Restaurant: George’s at the Cove – California Modern (Part 2/3)
Cuisine: Modern American/Californian/Eclectic/West Coast
Last visited: December 22, 2012
Location: San Diego, CA (La Jolla)
Address: 1250 Prospect Street
Phone: (858) 454-4244
Price Range: $50+
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Chef Trey Foshee
- Pastry Chef Lori Huffman
- Modern Californian cuisine
- Seasonal menus
- Mostly local ingredients
- Sustainable ingredients
- Ocean view
- Award winning
- Fine dining room
- Casual wine bar
- Extensive wine list
- Cocktail program
- Vegetarian friendly
- Vegan friendly
- Mon. – Thurs.: 5:30pm – 10pm
- Fri. – Sun.: 5pm – 10pm
- California Modern – Part 1/3
- California Modern – Part 3/3
- California Modern – Chef’s Tasting Menu
**Recommendations: “TBL 3” is the ultimate “foodie experience”, but I had the 6 course Tasting Menu. The “Fish Tacos” from the a la carte menu are supposed to be amazing and the vegetarian menu is a highlighted feature. The dessert menu is worth coming for alone: Doughnuts & Dips and Carrot Cake were favourites. Try the GCT cocktail (off the menu).
Fine dining in San Diego? Hm. Hmm. San Diego is more tacos, burgers and gastropub than it is truffles, steak and white tablecloth, but that is not to say it doesn’t have a sophisticated market to feed. It’s San Diego – tourist friendly and retirement friendly. As I mentioned in Follow Me Foodie to San Diego, it is a very laid back and casual city. It is not the “food city” of California, but with Los Angles and San Francisco leading the State, it’s hard to compete.
However if you are looking for the ultimate fine dining experience in San Diego then George’s at the Cove will settle your haute cuisine cravings. It is located in La Jolla which is arguably San Diego’s most luxurious and affluent area. The restaurant overlooks the crystal blue ocean, and it is popular to locals and tourists looking for a sophisticated dining experience.
I was invited to George’s at the Cove for dinner and to be honest I’ve had my eyes on it for a while. It was the first restaurant on my Follow Me Foodie to San Diego itinerary and I’ve been following their food philosophy and creations online. I love fine dining as much as I do street food, but my infatuation is with the food more so than the ambiance, although you surely won’t lose out on ambiance here. The ocean view (above) is stunning and it is a main attraction. It might be considered as a “to be seen” place, but don’t underestimate what goes on in the kitchen and especially at California Modern.
George’s at the Cove has three restaurants and California Modern is their fine dining restaurant located on the bottom floor. It is often looked over by its louder and more casual sister restaurants Ocean Terrace and George’s Bar. Those two are catered towards a different market, and although I haven’t been, my interest and enthusiasm was towards California Modern. California Modern is associated more with special occasions, and its secluded and somewhat hidden location downstairs can be intimidating.
The ambiance was no doubt swanky and the extensive wine collection and cocktail bar is worth coming for alone. You don’t have to come for the full dinner and the lounge area is appropriate for pre-dinner or after dinner socializing.
Of course if you want the full experience than the dining room can’t be missed. I was slightly confused with the concept of the restaurant though. The white tablecloths were present, but the staff were all in runners and casual dress code, but it felt like fine dining. Formal European fine dining is never as well received on the West Coast, so it seemed to be aiming for more approachable, but I would consider it a nicer special occasion place.
Ambiance aside, the food was what I came here for. I have been following Executive Chef Trey Foshee and Pastry Chef Lori Huffman’s work for the last little while. They both really captured my culinary curiosity. Every dish they both created looked like art and the flavour combinations were original. They were on the same wave length. The food was very forward in thought and simply put, it was current.
To be honest, TBL 3 is what caught my attention the most. Although there are many menus and ways to dine at California Modern, TBL 3 is the ultimate experience for food and wine enthusiasts. It is a 12-14 course meal that is not for everyone, but it is what I think sets them apart from many traditional fine dining restaurants. Read more about it here. Unfortunately I did not plan properly and missed out on this unique experience (only available Tuesday-Thursday with mandatory reservations).
