Title: San Diego Restaurant Reviews
Author: Captain Jack
From: Pacific Beach
Blogging since: May 2006
Post Date: January 11, 2007
Post Title: 1500 Ocean
Restaurant week is upon us in San Diego, and with it arrive opportunities and problems. This week is meant to allow San Diegans to get a taste of participating restaurants, with the reasonable investment of $30 or $40 (depending on the venue) for a three-course meal. It sounds good on the surface, right? Below the surface, however, lurk hidden pitfalls. First, you should plan early. I found Thee Bungalow booked through the week when I called on Monday (they stuck to the $30 price point, which proved popular). During a normal week, you could show up on a Tuesday evening and be seated without a reservation. Second, you may find certain high-end restaurants serving downgraded fare that is not on their regular menu. A glaring example would be the folks at A.R Valentien, who were exposed earlier this week by our own intrepid Alice Q Foodie ( http://aliceqfoodie.blogspot.com/2007/01/
restaurant-week-at-ar-valentien.html). Third, since the restaurants are slammed with large crowds, you may not be seated right away, even with a reservation. On Tuesday night at the Marine Room, I was not seated until 35 minutes past my 9 p.m. reservation.
With all that said, 1500 Ocean proved to be a shining example of what restaurant week is meant to be.
I arrived a few minutes early and was seated immediately at an excellent table. There are several different styles of chairs used in the dining room. If you have a choice, I recommend the high-backed, aqua-blue leather chairs. Mine was one of the most comfortable dining chairs I have ever sat in. My friendly and efficient server, Chris, greeted me as soon as I was seated. Bus service brought me a generous basket of mini baguettes and cheese breads, both of which proved to be excellent. Although I was dining alone, I polished off the bread basket by the end of my meal.
For my first course, I selected the Bubalus Bubalis Ricotta Gnudi with grilled Swiss chard stems, Meyer lemon, and Figueroa Farms EVOO. I have had the fresh buffalo mozzarella from the California-based Bubalus Bubalis before and loved it, but I had never tried their ricotta. Clearly, I had been missing out. The ricotta was fresh and delicious as a filling inside these thin-skinned dumplings. The Meyer-lemon-and-olive-oil sauce was so tasty that I used my bread to clean the plate for every last drop. The gnudi alone warrant a visit to 1500 Ocean. Chef Jason Shaeffer outdid himself with this dish.
I ordered the Seared Foie Gras with a Port Wine Reduction ($22.95) from the regular menu. Having enjoyed foie gras from New York to Hong Kong to Paris, I can say it does not get much better than this. Foie gras is about product quality, which this version had, and about not over-cooking it, which Shaeffer did not. The ground pistachios and port wine reduction added a pleasant dimension to this offering. Now, let's talk about portion size. I admit that I conspired with Chris, my server, to obtain the best possible results from the kitchen on this one. Chris came through big time. Chefs love food, and letting them know you are passionate about a certain menu item, from my perspective, has no downside. I took good care of Chris at gratuity time, as you should when a server goes above and beyond for you.
The foie gras was followed by my entrée selection of Crispy Duck Confit. This was an easy selection for me. I just love the concept of duck being preserved in its own wonderful fat. Duck Confit is also an effective litmus test for a chef's classic cooking skills. Chef Shaeffer did not disappoint. I enjoyed the way the flavor of the caramelized endive contrasted with the richness of the duck. I enjoyed the pureed celery root with the pomegranate duck as well. Overall, this was a well-executed rendition of Duck Confit.
Finally, it was time for Warm Chocolate Chipotle Cake with Banana and Caramel Ice Cream. The cake was moist and had a solid chocolate flavor. The hint of smoky chipotle made for an interesting flavor component. My favorite part of this dessert, however, was the caramel ice cream. This dessert did not blow me away, but it was enjoyable.
Reflecting back over my meal, I could not help wondering, when did hotel dining in San Diego get so damn good? I had just enjoyed a first-rate, four-course dinner in the middle of a problematic restaurant week, and I did it for $85 (including tax and a 27 percent tip).
Chef Jason Shaeffer (who, by the way, was sous chef under Thomas Keller for the opening of one of my favorite restaurants, Per Se in NYC) is a valuable asset to the San Diego fine-dining community. 1500 Ocean handled the intricacies of restaurant week with aplomb. Other fine-dining establishments that choose to participate should use them as an example of how to do restaurant week right. (Are you listening, A.R. Valentien?) I tried 1500 Ocean because it was restaurant week, but I will be back because my dining experience was so enjoyable. Isn't that the idea behind restaurant week to begin with?