The Main Dish for March
Troy Johnson's food news this month
Over the last few years, Kitchen 1540 has become a beacon for San Diego foodies. Plenty of reasons. The property is drop-jaw, with one of the best ocean-facing patios in S.D. The décor? A minimalist vision by world-famous architect, Andre Kikoski. And the chef? Well, it was Paul McCabe. He built L’Auberge’s food rep, and they helped build his in return. When he announced his departure late last year (to Delicias), Kitchen 1540 became a big pair of unfilled shoes. Enter Scott Thomas Dolbee, a graduate of San Dieguito High who made his name opening a slew of successful restos for Four Seasons. Now he’s back home at K1540. He’s spent two months poking around. And come April 1, he’ll “completely flip” the menu—all his, all new. As I write this, L’Auberge’s bigwigs are sampling his proposed dishes. We get a sneak peak at the chef, his plans and the menu to come.
Why Kitchen 1540?
Wife and I have three kids. We met in OC, and I grew up in Encinitas. My first job was at the Del Mar Hilton (line cook) when I was 17. We really wanted to come back to California. I was looking to transfer within the Four Seasons group, and then my wife found this listing. It’s an open kitchen, the chefs are on stage. I love that environment. I love that it’s small a boutique hotel, only 180 rooms, whereas I was handling about 400 rooms at Four Seasons.
Paul McCabe left big shoes to fill. You restricted by his reputation or have carte blanche?
I love that legacy. It was a great restaurant. Ideally, though, everything will change. Starting with dinner, lunch, breakfast, Waterfall Terrace, then The Blue Bar. We’re going to take the whole operation and turn it upside down.
Your chef mentor?
I was at Pinot Provence for four years. The chef Florent Marneau was a huge influence—taught me how to put plates together. He could take three simple ingredients—like, say, celery root, fennel and fish—and create an amazing dish. All he ever used as a spoon and a knife. This guy didn’t need anything else.
When you go somewhere, you always take a little with you. In Hawaii, I learned a lot of traditional Hawaiian and Asian cuisine. Whistler is in the Pacific Northwest, so I dabbled in a lot of seafood. It also let me get a lot of experience with the first-nation cuisine. I opened a café and catering operation for the Squamish Luluat Culture Center. I spent a year-and-a-half doing tastings for the tribes. I got to learn their culture and their food, then present what I thought was my best interpretation of it. And of course it’s Whislter, so mountain cuisine, too.
What are you known for?
My track record was launching new restaurants. I launched The Blvd. at Four Seasons Beverly Hills. Then they sent me to Whistler, where the restaurant had no business. They wanted to go steakhouse, so I designed and created the concept for Sidecut. No interior overhaul, nothing. Just changed the menu, food and concept. Nine months later we won Best New Restaurant in Whistler, and it was part of what got the resort five-diamond rating.
Food from as close to my kitchen as possible. I realize everyone’s doing it now. But I want to take it to the next level. I’m looking for exclusive relationships with local farms. I want to know the name of the fisherman who caught my halibut. We’ve got a micro-garden on property at L’Auberge right now, but we want to cultivate a bigger plot of land here for significant produce.
They’re going to let you do that?
It’s in the works.
Name your favorite “kids.”
Aw, man. I have 40-50 signature dishes now. But, OK. I do an oyster with a Kobe beef tartare and tuna belly with nori-cured foie gras. I’m also playing around with abalone.
Spearheading an abalone revival?
It’s just incredibly delicate, very fragrant. It’s like lobster. For a while it was very expensive and out of reach and endangered. Now it’s so steadily farmed and sustainable that it’s coming back.
San Diego memories?
I moved here when I was six, left when I was 21. Graduated from San Dieguito High. We used to hang out at the Del Mar Skate Park, skating and riding BMX bikes. We’d watch Tony Hawk in the bowl when he was 14. We’d hang on the beach at Swami’s a lot, or go dirt biking where the Four Seasons Aviara is now. Used to just be wide open with trees.
Can you send me the sketch of your first menu?
Emailing it right now.
Below is a sneak-peek at Dolbee’s proposed menu for K1540. Keep in mind: Some of these dishes may not make the cut. Resort restaurants essentially have a tasting panel—the chefs put forth their ideas, some blow minds, some get shot down. Sometimes ENTIRE menus are scrapped. But we’ve selected a few that sound like they just might blow our minds. See which make the cut when they launch the new menu, April 1.