The celebration of vegetables is more or less where chef’s passion lies. The vegetarian courses is what California Modern and TBL 3 are gaining a reputation for. On a global scale the vegetarian movement is still on the rise, so there is plenty of room to see it grow (pun intended) and appreciated by non-vegetarians alike. The a la carte menu at California Modern is still balanced with meat, seafood and vegetarian options to cater to its local and out of town clientele.
Yes, I am a carnivore, but I do like vegetables. I listed it in my Top 10 Food Trends for 2013 and I do believe the vegetarian food scene will be gaining momentum in the near future. People are becoming more aware of local, sustainable and healthy food choices; thus many chefs are finding a new found love for vegetables and featuring them in creative ways. It is also incredibly challenging to do a vegetarian course well because most vegetables are 90% water. There is a fine line between “let the flavours speak for themselves” and “I can make this at home” or bland and under seasoned.
The menu I had was the Chef’s Tasting Menu which I enjoyed, but I was hoping to try more of his vegetarian items. I made no requests, but I think I scratched the surface with the tasting menu. Chef Foshee’s cooking style is very natural, delicate and light. So due to the nature of smaller sized dishes in a tasting course, it was difficult to get all the intended flavours with the limited portion or absence of some components. It was creative and very progressive in thought, but the flavours always seemed more mild than the description of the dish. Personally I enjoy stronger flavours, and I am still curious to see how he interprets his other menus.
Most of his dishes are olive oil based rather than butter based and he uses vegetable based broths and minimal sauces. It channels a love for Californian ingredients executed with modernist and traditional European techniques. It was refined, but still very approachable and safe for many palates. The presentation was near flawless and Chef Foshee is certainly an artist as much as he is a chef. The ingredients were well sourced and mostly local and it was a modern welcome to Californian cuisine, as the name California Modern suggests.
On the table:
- Seaweed, dashi, brassica
- From Paris to the Mediterranean, and now Japan. All the ingredients were still mostly from California though.
- He seemed to have a very delicate approach with showcasing seafood and it was no different here.
- Just like the Raviolo, this course was accompanied with a lighter broth which was poured at the table upon being served.
- It was a dashi broth which smelled like bacon and tasted like it was made from ham hock. It certainly had my nose excited.
- Traditional Japanese dashi stock is made from kelp, daikon and or bonito flakes (fish), so this was a bit different.
- I could taste a bit of soy sauce and it tasted like a meat broth, but it was still light, not oily, and wonderfully savoury.
- There could have been some ponzu as well because the sauce had some citrus acidity.
- The most interesting and intense dashi stock I’ve had was surprisingly not at a Japanese restaurant, but from Alinea – see Dashi from their “Scallop” course.
- I am used to hesitating every time I see “swordfish” on a menu, but luckily this was local.
- Almost all Swordfish from the Mediterranean is non-sustainable and because it is a predatory fish it is high in mercury.
- Being local swordfish I was less worrisome and Chef Foshee supports sustainable ingredients for his menus.
- In most cases I prefer the fish skin, but swordfish is best without the skin.
- Swordfish is similar to halibut and it is a very firm fish which can come across as chicken.
- It is easy to overcook and it can taste overcooked too. This one was moist and cooked well.
- It has a fishy flavour and it was pan seared on both sides and it would have been great grilled.
- The broth was the seasoning so it didn’t need to be seasoned too much and it wasn’t.
- The seaweed and brassica (mustard greens) on top were crunchy and almost raw.
- If it is not cilantro, green onions and ginger, then I almost always prefer mustard greens with fishier tasting fish prepared in Asian flavours.
- It was a good quality swordfish so it didn’t need a heavy marinade or sauce and it was a very natural and delicate dish.
- I do prefer other types of fish and because the flavours were so familiar to me, it wasn’t my favourite course, but it was still good.
- Black truffle, cauliflower, Torrey pine needles
- It was Australian truffle, cauliflower purée and Torrey pine needles from Torrey Pine State Park in San Diego.
