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Sandpiper Wood Fired Grill & Oysters redefines casual

Casual dining at fine dining prices

A dozen oysters, including picks from Prince Edward Island (left) and Baja (right)
A dozen oysters, including picks from Prince Edward Island (left) and Baja (right)

Despite a partly fishy name, Sandpiper Wood Fired Grill & Oysters is not strictly a seafood restaurant. Items cooked on its wood fired grill most prominently include pork chops, steak, and fowl. But the menu does lead with seafood, with grilled octopus and salmon, shrimp cocktail, and crudo in addition to its namesake oysters. And, finding it this close to La Jolla Shores, behind the key word oysters, I never seriously considered ordering anything else. Even before I checked the menu prices.

Place

Sandpiper Wood Fired Grill & Oysters

2259 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla, CA

Sandpiper has taken over the former site of Galaxy Cantina & Grill, previously known as Galaxy Taco. The remodeled space is still headed by chef Trey Foshee, of George’s By The Cove fame, and it has been updated with new lighting fixtures and a paint job to cover up all the sharpie tags behind the old taco shop bar. But the bones of the place remain, including a pair of industrial-strength roll-up doors that give the main dining room a quasi-outdoor feel, and just beyond those, a small dining shack that gives outdoor dining a quasi-indoor vibe, complete with brick fireplace.

The bar still features artwork from the venue's taco shop days, but no longer the writing on the wall.

It's an awkward layout, which never seemed to matter when the place was an overachieving taco shop operated by one of the city’s best-known fine-dining chefs. Calling the place Cantina seemed just about right for the place, which sits four blocks from the beach. Behind the bar a pair of mounted TVs tune to sports. It’s set up for a casual drinking and dining experience.

What it’s not set up with, is what most of us would call a casual dining menu. It’s one of the few restaurants I know in all of Southern California to serve squab, wood grilled for a price of $42. Black garlic brushed ribeye goes for $55. There's no price listed for the prime rib served on weekends. For these dishes, sides are not included. Meanwhile, a shareable order of rosemary parmesan French fries costs $12.

Steamed mussels in Thai-style tom kha broth

Granted, Foshee and colleagues excel at upscale dining. Abandoning the taco concept makes all kinds of sense here, because in a post-pandemic economy, how can you reasonably run a taco shop near the beach in La Jolla and expect to make a profit?

But I think they’ve missed the mark on what constitutes casual. Sure, resident La Jollans and well-heeled tourists might pay the $28 for a grilled half chicken and think nothing of it. For such crowds, the place might be a hit. But between steep menu prices, the automatic four percent surcharge, and a tip for table service, two of us racked up a hundred-dollar tab without ordering a single beverage. Inflation shminflation: that still says fine dining to me.

Roll-up doors and a washing station undercut the menu's pricing.

We started with a dozen oysters for $34, a fantastic assortment that included blue devils from Baja, shibumis from the Pacific Northwest, and petite avonleas form Prince Edward Island, off Canada’s east coast. Then we doubled down on bivalves by ordering mussels steamed in the coconutty Thai broth, tom kha ($18).

But at these prices, I don’t merely expect quality on the plate, but in the overall experience, including atmosphere. Paying this bill at George’s would feel like a bargain, mostly because it comes with a million-dollar view overlooking La Jolla Cove. Here, my dinner view included a stack of extra dining chairs, and a stainless-steel washing station attached to the rear of the gray dining shack. As 90s alt-rock played over the restaurant speakers, the tops of palm trees on the horizon reminded me how close we were to better scenery.

Wood grilled trout, served with watercress and blistered shishito peppers.

The proprietors appear to recognize some of us will balk at the level of plates and pricing under the menu’s Wood Fire Grill banner, where most of the entrees are priced above 40 dollars. Because, a little farther down the menu, beneath the section labeled sides, is an unmarked menu section contained within a thinly framed box, where the entrees range between 20 and 30 bucks. Here you’ll find the house hamburger ($20), a chicken cutlet ($26), and what I’m told is the restaurant’s top seller: adobo rubbed trout ($30). Despite being listed in this separate (shameful?) section, is also cooked on that wood fired grill. Ours was not thoroughly de-boned, but it did include a side of sorts: watercress with blistered shishito peppers.

I had no trouble paying a small premium for tacos in this space, and I could never complain about the cost of cuisine at George’s. But Sandpiper’s attempt to pull off something in between, on this property, doesn’t jibe. I might bee-line for a $2 oyster happy hour, otherwise I’m content to wait for the next iteration.

