San Diego, California – George’s at the Cove – California Modern (Part 3/3)

Restaurant: George’s at the Cove – California Modern (Part 3/3)
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+

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 4-4.5
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4.5
Value: 3.5
Overall: 4.5
Additional comments:

**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).

FMF in San Diego - Geoge's at the Cove (1)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.

FMF in San Diego - Geoge's at the Cove (12)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.

FMF in San Diego - Geoge's at the Cove (13)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.

FMF in San Diego - Geoge's at the Cove (62)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.

FMF in San Diego - Geoge's at the Cove (61)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.

FMF in San Diego - Geoge's at the Cove (21)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:

See California Modern – Part 1/3

See California Modern – Part 2/3

It was finally time for desserts, which I always have a second stomach for. Originally the Chef’s Tasting Menu came with the Chocolate Mousse, but I wanted to try more of Pastry Chef Lori Huffman’s desserts. I have been following her work online and having the Chocolate Mousse just sounded too simple for what she is capable of. Mind you her Chocolate Mousse was seasonal and creative, but I just didn’t think trying one dessert would do her justice.

Based on the four desserts I ended up trying I would be convinced to come here for dessert alone. Actually I felt that way after trying two of them. Pastry Chef Huffman is incredibly talented and her style is aligned with Chef Foshee’s which is always a good sign of a strong kitchen duo.

FMF in San Diego - Geoge's at the Cove (51)**Doughnuts & Dips – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Cinnamon caramel, pumpkin custard, maple yogurt, orange mallow creme $16
  • This is a signature dessert here.
  • Pastry Chef Huffman’s talent goes way beyond doughnuts, but I’m not surprised that this American childhood favourite is most popular.
  • I like doughnuts, but I don’t get excited about them because it is just deep fried dough, but these, these were something else!
  • For $16 I was expecting some pretty special doughnuts, but little did I know the portion is good for 4. Trust me, you want more than one.
  • These have to be eaten fresh so I would rather 4 doughnuts for $10 just because “too much of a good thing” applies to this dessert. You don’t want to overdo it.
  • It came with 4 house made dips which were so unique and different and it was hard to decide which one was my favourite.
  • Cinnamon caramel
    • The caramel was very well executed and made patiently.
    • It was buttery smooth, creamy, not sticky or oily and not grainy in texture.
    • It was a very rich caramel and I could also taste the fresh cinnamon in it, but it wasn’t spicy.
    • It hardened like soft caramel candies when it got cold, but the flavour was of quality ingredients.
  • Pumpkin custard
    • I love pumpkin, so I knew I would love this.
    • It was creamy and smooth and I could taste pumpkin pie spices and nutmeg.
    • It would have been great as a filling inside the doughnut too, but it tasted that way just by dipping it anyway.
  • Maple yogurt
    • This was a good acid to break up all the sweeter dips.
    • I’ve had a dulce de leche yogurt dip before, but the maple was very good and I could taste it.
    • It was not Greek style yogurt thick, and it wasn’t too sweet at all which is good because the doughnuts were already sweet.
  • Orange mallow creme
    • It was a super fluffy, non sticky marshmallow creme with the scent and zest of orange.

FMF in San Diego - Geoge's at the Cove (54)

  • It came with 6 softball sized doughnuts rolled in cinnamon sugar.
  • You know the term “amaze-balls”? These were literally amaze-balls.
  • It was the love child of churros and beignets. They reminded me of the beignets from Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.
  • They were very fluffy, light, airy and yeasty doughnuts.
  • They were clouds of deep fried dough and the dough itself was not that sweet or buttery, but the cinnamon sugar was what made it sweet.
  • The cinnamon sugar gave it a slight crispiness which icing sugar does not give, and it was a grown up version of those mini carnival doughnuts.
  • They were fresh, hot and tender non-greasy doughnuts which were good on their own, but even better with the dips.
  • I would recommend ordering these, but I would also strongly suggest exploring the dessert menu for something more unique. Basically order two desserts.
  • I listed this in my 2012 Top 25 Most Memorable/BEST Dishes Internationally.