- So we visited various countries and cooking styles, but we ended with a final stop in California.
- I really love his clean plating and precise presentation.
- The lamb had beautiful colour and it was served medium rare, but it was a bit chewy.
- It was slightly gamey (some argue if it’s not gamey it’s not lamb, and lamb should taste like lamb).
- I’m sensitive to game, but this was not overly gamey and I think it would have been great sous vide first and then seared.
- It had good flavour and a nice peppery crust and the Australian truffle was used liberally and not just as a garnish.
- The truffle was woody in flavour and accompanied with a creamy, rich and savoury cauliflower purée.
- There was also a very tender and caramelized piece of cauliflower on the plate (covered by truffle in the photo).
- I could have used more demi glace, but given that the lamb pieces were small I just used the cauliflower purée and it was okay.
- I’m not going to start listing everything he did that was in my Top 10 Food Trends for 2013, but he was surely on point with almost every dish.
- Usually I’m not a fan of inedible garnishes, but the Torrey pine needle was symbolic for San Diego and I appreciated it.
- It was foraged and Torrey Pine State Park in San Diego is the only place Torrey pine needles grow. It was a charming touch.
Here are some a la dishes I didn’t try, but took photos of.
- Potato, parsley, uni, seaweed, ikura, aioli $16 (Appetizer)
- Chorizo, pear, black truffle, gastrique, sweet onion, Chino Farms beans $50 (Main)
- Charred eggplant, pumpkin, pine nut risotto, “lamb caramel”, pomegranate $40 (Main)
- Gin, celery juice, tonic, Buddha’s Hand, smoke.
- LOVED this. It is off the menu, but available by request.
- It was my pre-dessert cocktail, but it would be excellent as a starter drink. It was very easy to drink and not too boozy.
- It was a coincidence but at the table next to me was @FoodieFlirt! She recommended me the GCT Cocktail which she tried at her TBL 3 experience.
- If you love gin and prefer it to vodka than you’ll appreciate this.
- It was made with Plymouth Gin which is a premium gin from the UK.
- It was gin forward and with such a good brand of gin you don’t want anything to overpower its natural flavour profile.
- They served the ice separately which was nice and it would be great to see the one giant clarified ice cube block, but that wasn’t a big deal.
- Celery juice and tonic are quite mild so it complemented the gin well without interfering.
- It was minty and herbal and the Buddha’s Hand was infused to give it that sour lemon flavour.
- Again, I loved the choice of Buddha’s Hand since it is local fruit grown in Southern California. Coming from Vancouver, it is exotic.
- It was a very refreshing drink and the sweet and sour was well balanced.
- The smoke was also quite mild and again their head bartender was in tune with the Top 10 Food Trends for 2013.
- It’s a good sign when you have one drink and it makes you want to go back to explore even just their cocktail menu. That happened to me here.
- It didn’t taste like liquid smoke, but my guess would be that the Buddha’s Hand was smoked in their actual in house smoker and then sous vide into the gin.
- Other smoked cocktails I’ve tried were at Hawksworth – see A Spirited Dinner ft. Whiskey Cocktails and West – see West Restaurant + Bar – Mourad Lahlou: New Moroccan Dinner.
- Finger lime, kaffir lime
- This was the palate cleanser before the dessert courses which is always ideal.
- Often in a 6 course Chef’s Menu they only give one palate cleanser or sometimes even none, but it was two here.
- They served the palate cleansers at the right time and because it was necessary. I appreciated it.
- This was incredible and so unique. The use of finger lime was also in my Top 10 Food Trends for 2013.
- Lemon and lime sorbets are good, but they get so boring and this was anything but boring.
- The sorbet was smooth in texture and consistent throughout.
- It was fragrant, sweet and tart, but not sour and also a bit floral from perhaps the kaffir lime zest.
- The finger lime caviar were the perfect garnish and I’m used to seeing them green, but this variety was pink.
- These finger limes were grown in California and they are crunchy pearls which pop in your mouth with a burst of bright and sour lime juice.
- The sorbet was refreshing and natural and the different flavours of citrus were well showcased.