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Some Enchanted Evening

Summer's here and the time is right -- to try to find restaurants with beautiful views that serve equally appealing food. The cliché is as true for San Diego as for other touristed cities: Most restaurants offering ocean scenery will coast on their looks, serving mediocre slop because they can get away with it. That's not the case with Azzura Point, a restaurant that, at its best, is sheer romantic magic, serving the food of love.

Azzura Point is in the midst of remaking itself to emphasize a blithe resort atmosphere, dispensing with the hints of formality in the current decor. Since San Diego is one of the few spots in the world to boast a Mediterranean climate, the restaurant will eventually be renamed Mistral for the southward-blowing trade wind that puffs the sails on that sea. In September, after the summer rush, the comfortable banquettes will be reupholstered in beachy shades of pale azure, cream, and tan (in place of ritzy cream and gold), and the silly, heavy brass fixtures will be righteously removed -- but they'll be keeping the views, the quiet, the space between tables. They promise they'll even keep the oval "lumbar cushions" that you can arrange behind your back at the banquettes. (These give short people a reason to live, allowing us to sit back and relax, without spilling food in our laps while en route to our mouths.)

The room is bordered by a window with a panoramic view of the bay, and all the tables are arranged to eye it head-on or sideways. At my first visit, my table's view was enhanced by a distractingly handsome young waiter, Ian. Not only was his service top-notch (warm, considerate, unintrusive), but I had to remind myself that he was actually human, not Benvenuto Cellini's little golden sculpture of Perseus come to life.

The summer menu suits the restaurant's future name, full of the light and approachable cuisine of southern Europe. The dishes seem simple. They're not, exactly. Hawaiian-born chef Martin Batis approaches the unadorned but full-flavored cuisines of Provence, Liguria, and Tuscany artfully, remaking and improving standard dishes with touches of islander whimsy that intensify the natural flavors. Much of his produce comes from the Coronado Farmers' Market -- fresh and mostly organic, or sustainably raised.

The airy appetizers awaken appetites, not sate them. At that first dinner with my brand-new friend Chaz, we began with a carpaccio of hamachi (yellowtail), a thin-sliced, satiny sashimi of jackfish with slim radish rounds, crispy leek lengths, and young greens in a soy vinaigrette enriched with unseen but flavorful white truffle. It was light, but it was deep.

A stuffed artichoke was a vast improvement over the often-dry Sicilian-American classic, accomplished by dumping the dross and going for the flavor. Instead of pushing a bready stuffing between the leaves, the chef started with a platform of a leafless heart, then topped it with a pouf combining more artichoke heart, cut in fine dice, mixed with San Daniele prosciutto, Parmesan, just enough bread crumbs to bind everything together, and a lively citric gremolata topping. It's all heart. On the side were a few sweet, garlic-seared Hawaiian shrimp -- just for fun.

I returned a week later with posse stalwarts Samurai Jim, the Lynnester, and Michelle to sample more of the menu. This time, the standard prosciutto e melone of every half-serious Italian restaurant was elevated to a cheerful new composition called Prosciutto and Pearls. A mandala of thin-sliced San Daniele prosciutto (the palest and silkiest of its ilk) was strewn with tiny balls of sweet, ripe cantaloupe and honeydew. In the center was a rectangular mandala's "eye" of crème fraîche panna cotta (more substantial than dessert panna cottas) topped with melon "gelée" (house-made cantaloupe gelatin), more multicolor "pearls," and arugula and basil leaves. It looked like a pointillist painting and tasted like a perfect summer afternoon on the island of Grande Jatte. We also loved a salad of blood orange segments and Roquefort cheese with toasted pecans, nestling in leaves of Belgian endive dressed with blood orange gastrique -- a wine-friendly salad if ever there was one, with every flavor a clockwork counterpoint to the others.

A more substantial starter was an authentic, coarse-textured pâté de campagne (pork, veal, and chicken), sprinkled with pistachios and accompanied (correctly) by Dijon and whole-grain mustards, toasted baguette slices, a partly sliced cornichon pickle, and a big, enticing caper berry. When the hotel's food and beverage director, New York-born foodie Ellen Burke Van Slyke, decided that the restaurant should serve pâtés, she brought in Philippe Trosch, a French-born chef from Arizona sister-property Ventana, to give the chef a three-day charcuterie tutorial. ("Your chef Martee, I love heem, he is zee best!" Ellen quotes him.) The study paid off grandly. The pâté took me back to hog heaven -- to picnicking around Beaune, with fearlessly hearty pâtés and baguettes from the local charcuteries to sustain hikes from one vineyard to the next (and serve as sobering ballast for the wine tastings).