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A dozen oysters, including picks from Prince Edward Island (left) and Baja (right)
A dozen oysters, including picks from Prince Edward Island (left) and Baja (right)

Despite a partly fishy name, Sandpiper Wood Fired Grill & Oysters is not strictly a seafood restaurant. Items cooked on its wood fired grill most prominently include pork chops, steak, and fowl. But the menu does lead with seafood, with grilled octopus and salmon, shrimp cocktail, and crudo in addition to its namesake oysters. And, finding it this close to La Jolla Shores, behind the key word oysters, I never seriously considered ordering anything else. Even before I checked the menu prices.

Place

Sandpiper Wood Fired Grill & Oysters

2259 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla, CA

Sandpiper has taken over the former site of Galaxy Cantina & Grill, previously known as Galaxy Taco. The remodeled space is still headed by chef Trey Foshee, of George’s By The Cove fame, and it has been updated with new lighting fixtures and a paint job to cover up all the sharpie tags behind the old taco shop bar. But the bones of the place remain, including a pair of industrial-strength roll-up doors that give the main dining room a quasi-outdoor feel, and just beyond those, a small dining shack that gives outdoor dining a quasi-indoor vibe, complete with brick fireplace.

The bar still features artwork from the venue's taco shop days, but no longer the writing on the wall.

It's an awkward layout, which never seemed to matter when the place was an overachieving taco shop operated by one of the city’s best-known fine-dining chefs. Calling the place Cantina seemed just about right for the place, which sits four blocks from the beach. Behind the bar a pair of mounted TVs tune to sports. It’s set up for a casual drinking and dining experience.

What it’s not set up with, is what most of us would call a casual dining menu. It’s one of the few restaurants I know in all of Southern California to serve squab, wood grilled for a price of $42. Black garlic brushed ribeye goes for $55. There's no price listed for the prime rib served on weekends. For these dishes, sides are not included. Meanwhile, a shareable order of rosemary parmesan French fries costs $12.

Steamed mussels in Thai-style tom kha broth

Granted, Foshee and colleagues excel at upscale dining. Abandoning the taco concept makes all kinds of sense here, because in a post-pandemic economy, how can you reasonably run a taco shop near the beach in La Jolla and expect to make a profit?

But I think they’ve missed the mark on what constitutes casual. Sure, resident La Jollans and well-heeled tourists might pay the $28 for a grilled half chicken and think nothing of it. For such crowds, the place might be a hit. But between steep menu prices, the automatic four percent surcharge, and a tip for table service, two of us racked up a hundred-dollar tab without ordering a single beverage. Inflation shminflation: that still says fine dining to me.

Roll-up doors and a washing station undercut the menu's pricing.

We started with a dozen oysters for $34, a fantastic assortment that included blue devils from Baja, shibumis from the Pacific Northwest, and petite avonleas form Prince Edward Island, off Canada’s east coast. Then we doubled down on bivalves by ordering mussels steamed in the coconutty Thai broth, tom kha ($18).

But at these prices, I don’t merely expect quality on the plate, but in the overall experience, including atmosphere. Paying this bill at George’s would feel like a bargain, mostly because it comes with a million-dollar view overlooking La Jolla Cove. Here, my dinner view included a stack of extra dining chairs, and a stainless-steel washing station attached to the rear of the gray dining shack. As 90s alt-rock played over the restaurant speakers, the tops of palm trees on the horizon reminded me how close we were to better scenery.

Wood grilled trout, served with watercress and blistered shishito peppers.

The proprietors appear to recognize some of us will balk at the level of plates and pricing under the menu’s Wood Fire Grill banner, where most of the entrees are priced above 40 dollars. Because, a little farther down the menu, beneath the section labeled sides, is an unmarked menu section contained within a thinly framed box, where the entrees range between 20 and 30 bucks. Here you’ll find the house hamburger ($20), a chicken cutlet ($26), and what I’m told is the restaurant’s top seller: adobo rubbed trout ($30). Despite being listed in this separate (shameful?) section, is also cooked on that wood fired grill. Ours was not thoroughly de-boned, but it did include a side of sorts: watercress with blistered shishito peppers.

I had no trouble paying a small premium for tacos in this space, and I could never complain about the cost of cuisine at George’s. But Sandpiper’s attempt to pull off something in between, on this property, doesn’t jibe. I might bee-line for a $2 oyster happy hour, otherwise I’m content to wait for the next iteration.

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