Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Restaurant Week: Amaya at the Grand Del Mar

UPDATE: San Diego Restaurant Week is extended for another week! Check here for participating restaurants, including Amaya.

San Diego Restaurant Week's going on from September 19-24, with participating restaurants throughout the county. Check out their website for locations and menus.

It was one of those meals where I wanted to curl in the fetal position and have happy dreams about the food, but unfortunately, I was in public.

I received an email about a San Diego Restaurant Week preview meal and it presented several options. Only one jumped out, as I've always wanted to visit the lovely Grand Del Mar resort, but it's a little out of the way for me. Jenna and Stacie from McFarlane Promotions set up a reservation at the Grand Del Mar's Amaya Restaurant, described on their website as their casual dining option. I wouldn't call it casual, because it's not a place I'd wear jeans to, but it's luxurious without being stuffy. The dining room is gorgeous and warm, with an ambiance suited to many occasions. D. and I were on a date, but nearby was a group of girlfriends out for a birthday or girls' night, and we saw a family finishing up their meal.

I wasn't sure what to expect at this dinner, but I know I wasn't expecting a meal that knocked our socks off and had us planning a return visit. Chef Camron Woods talked with us about the Restaurant Week menu and how its popularity led to Amaya's chef's tasting menu. For $40 ($65 with wine pairings), it's a three-course menu with two choices for each course. For our dinner, our appetizers would be part of Restaurant Week's menu, but we'd choose our entrees from the regular dinner menu. I'm just a schmuck who compulsively writes about her meals, so a visit from the chef was pretty awesome.

Amaya's Restaurant Week menu. Subject to change, of course.

Choice of First/Appetizers Course

Golden Tomato Gazpacho
Avocado Parfait

Terrine of Smoked Duck and Foie Gras
Aged Balsamic, Strawberries

Grilled Breast of Boneless Quail
Cheddar Grits, Tomato Marmalade

Choice of Second/Main Course

Seared Loch Duart Salmon
Sweet Corn and Smoked Onion Risotto, Basil Coulis

Slow-Cooked Beef Short Rib
Tagliatelle Pasta, Pancetta, Roasted Baby Root Vegetables

Grilled Colorado Lamb Loin
Truffle Pierogi, Grilled Chard, Zinfandel Jus

Choice of Third/Dessert Course

Spiced Sugar and Lemon-Filled Bombolonis
Raspberry-Buttermilk Ice Cream

Caramel Praline Crunch Bar
Bittersweet Chocolate Sorbet

Pavlova with Fresh Berries
Lemon-Poppy Seed Sherbet, Minted Vanilla Syrup

We started off with the golden tomato gazpacho.

It was tangy and refreshing, with diced peppers and cucumbers in the sweet tomato soup. Gazpacho doesn't lie... if the tomatoes are crap, the soup will be, too. Good quality tomatoes result in a soup that's sweet with just a slight tang of tomato's acidity. I remarked to D. that this appetizer reminded me of the summer that San Diego didn't have and how it would be perfect for a hot day as a precursor to a barbecue. The avocado parfait was a dollop of avocado mixed with crème fraiche, with the creamy, fatty texture of the avocado and the slightly sour bite of the crème fraiche was a nice contrast to the light sweetness of the soup.

Second appetizer was the terrine of smoked duck and foie gras, served with grilled baguette and mâche topped with aged balsamic and diced strawberries. The greens are also known as corn salad or lamb's lettuce, but methinks mâche is a smidge more elegant, no?

Chef Woods and crew knocked this one out of the park, with a creamy pâté en terrine that was decadently rich. That's really the only way to describe it. The foie gras was perfectly balanced with the smoky gaminess of the duck. I don't eat foie gras often, but I do love it as a spreadable pâté with slices of bread. Even D., who is not a fan of any type of liver, loved it. The mâche, balsamic, and strawberries were delightful and fresh. Again, a nice contrast between rich/creamy and light/refreshing.

At this point, D. and I were merrily delighted by the wonderful appetizers and a bottle of Holus-Bolus 2006 Syrah. We also had a basket of lovely pretzel rolls, with a salted crust and warmed interior. Of course, I managed to drop one of the rolls and it tumbled to the front of our booth. I debated which was worse, picking up runaway bread in an elegant restaurant or to have everyone walk by with the bread just hanging out in front of our table?

