1250 Prospect Street, La Jolla
“We pride ourselves on not being too stuck up,” explained my server before the first course of TBL3, the exclusive tasting menu at George’s California Modern in La Jolla. “If someone wants plain fish with a side of steamed vegetables, we’ll do that.”
“But this is exactly the opposite,” he said, with a sly smile, pouring wine and then retreating to the kitchen to begin the meal. TBL3 (served at the eponymous table overlooking the cove) is everything that George’s can do, and then some. It’s not just the kitchen’s show, either. My server spent the majority of his night doting on my table, and doing a near perfect job of it to boot.
But what matters most is the food, and chef Trey Foshee and his team put together a menu which is...a lot of things, including worth every penny of $170/person and a reservation made a week in advance. If anybody out there wants a special treat, there is no doubt that this is it. Let me explain.
The fourteen courses for 22 May 2014 started with caviar. Sturgeon caviar farmed in Northern California. A small quenelle of pungent roe, topped with a few shavings of cauliflower, sitting atop a silky white chocolate and banana ganache. 95% of people wouldn’t even order this á la carte, but there it was on the menu.
I could go on, raving over hamachi with kumquat kosho (chili and yuzu paste), or crowing about chocolate clams (a Baja specialty not often seen in SD) prepared with aromatic celery, smokey lardo, and a clam broth. Or for spot prawns dressed with fried krill (yes, krill— like whales eat!), and served with their heads lightly sautéed, ready to be greedily sucked dry of their shrimpy juices.
I swoon remembering rabbit, drowned in uni gravy and morel mushrooms, which literally quickened the pulse, bringing on a hot flash that was half-sexy, half-scary; or dry-aged rib-eye, with a kind of bone marrow demi glace that was like a trip to Cowboy Star in three bites.
But I want to talk about salads. Because the salads were what blew minds. For the fourth course, my server delivered a perfect blossom of shaved beets, rhubarb, and chopped strawberries; a sunburst of pink and yellow, drizzled with pistachio oil and concealing a dollop of fresh ricotta. That balance of nuts and earthy beets, with salted cheese and sweet strawberries, was like nothing else.
The only thing better was the wild salad.
“Wild salad” foraged in La Jolla. A simple ring of fennel, nasturtiums, sorrel, puréed nettles, and pine nuts, with a quenelle of sorbet made from the beach plums that grow all over town. It was perfect, with a balance of flavor so delicate that it was hard to discern where one taste ended and another began. It was that sense of perfection which characterized every plate of TBL3 (though the salad was perhaps the most perfect), and it’s hard to claim that there is better food out there. Because TBL3’s beauty is in its simplicity, there are restaurants in the world that prepare more elaborate cuisine — employing science, trickery, and hordes of unpaid stagiaires — but perfecting the salad, as does George’s with TBL3, is true magic.
By the time dessert hit the table, it was almost too late to be further impressed. Almost. Pastry chef Lori Sauer’s desserts followed suit with the savory courses. The strawberry/yuzu tartlet included a beguiling black sesame glass that was the key detail setting it apart.
My meal finished with “banana bread,” which was comprised of an intoxicating caramel consommé, peanut brittle ice cream, and a cake so redolent of fragrant banana, that the only thing comparable is a loaf of dark, sultry banana bread baked on Maui, where the bananas are different.
How Sauer did it, I do not know, but, like the rest of the meal, the banana bread at TBL3 is everything you think you know, but better.