good sign.  I confess to never really enjoying this type of dining, reminded me of the late Cindy Black or Gustav Anders.  Miniscule dishes, beautifully presented, but geared to a much more sophisticated palette than I evidently possess.

I want food to make me happy, not to be an endurance event, not to present me with flavor combinations designed to take a person to the edge of palatability. So once again, I get to play the nasty critic.  Our birthday boy was talking about grabbing a McDonalds burger or a vg's doughnut on the way home, half serious, also not a good sign.

I guess this just shows that I am a food fraud.  Expose me as a member of the proletariat. Throw me a medium rare veal chop and a nice bottle of something red and I am content. Simple. Give me delicious and I am a happy guy. Just shows my lack of breeding.


Anonymous said...

Right on with the Addison review!

The host

Anonymous said...

Last night we had hotdogs over a camping grill and some potato chips with some friends who camped at the Mather Campground.
Our host was a 66 year retired Navy man and his wife.
Not really into hotdogs so I gave it a 2 for edibility, but 9 for the atmosphere. I was once told by a gourmet connoisuer friend that hotdogs taste best on acid, but might give you illusions to kill someone.
Still I'll take it over "Chateau My ---- don't Stink" any day.

Bri Schlemmer said...

I can practically taste the alienation of the sommelier and your fellow diners. But now I have heartburn.

Blue Heron said...

I have been informed by french master chef Melissa Rossi that the fork down thing is very common in classic french and that I have now been truly exposed as a charlatan, whose pretentious ignorance is only eclipsed by the diameter of his girth. I told you that all the food we ate in Paris was shit, Melissa.

Anonymous said...

Remind me to never invite you to dinner!


grumpy said...

thanks for the caveat; it sounds like this establishment goes way beyond being pretentious, into the realm of the absurd; food should be enjoyed, but never taken this seriously; kudos for seeing through the hype.