Food Across America: San Diego, California
On a recent trip to San Diego, I learned that the locals have a wickedly good sense of humor. At Eclipse Chocolat in University Heights, sculptor-turned-chocolatier Will Gustwiller uses some of the most unexpected ingredients to make his quirky truffles, like the smoky, grassy Cacao Cubano—dark-chocolate ganache infused with cigar leaf and topped with a dried banana chip. (His inspiration: “I used to date a Cuban.”) I laughed when I stepped into Powell’s Sweet Shoppe in tony La Jolla and heard the Four Tops singing “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch).” I spent an hour browsing exotic imports like chewy citrus-flavored Japanese rice candies, and American confections like peanut clusters.
Trey Foshee. Photo © Stephen Kennedy.
The fun extended beyond sweets: At the newly renovated George’s California Modern, more than the interiors got an upgrade—so did the menu by Trey Foshee (an F&W Best New Chef 1998), whose ingenious experiments include little cubes of soy gelée that dress up impeccably fresh hamachi. I also enjoyed the clever, market-driven cocktails by mixologist Frankie Thaheld. My favorite, a concoction called Frankie’s Kiwi Kwencher, combined sparkling wine and muddled kiwi; Thaheld rimmed the glass with a sweet-salty mixture of caramelized walnuts, pistachios and peanuts.
Scrawled on a chalkboard wall at the almost-year-old restaurant Whisknladle are witty quotes like, “As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists.” Chef Ryan Johnston has every right to be proud of his locally sourced, farm-to-table dishes. I had an excellent platter of homemade charcuterie with delicious accompaniments like pickled ramps from nearby Chino Farms. And the mussels, cooked in a garlicky white wine sauce, were harvested about 25 miles away in Carlsbad.
Jai Sushi. Photo © Philip Greenberg
At the W Hotel San Diego, I found a lovely sense of whimsy. The newly renovated lobby by designer Thom Filicia has a beach theme, with cabana-like seating and a cool wall installation of surfboard tail fins by renowned local surfer John Bishop. As with the rest of my trip, I was delightfully surprised.
At Jaí, Wolfgang Puck’s new Asian spot, I devoured chef Yoshinori Kojima’s fantastic miso-broiled butterfish. Then I went on a romp in the nearby woods—where UC San Diego exhibits sculpture—in search of Elizabeth Murray’s “Red Shoe.” What I found: a 10.5-foot-tall high-heeled boot.