Epazote Oceanview Steakhouse
Location - 1555 Camino del Mar, Del Mar
Phone - 858-259-9966
Chef - Anthony De Luca
WHILE SOME NEIGHBORS knock on the door to beg a cup of sugar, Candice Sullivan waltzed next door to borrow a restaurateur and his managing partner, chef and decorator.
Texans have a grand way of doing things. The Fort Worth–based entrepreneur, who bought Epazote in Del Mar Plaza several years ago and transformed this view-endowed space into Epazote Oceanview Steakhouse, invited a raft of local talent to season the transition. Kipp Downing, who owns Pacifica Del Mar and whose résumé includes Café Pacifica and the long-gone Pacifica Bar & Grill, took on the job of consultant and brought along partner Jay Hendrick, chef Chris Idso and leading restaurant designer David Robinson, whose top-to-bottom redecoration of the space should be complete by March. Idso helped shape the new menu before handing the reins to new executive chef Anthony De Luca, formerly of Island Prime. (The team missed a chance at poetry, though, by not inviting chef Nicola Calamari from the neighboring Il Fornaio to design Epazote’s baby squid appetizer.)
Epazote Oceanview Steakhouse is one of those names that gets the story straight, since the restaurant’s sweeping, semi-open-air terrace owns one of the best coastal views in Southern California. Even after dark, the grand sense of spaciousness, of knowing that that black void over to the west stretches all the way to China, makes a terrace table terrifically desirable—especially if it’s near the glowing fireplace in the corner. The beefy new menu features a quintet of serious steaks along with a pork T-bone ($23), a sizable Maine lobster tail ($45) and several other topgrade seafood offerings.
Of course, this is Del Mar, and it is 2007, so Epazote Oceanview Steakhouse by no means models itself on the Chicago-style salad, steak and baked potato palaces that set the standard. In fact, the side-dish selection excludes baked potatoes and French fries (as well as hash browns, cottage fries and similar spud sensations) in favor of buttermilk-enriched mashed potatoes and herb-roasted fingerling potatoes. These omissions wouldn’t fly in some parts of the country (or this county) but may not be much noticed here.
Equally notable is “Ways To Top It,” a list of rubs, glazes and sauces suggested as flavorings or dressings for the grilled meat and seafood selections. One choice is included with each dish, and of the bunch, good old-fashioned sauce Béarnaise—the Epazote kitchen makes it well—seems the best choice for both a center-cut beef filet ($28 for 6 ounces, $44 for 10) and the excellent, generously portioned Pacific swordfish ($30). This option may seem stodgy to those who favor a so-called Cajun “blackening rub,” or the house rub of chipotle, ancho and pasilla chile powders blended with sea salt, but Béarnaise and top-grade beef, which is the kind served here, always make a potent combination. Similar to a classic beurre maître d’hôtel, the “Epazote compounded butter” blends butter, red wine, shallots, chives and parsley, and the thick slice that slowly melted over a tender filet one evening made an excellent impression.
A sharp blend of blue cheese, cooked shallots and cracked pepper probably would go equally well with the 12-ounce New York strip loin ($35) and the mammoth, 18-ounce porterhouse ($38). As accompaniments to cedar plank–roasted Atlantic salmon ($29) and sushi-grade ahi ($32), the orange-honey cumin glaze and the sweet-spicy mustard glaze are the best bets.
If the menu seems to have a mix-and-match quality, it does. Besides rubs, glazes and sauces, each entrée is offered with the choice of one side dish. These can of course be shared, and while it is hard to imagine accompanying a steak with steamed brown rice (it could go with fish), the macaroni and truffle cheese gratin is a steakhouse-worthy selection, as are chile-dusted shoestring onions and the sesame-flavored sautéed spinach. This may sound grouchy, but the best way to comment on the replacement of respectable baked potatoes by herb-roasted fingerlings is to ignore them.
AMONG STARTERS, the listing for shiitake-leek spring rolls ($9) sounds appealing and tastes even better, thanks to the lively, sweet flavors of the vegetable stuffing, the crisp texture of the pastry wrappers and the subtly sultry spiciness of the peanut sauce. An irresistible lemon aioli brings a sensational note to the thick-cut, still-sizzling, cornmeal-dusted calamari ($10), a starter that shares perfectly, as does the mustard-seed-flavored beef carpaccio ($10). Epazote serves a pretty plate, the edges of the rosy slices lightly charred, and the paper-thin meat piled high with tart arugula, puckery capers and thick shavings of Parmesan. It’s a “gourmet” sort of plate, but perhaps preferable as a preface to seafood rather than steak.
On the other hand, the baby iceberg wedge salad ($7) decorated with blue cheese and crisp bites of bacon (no arguments with these) arrives on a pool of orange liquid that a server avowed to be “French dressing.” French dressing is itself a phony 19th-century creation devised by the otherwise laudable Fanny Farmer. In this case, the orange color derives from a dose of cayenne that bushwhacks the palate. One guest complained, “My mouth is on fire” after a bite or two. If the kitchen wants to play “diner’s roulette” with cayenne, the menu should offer fair warning, which it does not.
There’s nothing to quibble about with the house-made desserts (all $8), which are rich and lavish in the steakhouse style. The dark chocolate “decadent” cake is a caramel-enhanced plate-scraper that thoroughly deserves its name. And if the banana-croissant bread pudding with bourbon-caramel sauce and walnuts seems to cross the richness line rather recklessly, so be it—this is a dessert to remember.
Epazote Oceanview Steakhouse serves lunch and dinner daily on the plaza level of Del Mar Plaza, 1555 Camino del Mar, Del Mar. Reservations are advised; telephone 858-259-9966.