A Guide to San Diego’s Best Corn Dishes
The city’s world-class corn is peaking right now, and here’s what top chefs are doing with it
Campfire's take on a corn dessert.
Your summer bod is impressive, but corn’s is better. It’s a revelation just as plain ole grilled cob, dripping with butter (and, hopefully, a little mayo and cotija cheese and paprika or sumac and cayenne and herbs), preferably eaten outside with lemonade, spiked or not. Packed with fiber and calories, it saved colonials’ butts during the first few winters in America. It has always been to North and South America what rice is to Asia, and about 20 percent of the world’s calories come from corn. The U.S. consumes about one-third of the global crop.
It’s in everything we eat. Chips, cereal, almost every packaged food on the planet—everything. America grows 90 million acres of the stuff (like Ben Affleck’s acting career, it can thrive in even the harshest conditions). It’s in everything our food animals eat. It’s subsidized and dominates the American foodscape, and that’s part of what’s tarnished its good name.
But another thing has soiled its rep, and that is time. Corn starts losing its sugar (converting it into starch) immediately when harvested. Stored at room temp for just six hours, the average cob will lose about 40 percent of its sugar content. So if you’re cooking it at home and want to not lose your brio for it, refrigerate it immediately and try to cook it the same day you buy it.
“There’s a tremendous difference between produce picked that morning at its peak of ripeness with no middle man in between and no extended refrigeration period,” says Bertrand Hug, owner of Mister A’s and Mille Fleurs.
Or you could see what some of the city’s best chefs are doing with it in their kitchens. These restaurants get a new supply almost every day. They’re getting the very best, from the very best farmers, and transforming it immediately before it goes south. And very few counties on the planet grow corn as delicious as San Diego.
“Every year we look forward to the summer when Chino Farms corn becomes available,” says Jon Bautista, chef de cuisine at George’s California Modern. “It’s the best corn I’ve ever tasted, and I’d put it up against any other areas that grow corn in the U.S.”
It’s peak season right now. This is corn’s annual 15 minutes of super-fame. So I asked a few of my favorite chefs what they’re doing with it in their kitchens today.
Uni Carbonara with smoked bacon, corn, chiles, and parmesan
Chef de cuisine Anthony Wells uses uni-flavored linquini with creamed corn and smoked pork, then tops it with a soft-poached egg, fresh uni tongues, and lots of black pepper and Pecorino cheese. They get their corn from Stehly Farms in Valley Center at peak season.
2228 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy
Chino Farms Corn
“My favorite way to eat it is straight off the stalk in raw form,” says Bautista. “We serve it raw, charred on the grill, lightly sauteed in butter. Then we top it with a simple lemon vinaigrette, cotija cheese, slices of farmers market plums, grilled romano beans, pickled red pearl onions, and cilantro. The dish is garnished with a savory corn funnel cake dusted in popcorn powder and bachelor button flowers.”
1250 Prospect St., La Jolla
Roasted chili and sweet corn spoon bread
“The intent is to mimic a chili relleno,” says James Beard-nominated chef Carl Schroeder. “We roast a ton of Anaheim peppers and dice them along with a corn puree, pepper jack cheese, masa, and brioche. This is all tossed with toasted spices and soaked in a custard before cooking. It’s served with spice-seared king salmon, cumin-braised tomatillo sauce, and mango.”
3702 Via de la Valle, Del Mar
Sweet Corn Agnolotti
“The agnolotti are made in house with a creamy corn puree,” says chef de cuisine Kelli Crosson. “They’re served in a ragu of chantarelles, fresh corn, spring onions, and thyme, then topped with Jeff’s Select—an aged gouda out of Wisconsin. The salty, sharp, and nutty flavor complements the mushrooms and corn. I use Black Sheep Produce corn via Specialty Produce. It’s so sweet and delicious that the corn puree is simply corn, sauteed with leeks, then simmered with corn stock. When cooked, it’s blended with a touch of salt. Nothing else.”
11480 N. Torrey Pines Rd., Torrey Pines
East Coast Scallops
“In the summer, corn tastes like it took a bath in a corn and sugar liquid, so sweet, flavorful, and juicy,” says chef Brad Wise. “I’m using Black Sheep Produce white corn, and highlight it in our East Coast scallops with pickled cherry gazpacho, lump crab meat, Israeli couscous, and roasted tomatoes from Dassi Family Farm in Encinitas.”
3752 Park Blvd., Hillcrest
Stone Clam Tagliatelle with sweet yellow corn
Housemade tagliatelle is folded in with cherry stone clams, crispy lardo, preserved lemon, chili flake, and a white wine butter sauce. “We use Simoni & Massoni Farms super-sweet yellow corn,” says chef de cuisine Shane McIntyre. “It’s non-GMO and the sweetness pairs amazingly well with the clams, while the lardo and chili flake round everything out.” They grill the corn in their wood-grilled oven for a little smokiness, then toss it with the rest.
2210 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy
George’s Bank Scallops with chantarelles, white corn, and huitlacoche
“We’ve been shopping at Chino’s since 1975,” says owner Bertrand Hug. “In terms of their corn, you’d be hard pressed to find a sweeter, more expressive vessel of taste and texture (lightly crunchy, and bursting at the bite). Chef Stephane Voitzwinkler and chef de cuisine Sean McCart use the sweetness of corn, chantarelles, and the two funghi (chantarelles and huitlacoche) to bring smokey and earth flavors. Then add a buttermilk pavé (mousse) to complement the scallops.”
2550 Fifth Ave., Bankers Hill
Elote with passionfruit, roasted corn, blueberry compote, and brick dough
Chef Andrew Bachelier makes a dessert of yellow corn from Milliken Family Farms in Santa Barbara. It looks like a corn on the cob, but it’s a white chocolate and passionfruit shell, stuffed with blueberry compote and corn ice cream.
2725 State St., Carlsbad