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location > 437 South Highway 101, Solana Beach
phone > 858-792-0072
chef > Wade Hageman

IF YOU’RE A CLEVER FELLOW from Beaver Falls, Wisconsin, who intends to reshape contemporary American cuisine, one approach would be to re-create humble hometown favorites with exquisite raw materials.

Three of the best reasons to dine at blanca, the high-line, highly respected Solana Beach restaurant are chef Wade Hageman’s trio of Dungeness crab–stuffed deviled eggs ($12). Offered under the appetizer list’s “finger foods” heading, these lip-smacking beauties outshine typical Fourth of July picnic fare in the way Roman candles roar past firecrackers. Hageman uses yolks whipped to a mellow mousse to steady the halved whites, which he mounds with high domes of meaty crab bound with lemony aioli. Cutesy sprigs of micro-chervil crown these like edible bling. So good that you try to coax three bites from each, these fancy nibbles gild the day.

Other plates jump off the menu and smack you in the taste buds, many on an appetizer list that Hageman plays like a platinum harmonica. Elegant but down-home finger foods include truffled French fries with black-truffle mayo ($10) and irresistible, crisply fried baby violet artichokes ($12), served with equally infant fennel and a sprinkling of fleur de sel (hand-harvested French sea salt). Larger plates run to a four-way tasting of Chino’s heirloom tomatoes that includes fanciful “cherry bombs” and tomato tarte tatin with sorbet ($16) and a truly amazing, multilayered timbale of crunchy-sweet watermelon, creamy-sharp feta and micro-cilantro. It’s richly all-American, just like the Morgans, Mellons and Madisons ($10). The corn souffle ($12, and of course the corn is from Chino’s) would bespeak Midwestern Sunday supper were it not for the black-truffle cream that places it beyond home tables.

Mother-and-son proprietors Debbie Hugonin and Seth Baas named their handsome eatery blanca, yet apart from globular lamps swathed in pleated cloth that hang overhead like pumpkins masked for a Venetian ball, little is white. In the main dining room, grays and charcoals bend light into bright pools hemmed by shadow, so that in a room without dividers, every table nonetheless seems buffered from its neighbors. Music spills from speakers hidden on high, but even when full, this is one restaurant that doesn’t become a vicious maelstrom of noise.

Just as a guest begins to say, “The John Dory looks exquisite,” the waiter exclaims, “You have to try the John Dory, it’s wonderful!” Hageman may be from the Midwest (as is this writer), but he clearly learned to cook seafood somewhere with a salt-water coast. Covered with the thinnest possible potato “scales,” the fish was bronzed quickly in a pan and served atop puddles of melted leeks, with a charred-scallion beurre blanc for extra flavor. Perfect, perfect, perfect, and quite worth the $40 price.

Hageman offers many such modestly complicated, expertly executed dishes, like a breast of Indiana white Pekin duck whose garnishes include a kumquat and mint chocolate compote ($28) and a Merlot-braised short rib with lemon-mascarpone cheese ravioli and Bermuda onion marmalade ($27). Top-grade steaks ($29 to $40) and Niman Ranch rack of lamb ($46) are simply grilled over mesquite and served with a side dish and sauce of choice. After any of these, the sweet-tart Meyer lemon tart ($9) seems just right.

blanca serves dinner nightly at 437 South Highway 101 in Solana Beach. Reservations are suggested at 858-792-0072.

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