800 Seacoast Avenue, Imperial Beach
The Cohn restaurant empire has seen more successes than setbacks in recent memory, and landing the restaurant spot at Imperial Beach’s Pier South Resort fits smartly into the former category. SEA180 — so named for its 180-degree view of the pier, the surf, and the Coronados off the coast of Imperial Beach — opened in December, well before the multi-million-dollar hotel accommodated a single guest. Now, the hotel is open for business and the restaurant has had the chance to work out the kinks beforehand, which seems like a savvy business decision from the local restaurant juggernauts behind SEA180.
In brief, it looks beautiful inside, and the view will not disappoint, particularly as the sun dips below the horizon. The big, open, and fully beachy vibe keeps up with the “coastal tavern” theme. The place does not come off as having pretensions towards fine dining.
The prosodic menu stays on point describing dishes, sparing us most unnecessary adjectives. The listed ingredients for any given dish raise appetites high, but the effect isn’t pure smoke and mirrors. SEA180’s food delivers, for the most part, what it promises.
Stone crab potstickers bulge with ample crab, and the novelty of crispy swiss chard lining the plate. “Burnt orange sauce” could easily be oversweet, but isn’t.
Rather than being a cheesy wasteland, faro 'n’ cheese surrounds kernels of boiled grain in a light, albeit very buttery, sauce for a reserved rethinking of mac 'n’ cheese dishes. It’s not exciting, but that doesn’t make it good.
“Grilled Romaine hearts” misleads some with language. What sounds as if it should be an attractive plating of whole lettuce “finished Cardini style” simply isn’t. It’s a much more typical Ceasar salad, though not a bad one by any stretch. Ample dressing and above-average anchovies elevate the salad to sufficient heights.
“Huevos diablos truffled duck eggs” sounds exotic, but is really just a plate of deviled eggs incorporating the earthy burst of truffles in an attempt to buy loyalty...which completely succeeds despite the puny size of the “duck” eggs. It’s not the eggs (which could just as easily be from chickens) but the frisée salad soaked in truffle oil that gives the dish its charm. Who knew truffles were the secret to making dull, bitter, chokesome frisée look like a champion vegetable?
If SEA180 has a weakness, it’s the overzealous, yet somehow ineffective, service provided by a bevy of waiters trained to obviously corporate standards. People like to harsh on Cohn restaurants, citing claims of perceived imperialism and the stench of corporate restaurant style, but there’s little to hold against the group’s newest offering. Not in terms of cuisine, at least. The price of entry gets steep. Expect to pay $50+ per person for dinner and two drinks, but the sum feels justified when the checks are totaled and the appetites are satisfied.
Imperial Beach finally has a restaurant worth driving for.