Local Flavor: Del Mar hot spot keeps it simple and stylish

By Claire Harlin

There’s an indescribably happy feeling Flavor Del Mar owner Jeff Hunter got the first time he raised the motorized blinds in his Del Mar Plaza restaurant to reveal a panoramic view of the ocean as the sun set into it, prompting every guest in the full dining room to applaud and cheer.

That scene played out at Flavor’s opening exactly a year ago, and it’s never gotten old as Hunter has relived it over and over again. It also hasn’t gotten old to the solid base of locals who have not only made Flavor a success but have shaped its identity over the last year, Hunter said.

“It’s been great seeing people come through and smile and compliment us on what we’re doing,” said Hunter, a Rancho Santa Fe resident. “Locals in Del Mar, they want to feel like it’s their own.”

But after a year, Hunter also said he’s learned a few things and isn’t afraid to make changes. For example, a month or two after the restaurant opened, Hunter decided he didn’t like the chairs and invested in cozier seating.

What might possibly be Flavor’s biggest change happened less than a month ago when Flavor’s team brought in a new chef — former “Iron Chef America” contestant Brian Redzikowski — to totally revamped the menu and reorganize the kitchen.

Though the theme of the menu hasn’t changed from being “simple yet sophisticated” California coastal cuisine, Hunter said, guests will notice a few new names and items on the menu. Instead of burgers, Flavor will be offering sliders, and another highlight is the small, pickled potatoes — Hunter’s fave — an original recipe fashioned after salt-and-vinegar chips.

“The food was good before but people can really tell a difference, definitely for the better,” said Hunter, adding that one of the best things about the menu is that it’s not an intimidating read.

“There’s no need to have a five-word description of a cheese or a bun,” he said. “It’s just simple food done well.”

Redzikowski said his menu is simple, with dishes generally not exceeding three ingredients, and he played it safe when choosing items.

“Nobody’s going to be our guinea pigs,” said Redzikowski, who recently worked as executive chef at the Thompson Hotel in Beverly Hills. “I want to stick with what I know works.”

He said “everything’s good,” but some features of the menu include a tuna tart, deep fried catfish and a pork chop.

Jerome Astolfi, Flavor’s general manager, said the lobster tempura, tuna tacos and the lobster cavatelli pasta are a few of his favorite items on the menu.

He said in the restaurant’s next year, he looks forward to catering more toward the loyal local clientele, and he’s exploring the idea of implementing a VIP program in which regulars can accrue credit in accordance with how much they spend at the restaurant.

He has also implemented a few weekly specials that he said have been well received. On Wednesdays, guests get half off most wines, on Mondays guest can enjoys gourmet sliders and a beer for $15, and on Sundays Flavor offers half off champagne.

The adjoining Sip wine bar also offers occasional wine tastings, and has what Hunter described as a “serious” selection of wine.

Astolfi is also getting ready for what he anticipates to be a popular New Year’s celebration. Flavor is featuring a live DJ and no cover on Dec. 31.

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