That second evening, alas, the service was not half so perfect as the first night. Instead of Golden Boy, we nicknamed that evening's waiter "the Putz." He was older but much less wise to the breezy, festive atmosphere that Azzura Point is cultivating now. He annoyed us with a long, rote recitation of (expensive) dishes that he recommended, as though angling for a bigger tip. (We wanted to say, "Look, we all can read a menu.") He checked back with us when we didn't need him but was late in asking if we wanted a second round of wines (we did). Then he was seriously late in bringing them, in providing glasses, and in opening and pouring the two half-bottles -- a process he ceremonially dragged out until well after our entrées were delivered and starting to cool. If the first evening was a late spring's midsummer night's dream, the second, service-wise, was a comedy of errors.

But all's well that ends well, and the food saved the night, just as it had enhanced the earlier one. The entrée highlight of my meal with Chaz was a dish of Mano de León ("lion's paw") scallops from Baja. They're named that because they're huge -- metaphorically the size of a lion's paw -- about two inches high and wide, and shockingly sweet. (Their proximity is a great advantage. Even the best Atlantic Diver scallops aren't immune to flight delays, which can lead to loss of flavor. These, in contrast, are farm-raised near Ensenada, about 70 road minutes from Coronado.) Cooked gently with full respect, they were served with a "deconstructed" pesto -- instead of the heavy Genovese pesto, chef Batis segregates ingredients onto the edges of the plate -- sautéed basil leaves, a thin slice of frico (Parmesan transformed into a lacy fried cracker-crisp), and sweet roasted garlic cloves. The scallops are plated atop a pair of thin-skinned, juicy agnolotti stuffed with spinach and ricotta, while sautéed greens round out the array.

Local white sea bass comes with raw Florence fennel leaves plastered with summer truffle slices, plated over a satisfying risotto (perfectly cooked short-grain rice, as plushy as polenta). I wasn't thrilled with the fish itself. It was fresh but too bland for my taste. (Corvina, among the best of all the basses, is about to come into season in local waters. The chef says he'll be looking for it.)

The house signature is a Maine lobster risotto with porcini and shiitake mushrooms and white truffle essence. It's the most expensive entrée, much touted by our "Putz" waiter in his monologue. Yet it does deserve touting because it's no ordinary risotto. There is relatively little rice, and a vast quantity of lobster -- two large shelled claws and two shelled tails on top, chunks of lobster in the rice, along with studs of earthy mushrooms that mirror the lobster's texture, so that it takes several chews to decide...seafood or mushroom? The cooking broth is dark-colored, strong, a bit oversalted. "I still think Michael Stebner's lobster risotto was the all-time best," said Lynne. (Stebner was Azzura's chef seven years ago.) Well, maybe, but if so, it's second best in a marathon race led by two Kenyans, followed at a distance by 2000 lame Elvis impersonators.

The meats, though, ran well behind the marine products -- Batis, from a family of fisherfolk, admits a preference for seafood. A roasted veal rack rib-eye, cooked medium rare as specified, was tender bland flesh, even if surrounded by a brilliant supporting cast -- morels (those most succulent of all mushrooms), griotte cherries of nearly the same ebony hue as the morels, a "confit" of organic potatoes, and for an attractive note of dark-green bitterness (to contrast with the cherries), grilled rapini. Our least favorite entrée was a bistecca fiorentina T-bone. According to sausage king and cookbook author Bruce Aidells (my main man on meat), a true steak Florentine should be at least two inches thick (preferably porterhouse, though rib-eye will do). The T-bone, although rare to order, was only a half-inch thick, an upper-Choice piece. Its flavor was good, but it was a tad tough and not thrilling. It came with braised greens and savory white truffle fries.

The wine list is a wonder. It may not be the longest, but it bespeaks thought, knowledge, and probably some hard bargaining by sommelier Kurt Kirshchenman, who works closely with the chef at finding unusual wines to match the light elegance of the food. At our first dinner, I spotted a rare treat -- a white Rhone (Crozes-Hermitage) selling for the same price as similar bottles, retail, at the Wine Sellar. Its cool power was perfect for our seafood-dominated meal. At the second meal, the list of half-bottles made it possible to choose a perfect white and a fine red for our entrées -- including an exquisite Louis Latour Meursault (lyrical liquid sunshine, with none of the excessive oak of so many California Chardonnays) to accompany the lobster risotto at a price that made me feel only the faintest twinge of guilt. The sommelier chats comfortably with people all over the room. He knows (and loves) his stuff, and he's a trustworthy advisor, not a greed-geek.

