The Restaurant at Rancho Valencia (San Diego, CA)

The Restaurant at Rancho Valencia
Rancho Valencia Resort
5921 Valencia Cir
Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92091
Dining date: 4/30/11

I don’t really come down to San Diego that often. The breweries are a big draw for me, but quite frankly, the food tends not to be. I’m not saying it’s bad, but there are so many more exciting options in LA and OC, without the drive.

However, this appeared to be an intriguing meal. Recently, the restaurant hired a trio of young chefs with a strong pedigree: Eric Bauer, Aaron Martinez and David Volk. Organized by Kevin of kevinEats and Bobby of Gourmands Review, I took the plunge and decided to come check out what the restaurant had to offer.

The restaurant’s decor is rather dated and is due for a renovation soon. Admittedly, my expectations (and I don’t think I was alone) were immediately lowered when I saw the older ranchero decor. You know the old proverb ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ This meal would prove to be creative, modern and most importantly delicious – in short, it was worth the drive.

goat cheese sable, kale chips, green garlic & ham


We were first brought a duo of snacks. The kale chips were unexpectedly tangy, thin and crisp. One of my pieces was a little overly oily, though. The sables were very good. The textures were delicate with the crispy prosciutto and creamy cheese, and the salty pork flavor was a big highlight.

crudités


Our amuse bouche was a small plate of romaine lettuce puree, lettuce granite, carrot and edible wildflowers. The flavors of the vegetables were rather bright and refreshing, with the romaine puree being a fun ‘dipping sauce.’

pickles, yellowtail, horseradish chickweed


We had very subtle flavors here. I thought the cucumber flavor was a little stronger than the hiramasa fish, but I liked the texture it provided.

english peas, dungeness crab, lemon balm & dill


This was a delicious pea puree with just a hint of lemon; the mild acidity worked really well with the sweet crab.

pacific northwest morels, hazelnuts & pine


This dish reminded me of something one would find at Coi. Very creative. There was a pleasant nuttiness, a delightful crunch, and flavors and presentation that just screamed of the forest.

cherries, dutch white asparagus, black truffle & nasturtium


The black truffle sauce stole the show here, displaying a luscious black gloss and strong earthy essence. The asparagus was good too, very tender, and matched with the black truffle sauce well. I thought the cooked cherry was a little too sweet and syrupy for me, though.

alaskan halibut, potato, oyster & ramps


One of the less unique items on the menu, this was simple and executed well. I really liked the halibut; it was cooked just right and paired with the ramps quite well.

turnips, tête pressée, lovage, spring onions


Here we had a meltingly soft head cheese. Poured over it was a delicious broth made of lovage (described as Chinese celery)…really nice. The spring onions and turnips added some freshness and texture to the dish.

rhubarb, radish, wild squab & mustard


Our last savory course presented a rare-cooked breast of squab. I love squab and this one didn’t disappoint. Really meaty, tender and juicy, I thought the meat went well with the pickled radishes. The rhubarb-based sauce was overly tart for me, however.

beet root, rose & yogurt


A palate cleanser here – it served its purpose. Very light and refreshing.

verbena, mascarpone, crows pass strawberries & elderflower


The lone dessert course showed off strawberries in three forms: simply sliced, a strawberry sauce and a crispy macaron-like shell. I really liked this idea, and the strawberry combination was sweet without being overly sweet. The mascapone ice cream was a highlight for me too.

mignardises Rancho Valencia orange and salted caramel


Lastly, we had a couple of chocolates. These were both good, and I really enjoyed the classic salty and caramel flavors in the salted caramel.

This was a very strong meal. The menu was carefully crafted with unique preparations of seasonal ingredients. The food was sophisticated, tasty and even kind of playful at times. Once the restaurant is renovated to match the food, I expect this to be a popular draw. A meal like this makes me wonder…perhaps I’ve been too hard on San Diego’s restaurant scene.


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