Oyster Cubed, served in the style of BMary, dry martini and sake cocktail
Chino Artisan Lettuces with peach, avo, feta, candied pecan, blackberry
Cool Roasted Beets with tangerine, fromage blanc, sylvetta (arugula), yuzu
Foie Gras Pastrami: with kumquat, Tiroler pork belly, onion jam
Steelhead Pastrami with Scotch egg, smoked roe, liquid potato, slaw
Venison with cauliflower ‘marzipan,’ black trumpet mushroom, huckleberry, red kale, pine nut, Douglas fir and smoke.
Cornish game hen with shell bean, Iberico chorizo, 62” egg, cipolini onion harissa, chick pea humus
Abalone with sunchoke, arugula puree, lemon, nutty brown butter and northern lights caviar
Yellow eye rockfish with razor clam, king crab, red onion and truffle butter
Andaz has been busy. Along with Katsuya’s opening (March 3), hotel chef Reese Hay is launching rooftop breakfast (chicken and chili hash, ricotta pancakes with blueberry compote)
Wanna free burger? To ring in 25 years, Corvette Diner will give away 1,987 free burgers on March 5. They’ll have DJs, magicians and balloon artists (either tragically cheesy or brilliantly cheesy).
Bertrand Hug has gotten into the cocktail game. After hiring Shawn Barker for Mister A’s, he’s now tapped Chris Simmons (who designed cocktail for Burlap) for Mille Fleurs. The two cocktail wizzes make up the company Smoke & Mirrors. Smokeandmirrorscocktails.com
Gaijin Noodle + Sake House, the noodles-and-more joint by multi-talented Italian chef Antonio Friscia of Stingaree and Campine, just kicked off their bento-box lunch program. Each meal has polished brown rice with house-made furikake (magic potion with dried fish-sesame-seaweed-sugar-salt-etc), Japanese-Irih potato salad, pickled veggies and a rotating meat (Jidori chicken teriyaki, Duroc pork cutlet, etc)
My enthusiasm for Grant Grill’s Jeff Josenhans will never wane. The current Yoda of inventive, super-artisanal, super-creative cocktails. Star of his newest menu? Hand of the Buddha made with the strange-looking buddha’s hand fruit, High West Silver Oak whiskey, Hiver Amer (cinnamon liqueur) and pressed Meyer lemon from the hotel’s rooftop garden
Celebrating the return of top cheesemonger Francesca Penoncelli, BICE is doing monthly cheese-and-wine tastings ($35). The theme for March: “Herbs and Spices”
“The Origins Dinner” @ The Wellington
After splitting with Blue Pointe, James Beard nominee Daniel Barron teamed with longtime farm-to-table chef Flor Franco, Kitchen 1540 pastry chef Jeff Bonilla and mixologist Michael Yen (also of K1540). Their new company is called Evolve—organizing pop-up dinners at various restos across SD county. “Origins Dinner” is their first. Barron’s a molecular gastronomy whiz, and Franco’s a local-food diehard, a marriage of farm and laboratory. Expect the unexpected. This 8-course kickoff includes things such as “foie gras candy,” black cod terrine with miso “tartar,” crispy lamb’s tongue (with shank if that sounds too scary), chicken and waffles with coconut water, etc. March 6 & 7. $75. evolvecuisine.com
“Whiskeys of the World” @ Westgate Hotel
Ed Adams knows his brown liquor. The world-renown Master of Whiskey is partnering with the Westgate’s talented French chef Fabrice Hardel for a five-course whiskey pairing dinner. Pesto sea scallops with Bushmills 10. Maine lobster and Kobe short rib with Bulleit Bourgon. Smoked California Squab with Crown Black. Bittersweet chocolate soufflé with Johnnie Walker Gold. You get the point. March 30. $99. Westgatehotel.com
Brooks Wine Dinner @ Amaya
The Grand Del Mar is like the Library of Congress of wine. They’re kicking off a monthly series of wine pairing dinners, starting with a three-courser at Amaya with chef Camron Woods. Brooks Wines from Willamette Valley are organic, biodynamically farmed gems, with Riesling and two pinots on tap for this tasting. March 9. $78.Thegranddelmar.com.