All waiters (the best and worst alike) talk up the tarte tatin for dessert. It's the size of a whole pie (and after Ian insisted I take it home, it became my breakfast for five days after the dinner), but it's not among the best I've ever tasted. (That was at La Folie in San Francisco, where chef Roland Passot topped his frangible, thin-crusted version with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream, rather than the vanilla served here.) I found the puff-pastry crust too thick and chewy and wanted a higher ratio of fruit to crust. I much preferred the pineapple carpaccio -- ultra-thin sheets of semi-dried pineapple in a light syrup, crowned with a square of shivery-tender coconut panna cotta. We also enjoyed a lavender crème brulée topped with fresh berries. This trick of flavoring (done by steeping lavender flowers in the warm milk or cream that will go into the custard) is still avant-garde for San Diego. (It was already vieux chapeaux in San Francisco when I moved here -- thereby hangs a tale of two cities, alas.) My companions were enchanted by its decadent, subtle perfume. I'd have liked more lavender flavor. But the decaf espresso was pleasingly above average.

I enjoy the cooking at Azzura for its rare combination of lightness and full flavor. Even the most ethereal appetizers are satisfying, because they fully engage your taste buds. Most dishes are sized "right," so you don't waddle out but waft blissfully. As for the atmosphere -- at the end of my first meal, a gay couple on a nearby banquette ended the evening snuggling close to each other (after checking the beneficence of the eye-beams from the remaining fellow diners). Chaz and I, meanwhile, had transited from tentative new acquaintances to comfortable old friends sharing laughter and life-stories. I didn't see any faery queens falling in love with donkeys on either evening -- but that could happen here, too. The chef probably knows the recipe for the magic potion.

ABOUT THE CHEF

Martin T. Batis ("Chef Marty") was born in Hawaii on the island of Kauai and lived there until his family moved to San Diego just before he started high school. "My family were pretty much fishermen and farmers, so family gatherings, luaus, got me excited about cooking. The fresh seafood, the wonderful food we grow in Kauai." His special island loves are manapua (steamed buns, resembling Chinese bao) and pasteles (Puerto Rican green plantain "tamales" stuffed with stewed pork).

Chef Marty mainly learned his craft on the job, although he's taken a few culinary school classes. "I started at Loews as a line chef about 11 years ago, after cooking at some small restaurants in San Diego. James Boyce [a legendary chef and teacher-of-chefs who headed the kitchen then] had an attitude about me that started me thinking about cooking perfection. I wanted to take it to the next level. I was introduced to all these wonderful ingredients. He was really big on the local farmer's market, and he was really into everything fresh and grown seasonally and locally as much as possible. I still go to the Farmers' Market in Coronado, and to Chino Farms once in a while, and we grow our own herbs here. Right now, I'm picking kumquats off our trees."

The current menu, envisioned by the resort's head chef and by the food and beverage director, is based on Mediterranean foods, because our climate is so similar. That was the base of dishes like the Mano de León scallops with a deconstructed pesto. "I liked deconstructing it," Batis says, "so it's not just one element. People can put it together how they wish."

In his off hours, he goes fishing in the bay, the ocean, and lakes. "I guess it's in my blood. Sometimes I bring back things I catch and do a little tasting for the staff. Sometimes we have sport fishermen who come off their boats and bring their catch to us to prepare however they want. It's exciting for me. I was raised on seafood. I loved it from a very early age. My father brags that I would eat it all when other kids would turn up their noses at it."

Chef Marty has a pastry chef to execute his ideas for desserts, under his direction -- for instance, the pineapple carpaccio "reflects my Hawaiian background." His philosophy of cooking: "I focus on natural flavors and simplicity. I don't like too many techniques on one plate. I like accenting the natural flavors of whatever food you're using. I'm a simple beach boy from the islands. I like to keep it slow and simple."

Congratulatory note: El Bizcocho chef Gavin Kaysen has been named one of the "10 Best Young Chefs" of 2007 in Food & Wine magazine's July issue. Yay, Gavin!

