Chef Paul McCabe’s KITCHEN 1540 brings distinctive experience to local dining scene

Many restaurants strive to be everything to everyone by providing a bevy of dishes and taste experiences for diners to choose from. Come Nov. 4, L’Auberge Del Mar’s brand new multi-faceted eatery will set out to take that initiative to previously unheard of heights.

“There’s a new and different way to dine in San Diego now and it’s at KITCHEN 1540,” said executive chef Paul McCabe. “Fine dining isn’t what we’re doing. We want to create a very comfortable social gathering spot where a group of people can hang out and create their own dining experience.”

To accomplish this, McCabe and his crew have gone out of their way to implement an operation that allows guests to customize every facet of their dining experience so they get exactly what they want in terms of food, beverage, quantity, atmosphere and service style.

“Guests can create their own feast or their own day,” McCabe said. “You can have five or six plates paired with wines or hang out at a cabana and have chef-driven cocktails and snacks. You can have a 10-course formal dining menu in the wine room or enjoy shared plates. We have a wine bar, a cheese and charcuterie bar and over 30 different tasting plates, including raw plates with everything from fish to meat and even raw salads.”

KITCHEN 1540’s beef is 100 percent grass-fed and comes from San Diego’s very own Palomar Mountain. That same San Diego-centric approach applies to the majority of the ingredients McCabe uses to craft his eclectic menu, which includes beef tenderloin with manchego cheese croquettes, lobster mushrooms and a reduction based on an Ethiopian spice blend called berbere.

Other meat and poultry offerings include Kurobuta pork shoulder with gnocchi, Napa cabbage and pickled onions and poussin (hen) with potato-leek risotto, pancetta and crispy onions.

Seafood standouts on the menu include harimasa sashimi with lemon confit and baby fennel, grilled baby octopus with black-eyed peas and green olives and one of McCabe’s favorites - massive Nigerian prawns tossed with chili oil, cooked a la plancha (grilled on a metal plate) and finished with toasted garlic.

Even vegetarian dishes feature distinctive touches of flare. An endive, pecan and whipped persimmon salad features elixir vinegar, an artisan creation made by aging vinegar in maple syrup-laced bourbon barrels.

“Our concept is all about exploration and discovery of flavor,” McCabe said. “If you’re an adventurous diner, we can make things that are a little more edgy.”

But what if your tastes are more traditional?

“No problem - we’ll make it happen,” McCabe said.

As one might expect, conceptualizing such a grand scale operation is much simpler than making it happen.

“The whole thing has been fun and challenging. There have been a lot of people involved in this restaurant and trying to get us all on the same page,” said McCabe, who cites not having a kitchen as the most challenging part of ramping up for KITCHEN 1540’s debut. “We have a 45-foot-long mobile kitchen on the back of the property. We’ve basically served our guests for 60 days out of a double-wide, but the beauty of it is guests haven’t noticed because the staff has done a really great job!”

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