Lucy D. Barker 6:13 p.m., May 23
Back in May I wrote about Paul McCabe debuting his new bill of fare at Delicias in Rancho Santa Fe (6106 Paseo Delicias). Coming out a full seven months after the chef made the move from L’Auberge Del Mar’s KITCHEN 1540 to take over the kitchen and an ownership stake at his new stomping grounds, this menu was highly anticipated. McCabe is among a small contingent of San Diego chefs who are considered legitimate culinary stars. Foodies know his name, and respect his technique and unique approach to gourmet cuisine.
Very few toques inspire diners to pick up and follow them to a new venue, especially when many are from Del Mar—an area where a notable percentage of residents adhere to routine and frequent eateries in their own berg with great regularity. Yet, a considerable number of McCabe’s regulars from KITCHEN 1540 are motoring down the green, winding route to check out the Ranch’s gussied up, retooled resto stalwart.
Encouraged by tastes of a delicious bison tartare and other hors d’oeuvres served at a coming out party in the spring, I, too, have made hungry pilgrimages to Delicias, in the process amassing pages and pages of notes about a plethora of McCabe’s dishes. The best way to synthesize them into an informational piece is to go dish-by-dish in the progression of a standard meal, beginning with starters.
Australian hamachi—one of the chef’s long-time staples—is served crudo-style with colorful dots of tart peach puree and crème fraîche, and cubes of pickled white peach. Combined, they bring a most interesting peaches-and-crème element that pairs up nicely with the hamachi without eclipsing its own delicate flavor, which should be and is indeed the focus. The best part of the dish are crumbled fried oats sprinkled atop each cut of fish. It brings an almost unbuttered popcorn flavor and a granola-esque crunch, both of which are pleasant, and help to take the dish to a higher level.
Charcuterie—an increasingly ubiquitous offering these days—has finesse. Some of it, like the chorizo and a potted chicken liver mousse, is made in-house, while speck and other meats, like their cheeses, are brought in from reputable producers. The mousse was the star of the plate. It was extremely buttery with low, tasteful levels of iron. So often, chicken livers taste akin to chewing on tinfoil. (You’ve never done that? Well, I wouldn’t recommend it). I’ve enjoyed McCabe’s various takes on mostarda over the years. It’s still a delight, as are boldly acidic pickled veggies that, when stacked with cured pork and a smear of mostarda atop a piece of grilled bread, taste like an artisanal ham sandwich.
The previously mentioned tartare of bison with smoky bacon sabayon was every bit as good as I remembered—a standout dish on an overall impressive menu. A forest green charred ramp (wild onions similar in taste and appearance to scallions) risotto was also memorable, but for different reasons. It, like the crudo, was given nice crunch, this time from fried leeks. On a negative note, despite the fact 85% of the bites I ate tasted like a mouthful of garden goodness, several bites were extremely bitter. Perhaps the char on the ramps? The Russian roulette nature of it marred an otherwise successful dish.
Another Italian dish, organic pea agnolotti with mascarpone, was very creamy. Despite coming across as gracefully refined, it is the most rustic of the items I have sampled. The best part of it, for me, was getting bites that brought together the sugariness of the peas with the nutty brown butter. That produced a salted caramel sensation described as “roll-around-in-it good” by my dining companion.
The common denominator for all of these dishes is the fact that, for the most part, they are in keeping with what diners can find at many local restaurants these days. Charcuterie, crudo, risotto…even agnolotti. These words are on menus all over town. Yet, Delicias’ all feature some sort of extra added something—be it interesting ingredients, less obvious complementary flavors, textural enhancements—effectively putting McCabe’s recognizable stamp on them. Fried oats! Who else is frying oats, much less anointing raw fish with them? It’s that sort of extra layer of thoughtfulness that makes this chef’s food worth such an in-depth look. Tomorrow, I’ll continue mine, hitting on larger plates from the new menu.