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Summer's here and the time is right -- to try to find restaurants with beautiful views that serve equally appealing food. The cliché is as true for San Diego as for other touristed cities: Most restaurants offering ocean scenery will coast on their looks, serving mediocre slop because they can get away with it. That's not the case with Azzura Point, a restaurant that, at its best, is sheer romantic magic, serving the food of love.

Azzura Point is in the midst of remaking itself to emphasize a blithe resort atmosphere, dispensing with the hints of formality in the current decor. Since San Diego is one of the few spots in the world to boast a Mediterranean climate, the restaurant will eventually be renamed Mistral for the southward-blowing trade wind that puffs the sails on that sea. In September, after the summer rush, the comfortable banquettes will be reupholstered in beachy shades of pale azure, cream, and tan (in place of ritzy cream and gold), and the silly, heavy brass fixtures will be righteously removed -- but they'll be keeping the views, the quiet, the space between tables. They promise they'll even keep the oval "lumbar cushions" that you can arrange behind your back at the banquettes. (These give short people a reason to live, allowing us to sit back and relax, without spilling food in our laps while en route to our mouths.)

The room is bordered by a window with a panoramic view of the bay, and all the tables are arranged to eye it head-on or sideways. At my first visit, my table's view was enhanced by a distractingly handsome young waiter, Ian. Not only was his service top-notch (warm, considerate, unintrusive), but I had to remind myself that he was actually human, not Benvenuto Cellini's little golden sculpture of Perseus come to life.

The summer menu suits the restaurant's future name, full of the light and approachable cuisine of southern Europe. The dishes seem simple. They're not, exactly. Hawaiian-born chef Martin Batis approaches the unadorned but full-flavored cuisines of Provence, Liguria, and Tuscany artfully, remaking and improving standard dishes with touches of islander whimsy that intensify the natural flavors. Much of his produce comes from the Coronado Farmers' Market -- fresh and mostly organic, or sustainably raised.

The airy appetizers awaken appetites, not sate them. At that first dinner with my brand-new friend Chaz, we began with a carpaccio of hamachi (yellowtail), a thin-sliced, satiny sashimi of jackfish with slim radish rounds, crispy leek lengths, and young greens in a soy vinaigrette enriched with unseen but flavorful white truffle. It was light, but it was deep.

A stuffed artichoke was a vast improvement over the often-dry Sicilian-American classic, accomplished by dumping the dross and going for the flavor. Instead of pushing a bready stuffing between the leaves, the chef started with a platform of a leafless heart, then topped it with a pouf combining more artichoke heart, cut in fine dice, mixed with San Daniele prosciutto, Parmesan, just enough bread crumbs to bind everything together, and a lively citric gremolata topping. It's all heart. On the side were a few sweet, garlic-seared Hawaiian shrimp -- just for fun.

I returned a week later with posse stalwarts Samurai Jim, the Lynnester, and Michelle to sample more of the menu. This time, the standard prosciutto e melone of every half-serious Italian restaurant was elevated to a cheerful new composition called Prosciutto and Pearls. A mandala of thin-sliced San Daniele prosciutto (the palest and silkiest of its ilk) was strewn with tiny balls of sweet, ripe cantaloupe and honeydew. In the center was a rectangular mandala's "eye" of crème fraîche panna cotta (more substantial than dessert panna cottas) topped with melon "gelée" (house-made cantaloupe gelatin), more multicolor "pearls," and arugula and basil leaves. It looked like a pointillist painting and tasted like a perfect summer afternoon on the island of Grande Jatte. We also loved a salad of blood orange segments and Roquefort cheese with toasted pecans, nestling in leaves of Belgian endive dressed with blood orange gastrique -- a wine-friendly salad if ever there was one, with every flavor a clockwork counterpoint to the others.

A more substantial starter was an authentic, coarse-textured pâté de campagne (pork, veal, and chicken), sprinkled with pistachios and accompanied (correctly) by Dijon and whole-grain mustards, toasted baguette slices, a partly sliced cornichon pickle, and a big, enticing caper berry. When the hotel's food and beverage director, New York-born foodie Ellen Burke Van Slyke, decided that the restaurant should serve pâtés, she brought in Philippe Trosch, a French-born chef from Arizona sister-property Ventana, to give the chef a three-day charcuterie tutorial. ("Your chef Martee, I love heem, he is zee best!" Ellen quotes him.) The study paid off grandly. The pâté took me back to hog heaven -- to picnicking around Beaune, with fearlessly hearty pâtés and baguettes from the local charcuteries to sustain hikes from one vineyard to the next (and serve as sobering ballast for the wine tastings).

