We have been here for two weeks and I would like to stay another thirty. I brought my travel bag and a note from my wife. I will plead my case. We’re at the 200-acre Park Hyatt Aviara, one of San Diego’s classic properties built high above a wetland preserve in Carlsbad. The ocean is right there. We’re seated at a long dining table at Ponto Lago, their Baja-inspired restaurant and a star of the property’s recent $50 million makeover. You can feel the crackle of red oak and arctic char on various excellent proteins. I see a collection of mezcal.
I speak with chef Christopher Carriker about the magic of wood smoke. David tells her about the magic of heavy metal music. There’s a hamachi and blackberry aguachile, a Sinoloan specialty, with sliced fresno peppers, green onion and mint. There’s a charred octopus zarandeado with chorizo aioli, chicharrons and kumquats. It’s Baja ideas mixed with French sauce skills and unbeatable San Diego seafood and produce.
Carriker hails from Portland, which has no shortage of food. But, for a chef, he says, it’s nothing like San Diego.
“The farms we have just up the road? It’s amazing,” he said. “I had to get used to the long growing seasons when I came here. I thought, ‘well, it’s winter, I guess I need to switch to root vegetables’, and then I realized that summer fruits were still in season. Mad.”
This episode, we explain why every chef and restaurant is converting their gas ovens for expensive piles of wood. Chef Chris walks us through the different woods and their very specific charms (citrus burns, is better for searing), and why Baja cuisine is so compelling.
In “Hot Plates,” we discuss new concepts opened by chef Phil Esteban’s Open Gym group – White Rice Bodega in Normal Heights and Wavy Burgers (Filipino-style burgers) in National City. One of North County’s hottest restaurant groups, Leucadia Co. (Moto Deli, Valentina, etc.) is opening two new Hamburger Hut (Wagyu Burgers) locations in Encinitas and Oceanside. The Carruth Cellars’ mighty run in Little Italy is winding down in mid-June, but the good news is that on almost the same day, they’re opening their huge spot at Liberty Station, a 10,000-foot wine wonderland. squares with a boutique gourmet cheese and expanded menu. And finally, Societe Brewing is expanding into a new location in Old Town, continuing the signal that historic San Diego is getting a blood transfusion.
For “Two People, Fifty Bucks,” Troy raves about seared artichokes and pizza at Amalfi Cucina Italiana, and marvels at the surreal man-made wonder that is Lake San Marcos. David raves about the bratwurst at Bagby Beer, and chef Chris nods to another wood-smoked restaurant and one of San Diego’s best, Fort Oak.
Thank you for listening to me. Tune in next week when we broadcast from Stone Brewing Liberty Station for the launch of a new video series featuring the city’s local beer heroes.