By Marlena Chavira-Medford
Perched on the second story of Del Mar Plaza, the recently opened Flavor Del Mar has sweeping views of the Pacific from just about anywhere in the restaurant.
“There are actually only a couple of seats where you can’t see the ocean,” owner Jeff Hunter said of the space, which was formerly occupied by Sunset Grill and went through a major remodel. “The main vent-hood in the kitchen is the only thing that we kept. We designed this whole place from scratch.”
The result is an airy, soft-toned space that Hunter calls “coastal California, very casual but sophisticated.” Hunter, who now lives in Rancho Santa Fe after owning a few pubs in Canada, said he wanted to keep the space laid-back because he “didn’t want this to be a special occasion-only restaurant.”
Instead, he envisions this place being a haunt where locals catch happy hour while watching the sun set over the sea and, hopefully, stick around for dinner.
Like the ambiance, the food is equally relaxed yet refined.
“The food here is ingredient-driven, so there’s a lot of local, organic items on the menu” said executive chef Jason Maitland, who most recently headed the kitchen at Arterra and takes the approach that less is more. “There’s nothing too complicated on the menu. It’s all about simple food with more flavor.”
Case in point, the scallop chevice, which he said is traditional in the sense that the citrus juice is used for curing, but this version is stripped down. The scallops are simply dressed in a little cilantro puree and jalapeno, with plantain chips, “and it’s not served in one of those giant goblets or martini glasses.”
Maitland said he’s also “covered all the bases,” so vegetarians can find options such as roasted eggplant polenta cakes with ratatouille, grilled globe artichokes, and sweet pepper puree — while those who want meat can dine on braised prime beef short ribs with whipped Yukon gold potatoes, baby vegetables from the nearby Chino Farms, and Maytag bleu cheese.
Because the menu relies so heavily on local ingredients it will change seasonally, so “the selection is ever-evolving.” Most appetizers range $8 to $15, and entrees run about $18 to $27. There’s also a bar menu that offers options fit for sharing, and most are in the $10 to $20 range. Matiland also said he’s working on a lunchtime menu, which he hopes to start offering this December.
General manager and wine director Jerome Astolfi has put together a wine list with about 100 selections, which range from $30 a bottle to $100 — or $10 to $15 by the glass. Most labels come from California, France and Italy, though he said there are a few more exotic labels peppered in. The bar also offers signature cocktails, like Autumn Apple, which is made with Germain Robin Apple Brandy, fresh lemon juice, Prosecco, ginger simple syrup, fresh apple juice and cinnamon. Like the food menu, that cocktail menu will vary with the season. There are also eight brews on tap, and about 20 beers by the bottle, plus a handful of sake selections.
Flavor Del Mar offers happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. nightly and dinner from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. on weekends. The bar menu is available from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and until midnight on weekends. Lunch service will begin in December and will run 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Flavor Del Mar is located in the Del Mar Plaza at #322 1555 Camino Del Mar.
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