That second evening, alas, the service was not half so perfect as the first night. Instead of Golden Boy, we nicknamed that evening's waiter "the Putz." He was older but much less wise to the breezy, festive atmosphere that Azzura Point is cultivating now. He annoyed us with a long, rote recitation of (expensive) dishes that he recommended, as though angling for a bigger tip. (We wanted to say, "Look, we all can read a menu.") He checked back with us when we didn't need him but was late in asking if we wanted a second round of wines (we did). Then he was seriously late in bringing them, in providing glasses, and in opening and pouring the two half-bottles -- a process he ceremonially dragged out until well after our entrées were delivered and starting to cool. If the first evening was a late spring's midsummer night's dream, the second, service-wise, was a comedy of errors.

But all's well that ends well, and the food saved the night, just as it had enhanced the earlier one. The entrée highlight of my meal with Chaz was a dish of Mano de León ("lion's paw") scallops from Baja. They're named that because they're huge -- metaphorically the size of a lion's paw -- about two inches high and wide, and shockingly sweet. (Their proximity is a great advantage. Even the best Atlantic Diver scallops aren't immune to flight delays, which can lead to loss of flavor. These, in contrast, are farm-raised near Ensenada, about 70 road minutes from Coronado.) Cooked gently with full respect, they were served with a "deconstructed" pesto -- instead of the heavy Genovese pesto, chef Batis segregates ingredients onto the edges of the plate -- sautéed basil leaves, a thin slice of frico (Parmesan transformed into a lacy fried cracker-crisp), and sweet roasted garlic cloves. The scallops are plated atop a pair of thin-skinned, juicy agnolotti stuffed with spinach and ricotta, while sautéed greens round out the array.

Local white sea bass comes with raw Florence fennel leaves plastered with summer truffle slices, plated over a satisfying risotto (perfectly cooked short-grain rice, as plushy as polenta). I wasn't thrilled with the fish itself. It was fresh but too bland for my taste. (Corvina, among the best of all the basses, is about to come into season in local waters. The chef says he'll be looking for it.)

The house signature is a Maine lobster risotto with porcini and shiitake mushrooms and white truffle essence. It's the most expensive entrée, much touted by our "Putz" waiter in his monologue. Yet it does deserve touting because it's no ordinary risotto. There is relatively little rice, and a vast quantity of lobster -- two large shelled claws and two shelled tails on top, chunks of lobster in the rice, along with studs of earthy mushrooms that mirror the lobster's texture, so that it takes several chews to decide...seafood or mushroom? The cooking broth is dark-colored, strong, a bit oversalted. "I still think Michael Stebner's lobster risotto was the all-time best," said Lynne. (Stebner was Azzura's chef seven years ago.) Well, maybe, but if so, it's second best in a marathon race led by two Kenyans, followed at a distance by 2000 lame Elvis impersonators.

The meats, though, ran well behind the marine products -- Batis, from a family of fisherfolk, admits a preference for seafood. A roasted veal rack rib-eye, cooked medium rare as specified, was tender bland flesh, even if surrounded by a brilliant supporting cast -- morels (those most succulent of all mushrooms), griotte cherries of nearly the same ebony hue as the morels, a "confit" of organic potatoes, and for an attractive note of dark-green bitterness (to contrast with the cherries), grilled rapini. Our least favorite entrée was a bistecca fiorentina T-bone. According to sausage king and cookbook author Bruce Aidells (my main man on meat), a true steak Florentine should be at least two inches thick (preferably porterhouse, though rib-eye will do). The T-bone, although rare to order, was only a half-inch thick, an upper-Choice piece. Its flavor was good, but it was a tad tough and not thrilling. It came with braised greens and savory white truffle fries.

The wine list is a wonder. It may not be the longest, but it bespeaks thought, knowledge, and probably some hard bargaining by sommelier Kurt Kirshchenman, who works closely with the chef at finding unusual wines to match the light elegance of the food. At our first dinner, I spotted a rare treat -- a white Rhone (Crozes-Hermitage) selling for the same price as similar bottles, retail, at the Wine Sellar. Its cool power was perfect for our seafood-dominated meal. At the second meal, the list of half-bottles made it possible to choose a perfect white and a fine red for our entrées -- including an exquisite Louis Latour Meursault (lyrical liquid sunshine, with none of the excessive oak of so many California Chardonnays) to accompany the lobster risotto at a price that made me feel only the faintest twinge of guilt. The sommelier chats comfortably with people all over the room. He knows (and loves) his stuff, and he's a trustworthy advisor, not a greed-geek.

