5200 Grand Del Mar Way, Del Mar
Purity is the focus of all things pure. This is our belief and expression which I apply to the style of our cuisine and ambience. With this, we give you our new venture in the world of gastronomic pleasures.
-- Chef William Bradley, on Addison's menu
We felt as if we were living the pre-credit scene of The Shining. My partner and I, in our shabby little car, drove higher and higher through wooded hills on a winding mountain road, seeking Addison restaurant before nightfall. But the approach road to Kubrick's "Overlook" didn't include several sets of speed bumps.
Situated at the Grand Del Mar, Addison is named for an early--20th-Century California architect, Addison Mizner. The restaurant, with its lobby and bar, stands alone a mile or so uphill from the hotel at Doug Manchester's new luxury resort. Its architecture is Mediterranean, while the interior decor harks back to Victorian splendor. Above the bar hangs a dark-red fringed swag. The floors are a mix of marble and polished "distressed" hardwood. There are ornate fireplaces everywhere, including one in an outdoor nook, where you can wait for your friends, your chariot, or your prince to come. The vast dining room has well-spaced tables to seat 90, with white linen cloths and captain's chairs. A large staff of uniformed employees, as highly choreographed as the Rockettes, exercises a rather rigid style of formal service.
For example, you must wait in the bar until your entire party has arrived -- no trickle-ins allowed. (For another instance, golf club members have a separate entrance, so they don't have to mingle in the lobby with the hoi polloi.) A hostess escorted us to the bar, where posse regular Cheryl was already waiting with a glass of Syrah. Cheryl told us that the Grand Del Mar is under consideration as a venue for the 2008 U.S. Open -- not for the golf course (Torrey Pines has already won that bid), but for its facilities. (She's on one of the subcommittees making similar decisions for the corporation where she works.) Meanwhile, we pored over a wine list the size of the Gutenberg Bible. A novella's worth of pages is devoted to half-bottles alone (including a split of three-year-old Mouton for $2660 that should optimally stay cellared for another five or six years; for comparison, a few years ago the Wine Bank downtown was asking $100 for fully mature half-bottles of Mouton '82). If you want to bring your own, corkage is $25, and they frown on your schlepping any bottle that duplicates one they might offer. Since the list is so comprehensive, you'd be safest with Mad Dog 20-20. I don't think they carry that.
Once Sam arrived, we were shown to our table. The menu offers six appetizers and six entrées, plus a prix-fixe tasting dinner. Although the publicity materials claim that dishes are seasonal, the current menu is similar to the September opening menu shown on the website, with small changes in garnishes. All menu titles consist of the main ingredient, three words maximum, with garnishes listed on the next line. As we looked things over, a server poured Evian water at no extra charge.
Once we'd ordered, the evening's "amuse" arrived. Two or three tart purple gooseberries and a few dice of puckery quince bobbed in a lake of sour yogurt with olive oil floating around the edges. Some chefs have a sweet tooth. As we were to learn, Bradley must have a sour tooth. Sam tasted the dish, grimaced, and shook his head like a wet dog. Cheryl tasted it, and her face froze in the shocked embarrassment of somebody witnessing a fatal faux pas. My partner said, "Yuck." Was the chef trying to electrify our senses -- or electrocute them? We were not amused, but I kept spooning into the stuff in vain hope of discovering a point to it all, something to like.
A server brought butter and soft little rolls (one per person), each pierced by a thin cracker. We nibbled and chatted for quite a while as we awaited appetizers. Then seven servers simultaneously brought fresh silverware, removed the charger plates, and in the same heartbeat plunked down our appetizers, here termed "pre-courses." Our favorite, if you can call it that, was titled "Prawns." Two moderately large, fresh shrimp were plated over a sauce of garlic confit the color and texture of peanut butter diluted in cream, with a tiny daub of lemon-lime jam at one edge of the plate and one large pitted date (described on the menu as "dates" -- plural) on the opposite edge. Each flavor was intense, but what did these foodstuffs have to do with each other? Perhaps this was an attempt to tickle many taste receptors at once, the way Thai food does. It missed the mark: where Thai cooks brilliantly bring multiple tastes together in flashy harmonies, this was culinary chaos. The prawns and the garlic sauce ignored each other, even in the same mouthful, while the jam and the date snubbed them both.
When describing our assorted "pre-courses," the waiter proclaimed that the Taylor Bay scallops came from Maryland (when in fact they're farmed off Nantucket, Mass.) and were "free range." "What's the difference between free-range and regular scallops?" Sam asked once the waiter had gone. "All scallops are free range," my partner offered. "They're not stuck on a rock like mussels; they're jet-propelled and move around to look for food." These were mild-mannered bay scallops, some with sand in them, afloat in a pale pond the menu dubbed Beurre d'Isigny. That's a premium French brand of butter, but the liquid in this concoction tasted more like thin cream sauce, bedecked with a few pleasantly bitter blanched celery-heart leaves to bestow flavor (if not color) to the unrelieved sea of white on white. (Could this be what the chef meant by "purity" in his menu preface quoted above?)
Steak tartare sounded as though it might resemble the classic version, since the menu said it came with a "cocotte of farm eggs" as well as an untraditional "Gouda fondue." To our dismay, the insipid raw beef had none of the typical strong seasonings (parsley, capers, etc.). In fact, it tasted barely seasoned. Alongside was a single, delicious soft egg (the best part of the dish) and hard pieces of aged dry cheese. I'm usually pleased when a chef salts food sparingly, as is the case here. However, there's no salt (or pepper) on the table, should you care to adjust things to your taste. "I season in layers," the chef later told me, and he's not enthusiastic about diners re-seasoning his dishes after he's worked so hard to "emphasize pure flavors." If you do request salt, the server will bring Fleur de Sel -- the perfect condiment to lend more life to some preparations.