It's mid-May, we're springing toward summer, and two old-favorite eating establishments have brought in new executive chefs to freshen their menus.
At both venues, the new influence is Mediterranean — primarily the south of France, Italy and Greece — and both have pretty outdoor seating areas such as you might find on the shores of the Med.
The new chefs have a lot in common. They're both in their late 30s, married with two (or almost-two) children, and both have impressive international culinary credentials. But each puts his own special spin on his specialties.
Pacifica Del Mar's Tommy DiMella has only been here a few months, but it isn't his first time. A Jersey boy with extensive experience in Italian and French cuisine, he spent several years as exec chef at Pamplemousse and a year learning the intricacies of sushi at Japengo.
He's now refining Pacifica's menu with longtime Executive Chef Chris Idso, who has moved up the food chain to active full partner.
"Chris is very open to new ideas, and we feed off each other," DiMella said. "But we're easing into the changes."
Change No. 1 is a raw bar, with three choices of fresh oysters daily ... and he has already added several raw items to the regular menu.
One of his favorites (and mine!) is hamachi carpaccio, the dish he prepared for his first interview at Pacifica. It's a lovely medley of tastes, colors and textures, with thin-sliced yellowtail tuna, red grapes, celery leaves, toasted almonds and a whisper of chili oil.
His Carlsbad Aquafarm-fresh Luna oysters dotted with green pea puree are pretty special, too.
DiMella's signature dishes tend to be light but flavorful. "I try to keep the integrity of the ingredients and still offer great taste," he said.
Look for more of DiMella's light touch on the upcoming, updated menu — best enjoyed on Pacifica's ocean-view patio.
La Jolla's grande dame, La Valencia Hotel, first opened in 1926, and at 84 — like many La Jollans — she's had a makeover and is looking just great. Now, with Executive Chef Sean Eastwood revitalizing the menu, a grand place for tasting is the flowery patio of the Mediterranean Room.
"I want to do things that are unpredictable," said the English-born chef, who trained in England and France and owned restaurants outside Chicago. "I want to introduce our diners to new and interesting possibilities."
For starters, he offers his own hamachi appetizer, a sophisticated presentation of paper-thin fish slices surrounded by golden taro chips, a cloud of pureed avocado, and fresh micro-greens.
And then there's his bouillabaisse, a tasty puree of seasonal veggies blended with fish stock perfumed with Pernod and fennel, and topped with roasted shrimp.
Eastwood's salads are fine, too. His lightly dressed field greens are sprinkled with goat cheese, Cara Cara orange slices, lemon salted almonds and medjool dates. And if you're bored with Caesar salads, try this one: long leaves of romaine, decorated with white anchovies, roasted capers and creamy dressing, and wrapped like a gift in a crisp bow of baked parmesan.
Fish-lovers will adore the oven-roasted halibut with green garlic coulis, accompanied by tiny chive gnocchi and spring veggies.
For dessert, you'll have trouble deciding between the warm chocolate tart with a froth of grapefruit-scented yogurt, or the light strawberry cheesecake with candied pistachio/strawberry tartare on the side.
Come on a Saturday, and you'll find a steel drum band playing on the patio from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. — a Caribbean accompaniment to your Mediterranean meal.
If you go
- La Valencia Hotel'sMediterranean Room/Patio
1132 Prospect St., (858) 551-3765
- Pacifica Del Mar, 1555 Camino del Mar (858) 792-0476