I picked it up. D. was thinking that he can't take me anywhere. Facepalm.

Our entrees were from the dinner menu, but I would love to see them showcased at Restaurant Week or for the chef's tasting menu. Earlier in the day, I was reading Ruhlman's blog post about grilling whole branzini, so it looked like I was meant to try Amaya's crispy branzini.

Crispy branzini | Confit fennel | Tomatoes and Niçoise olives | Tangerine reduction

Fish skin is completely underrated and the branzini's crispy skin was perfect. The crispness belied a thin layer of fat that kept the fish moist. Branzini's meat is very smooth, light, and picks up the flavors of its garnishes. In this case, a tart reduction contrasted with salty olives and fresh tomatoes. I loved it not only for the flawless execution, but the fish reminded me of a childhood dish. My mother would pan-fry whole flounder, resulting in crispy skin and moist meat, which she served with a tomato, ginger, and scallion-based sauce. Like this dish, the flavors were excellent, but the most memorable part is the texture of the perfectly crisped skin with the smoothness of the fish meat.

The branzini was great, but D.'s entree blew us away. Inexplicably, he ordered a pork chop, which neither of us have a lot of luck with. They're often overcooked and underseasoned, resulting in a sandy hunk of protein. D., who isn't a very effusive person, had a moment of Lady Gaga-like theatrics, frantically motioning for my fork. Puzzled, I handed it over.

Center cut rotisserie pork chop | Mushroom and potato hash | Blue cheese

He made a point of slicing it slowly and I could see that his knife sank into the chop like he was slicing through butter. He dunked it into the sauce, topped the little chunk of pork with the hash, and handed my fork back to me. The movements were so deliberate that I rolled my eyes at D.'s uncharacteristic drama. Then, I put the bite into my mouth.

Angels sang. My world turned upside down. If I smoked, I would have needed a cigarette.

Best. Pork. Chop. Ever.

The chop was as tender as butter. I could hardly believe it was protein. The sauce, a mushroom/pork dripping reduction, was delicious. The hash was perfect.

You think I'm joking? Well, I did receive a complimentary meal in hopes of promoting Restaurant Week and Amaya, so I'm going to do my job and tell y'all to go and try that pork chop. Just do it. Yeah, go for Restaurant Week, but order the pork chop along with your RW meal. You won't regret it.

Mmmm... pork fat.

Anyway, we spent a good portion of our meal debating how the chop was so perfectly cooked. By then, the Syrah was gone, so we let the wine do the thinking and concluded that souls were sold in exchange for the perfect pork chop.

After all of that, there was dessert. This was when I contemplated curling up in our booth and taking a happy nap. Clearly, coffee was a must.

French-pressed and great with our two desserts. The first was a toffee cheesecake served with a lovely lemon butter tuile on top. It was very good with great texture, but I would have liked a flavor other than toffee. Not that I don't love toffee, but I thought it was too muted when combined with rich cheesecake. The sauce was a lemon caramel sauce. Since lemon was an accompanying flavor, why not make the cheesecake lemon, too?

The other dessert was a chocolate peanut butter mousse cake with a graham-cracker crust and topped with a scoop of peanut butter ice cream. Peanut butter ice cream.

The angels hummed this time. The cake was well-executed, but the ice cream was the winner. Neither of these are on the Restaurant Week menu, but based on the execution we saw, I don't think anyone could go wrong with the desserts.

In the end, the meal exceeded all of our expectations. The food was awesome, the service was fantastic, and we'll be back. Many thanks to Chef Woods, our server Jason, and the rest of the Amaya staff for a memorable meal. Thanks also to Jenna and Stacie from McFarlane Promotions for the invitation.

The Fine Print: Although the restaurant reports on AoaAF are my personal outings, this meal was provided by Amaya Restaurant and McFarlane Promotions for San Diego Restaurant Week. My enthusiasm for the meal, however, is my own.

3 bites:

imjustatree said...

looks great...i still haven't had foie gras yet although it's fair to say that it's rare when i go to a fancy place. always wanted to go to sd restaurant week though...thansk for giving me the chance to ive vacariously!

kirbie said...

I chose this place as my preview for Restaurant week also. I loved, loved the foie gras. And I liked how the chef came out to speak to us as well.

Peabody said...

I need that toffee cheesecake!

3 bites