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Saint Paul

Chef Paul McCabe’s new resto, Delicias


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agnolotti from delicias

Agnolotti with peas in brown butter

The other challenge is the fact that Rancho Santa Fe may as well be Pluto. It’s one of the richest zip codes in America, so there are local, seasonal billionaires to be served. But billionaires don’t Twitter. They don’t FoodSpot. If anything, they’re motivated to hide where they’re currently spending their riches.

All that said, McCabe’s cooking should overcome all of that. Before I’m accused of idolatry, let me say that he’s not perfect. His scallops with generous tongues of uni, white chocolate dashi, and coconut should be an indulgent wonder—but the ultra-rich ingredients beg an astringent foil the charred bits of farro don’t deliver. His charred ramp risotto with preserved Meyer lemon and tempura morels has a bright, lovely vegetal flavor, but the Arborio seems under-spooned and lacks creaminess. Black cod with lobster, artichoke, and fennel is respectable. It just doesn’t take the top of your head off and blow light offshore winds over your exposed brain.

That agnolotti does.

"Ninety-nine times out of 100, I prefer my entrees with salt, dessert with sugar. But I’ve never come across a chef with such a deft touch at fusing the two."

So does McCabe’s beet salad, something he took with him from Kitchen 1540. Caramelizing yogurt is nothing new in India. But Google it. McCabe seems to be one of the only chefs in the U.S. milking its charms. With earthy beets and candied pistachios, it’s a salad that tastes just enough of dessert. In the last four years, it’s been the only salad that I can honestly say, on its own, is worth visiting a restaurant for.

It’s this subtle sweetness that McCabe brings to savory dishes (his rabbit sausage with Concord grapes is another oh-wow example) that really sets him apart. Ninety-nine times out of 100, I prefer my entrees with salt, dessert with sugar. But I’ve never come across a chef with such a deft touch at fusing the two.

For dessert, try the strawberry shortcake with phenomenal sour cream ice cream and pecan shortbread. I was raised on house-made biscuits, whipped cream, and garden strawberries. And his takes that by a mile. The Mexican chocolate sundae, on the other hand, is more sugar than it is a composed dessert.   

I honestly didn’t know if McCabe’s food would sing at Delicias. What if he’d just been the beneficiary of a resort’s budget for high-quality ingredients (which is much greater than a stand-alone restaurant)? Had I, and everyone else, been overbilling him?

Now I’m convinced. My meals here were the best I’ve had in San Diego in a very long time. McCabe and company (which includes F&B vet and former Mr. A’s maître d’ Alex Campbell) need to take the show out of the gated community and into the streets. If Delicias lands an interior designer to match McCabe’s skills—and a team of young chef talent to execute McCabe’s vision—it’ll thrive. If not, that agnolotti and beet salad will remain another little bit of magic known only to the already enchanted.

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