While the San Diego coastal town of Del Mar is a popular spot for locals, it gets thrust into the national spotlight during the Del Mar Racetrack’s high season. Just in time to get in on the action, three hot new restaurants have opened in Del Mar. With cutting-edge cuisine, chic ambiance and prime locations near the heart-pounding races, the trendy trio is on track to win.
Sea & Smoke
A slow-food movement devotee, chef Matt Gordon is no stranger to farm-to-fork fare. He debuted with Urban Solace, a hip eatery in San Diego’s artsy North Park neighborhood, and then expanded to the coastal town of Encinitas with Solace & The Moonlight Lounge, a laid-back seafood-centric bistro. Riding the crest of swelling success, Gordon recently opened his third venue, Sea & Smoke, an upscale American brasserie in stylish Del Mar.
The 4,500-square-foot, 300-seat eatery features three distinct areas. A glassed-in kitchen anchors the bustling dining room where wooden floors, expansive windows and dining nooks accented by deep teal paneling and vividly patterned tiles create a cozy yet open ambiance. The area flows to a large sunken lounge where a massive bar, low-slung furnishings, stone flooring and dusky lighting lend a hip mid-century vibe. Outside on the deck, bistro tables and comfy wicker sectionals cluster between olive trees. Garden lights strung overhead add party-like flair.
The setting is alluring, but food and drink are the main attractions. Starters, mains and sides focus on seafood, meat and vegetables cooked in a wood-fired oven and are meant to be shared family-style. Highlights include yellowtail crudo “blackened” with jalapeño ash. Served over watermelon with crisp jicama and splash of lime, the dish possesses sweet, smoky and savory flavors. The spicy cast-iron prawns with seared avocado, ancho aioli and black bean puree is another delight and pairs well with Ode to Oaxaca, an aperitif of organic mezcal, amaro, citrus and ginger.
Entrées use sustainable artisanal meats, such as lamb from Niman Ranch, beef from Paso Prime and pork from Cook Pigs Ranch. Try the double pork chop roast with honey-mustard brine. Prized for its dark, tender meat, this thick chop comes from rare Red Wattle pigs raised in Julian, California, on a diet rich in acorns. Pair it with a glass of Merlot ’10 from Textbook, Napa. Save room for dessert — the combo plate of chocolate cake, fudgy ganache and banana gelato makes a sweet finale.
Restaurateur, craft draft enthusiast and self-described foodie James Limjoco is another new kid on the Del Mar dining block. Following the success of his popular San Marcos gastropub Sublime Ale House, Limjoco debuted his second venue, Sublime Tavern, just in time for horse-racing season and is off to a winning start. With a focus on local brews, some created specifically for Sublime, such as the Alpha Ferrier Belgian IPA by Mother Earth Brew Co., the 7,000-square-foot, upper-floor eatery has a relaxed vibe and seating for 250. It features a substantial bar with 55 glittering taps, a woodsy dining room decked out in reclaimed timber, and a generous light-filled balcony overlooking the playing fields of the San Diego Polo Club.
The menu from executive chef Josh Richardi (formerly of Roppongi) ranges from pint-worthy partners like hearty steak frites and grass-fed beef tips with blue cheese and red wine sauce, to classic comfort foods with a twist, such as the mac and cheese made with zingy Gorgonzola béchamel, roasted red peppers, mushrooms and chunks of smoked bacon. For something lighter, try the strawberry and Bloomsdale spinach salad, which mingles field greens with Sonoma goat cheese, toasted pistachios and honey balsamic and pairs well with pedigreed wines such as the Kistler Les Noisetiers Chardonnay. Other standouts include the mini ahi poke tostadas piled with satiny sashimi-grade tuna, snappy cilantro and creamy avocado, and the juicy crispy skinned bone-in chicken breast served over peppery braised kale.
Searsucker Del Mar
Fresh on the heels of a quickly completed month-long makeover, the Del Mar venue once known as Burlap was reimagined, redesigned and reopened as Searsucker, the Enlightened Hospitality Group’s fourth restaurant to go by the name, and the second in San Diego. Formerly a clubby-East-meets-West-cowboy Asian eatery, the dragons have vanished, the burlap has been unraveled and only the koi pond on the patio serves as memento. Lighter, brighter and more inviting than its former self, the dining room is a den of warm hardwoods and well-spaced tables set under soaring ceilings hung with rustic rope and timber chandeliers. Jumbo signs inviting you to “eat” light up the indoor bar area, where handcrafted cocktails are shaken and stirred. Meanwhile, the patio beckons with breezy seating and a welcoming bank of couches and club chairs gathered around an additional bar and chic fire pits.
The new space still possesses some of Burlap’s hipster ambiance, but the vibe has shifted from pick-up joint to haute date-night spot. As for the cuisine, chef Andrew “Dizzle” Phillips sticks close to Searsucker’s core menu of ranch-, field-, farm- and sea-themed small plates. One thing unique to the Del Mar restaurant is its raw bar offerings. Standouts include the beef tartare, a stack of succulent ruby-hued meat minced with a grassy, tangy salsa verde. Mix in the golden quail yolk perched on top, twirl in the spicy mustard and aioli and enjoy on thin-sliced toasted baguette. When it comes to main dishes, the pork butt reigns supreme. Melt-in-your-mouth tender, the sweet, savory meat is cooked to perfection with a bacon emulsion and made better by an accompaniment of grilled peaches. Add a side of jalapeño corn off the cob peppered with chunks of spicy chorizo and watch it disappear.
Photos Courtesy of Casey Blatt and James Gambrill