All waiters (the best and worst alike) talk up the tarte tatin for dessert. It's the size of a whole pie (and after Ian insisted I take it home, it became my breakfast for five days after the dinner), but it's not among the best I've ever tasted. (That was at La Folie in San Francisco, where chef Roland Passot topped his frangible, thin-crusted version with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream, rather than the vanilla served here.) I found the puff-pastry crust too thick and chewy and wanted a higher ratio of fruit to crust. I much preferred the pineapple carpaccio -- ultra-thin sheets of semi-dried pineapple in a light syrup, crowned with a square of shivery-tender coconut panna cotta. We also enjoyed a lavender crème brulée topped with fresh berries. This trick of flavoring (done by steeping lavender flowers in the warm milk or cream that will go into the custard) is still avant-garde for San Diego. (It was already vieux chapeaux in San Francisco when I moved here -- thereby hangs a tale of two cities, alas.) My companions were enchanted by its decadent, subtle perfume. I'd have liked more lavender flavor. But the decaf espresso was pleasingly above average.

I enjoy the cooking at Azzura for its rare combination of lightness and full flavor. Even the most ethereal appetizers are satisfying, because they fully engage your taste buds. Most dishes are sized "right," so you don't waddle out but waft blissfully. As for the atmosphere -- at the end of my first meal, a gay couple on a nearby banquette ended the evening snuggling close to each other (after checking the beneficence of the eye-beams from the remaining fellow diners). Chaz and I, meanwhile, had transited from tentative new acquaintances to comfortable old friends sharing laughter and life-stories. I didn't see any faery queens falling in love with donkeys on either evening -- but that could happen here, too. The chef probably knows the recipe for the magic potion.

ABOUT THE CHEF

Martin T. Batis ("Chef Marty") was born in Hawaii on the island of Kauai and lived there until his family moved to San Diego just before he started high school. "My family were pretty much fishermen and farmers, so family gatherings, luaus, got me excited about cooking. The fresh seafood, the wonderful food we grow in Kauai." His special island loves are manapua (steamed buns, resembling Chinese bao) and pasteles (Puerto Rican green plantain "tamales" stuffed with stewed pork).

Chef Marty mainly learned his craft on the job, although he's taken a few culinary school classes. "I started at Loews as a line chef about 11 years ago, after cooking at some small restaurants in San Diego. James Boyce [a legendary chef and teacher-of-chefs who headed the kitchen then] had an attitude about me that started me thinking about cooking perfection. I wanted to take it to the next level. I was introduced to all these wonderful ingredients. He was really big on the local farmer's market, and he was really into everything fresh and grown seasonally and locally as much as possible. I still go to the Farmers' Market in Coronado, and to Chino Farms once in a while, and we grow our own herbs here. Right now, I'm picking kumquats off our trees."

The current menu, envisioned by the resort's head chef and by the food and beverage director, is based on Mediterranean foods, because our climate is so similar. That was the base of dishes like the Mano de León scallops with a deconstructed pesto. "I liked deconstructing it," Batis says, "so it's not just one element. People can put it together how they wish."

In his off hours, he goes fishing in the bay, the ocean, and lakes. "I guess it's in my blood. Sometimes I bring back things I catch and do a little tasting for the staff. Sometimes we have sport fishermen who come off their boats and bring their catch to us to prepare however they want. It's exciting for me. I was raised on seafood. I loved it from a very early age. My father brags that I would eat it all when other kids would turn up their noses at it."

Chef Marty has a pastry chef to execute his ideas for desserts, under his direction -- for instance, the pineapple carpaccio "reflects my Hawaiian background." His philosophy of cooking: "I focus on natural flavors and simplicity. I don't like too many techniques on one plate. I like accenting the natural flavors of whatever food you're using. I'm a simple beach boy from the islands. I like to keep it slow and simple."

Congratulatory note: El Bizcocho chef Gavin Kaysen has been named one of the "10 Best Young Chefs" of 2007 in Food & Wine magazine's July issue. Yay, Gavin!

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