FMF in San Diego - Geoge's at the Cove (55)**Carrot Cake – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Citrus, brown butter, lavender raisins, carrot ice cream $10
  • If I was choosing my dessert a la carte I probably would have picked this one, but they all sounded original in thought and I really wanted them all.
  • Well actually the Goat Cheese Panna Cotta sounded most adventurous, but I prefer cake to panna cotta.
  • This Carrot Cake was fabulous! I have not obsessed over a carrot cake since THE Carrot Cake at Laurie Raphaël.
  • I loved how the carrot was showcased in 4 ways: dehydrated crisps, puréed, shredded in the cake, and as an ice cream.
  • There was a lot going on, but the components held their own individually and collectively. I could taste everything in a bite.
  • The cake was very moist and tender with some warm spices and it wasn’t too sweet.
  • The golden Sultana raisins were fragrant with lavender and presented outside of the cake which I actually liked.
  • I like raisins and nuts in carrot cake and this didn’t have the nuts, but the raisins made quite the statement being presented on their own.
  • The lavender raisins were very unique and a beautiful combination I’ve never tried. Think grapes or wine with lavender.
  • I missed the traditional nuts for texture, but there was a sprinkle of pistachio powder which was mild in pistachio flavour.
  • The carrot crisps were almost like carrot meringues and they gave the dessert nice texture.
  • The brown butter carrot puree was also rich, smooth and creamy like a sweet and savoury custard.
  • The quenelle of creamy carrot ice cream was made with good quality sweet carrots and I only wanted more of it to finish my cake with.
  • The orange segment was an unexpected addition, but it was a nice and simple citrus component.
  • I could have eaten a much larger portion of this and I also listed it in my 2012 Top 25 Most Memorable/BEST Dishes Internationally.

FMF in San Diego - Geoge's at the Cove (57)Goat Cheese Panna Cotta 2/6 (Okay)

  • Cranberry compote, orange segments, bacon, sage gel, honey foam $10
  • This was the most adventurous sounding dessert and usually I am a fan of those desserts, but in this case it didn’t work out so well for me.
  • I admire the creativity and I could see the intention, and all the ingredients worked together, but the execution I wasn’t as keen on.
  • The presentation was beautiful, but it was more like a goat cheese tart than a panna cotta.
  • The tart shell was not a crispy crust, but more like a puff pastry. I thought it was going to be a shortbread crust or nutty crust.
  • The goat cheese panna cotta was actually quite goat-y and strong in flavour and not that sweet.
  • I think I would have liked it better as a fluffy and creamy cheesecake rather than a firmer panna cotta.
  • The bacon croutons were nice and crispy and it made for good texture.
  • It was my favourite component and it helped the panna cotta.
  • The honey foam wasn’t quite strong enough, but it was made well and held its shape.
  • It didn’t absorb into anything and kind of made the pastry a bit soggy, so I missed traditional honey or even honeycomb.
  • The cranberry compote was made with plump whole cranberries which reminded me of Thanksgiving especially with the bacon.
  • The orange segments lent a nice acidity so it was almost like a fruit chutney with the cranberry compote.
  • The components just seemed quite separate and nothing really melted into each other or combined so it was hard to appreciate as a whole.
  • It was a fruit and cheese plate acting as dessert, but it didn’t come together as well as I had hoped although it was certainly original and different.

FMF in San Diego - Geoge's at the Cove (52)Chocolate Mousse4/6 (Very good)

  • Espresso madeline, roasted pumpkin, cinnamon meringue $10
  • This was a seasonal special.
  • It was not a creamy, silky, custard like mousse, but it was a very dry style of mousse.
  • It was a bittersweet chocolate mousse made from cocoa powder and it was smooth and consistent with chocolate flavour and not just sugar.
  • It was light, airy and almost powdery in texture, but very rich in flavour.
  • The crust was a very thin nutty wafer crust with perhaps almond crumbs (?), but it wasn’t thick enough to really pick out.
  • It seemed to be there to just hold the mousse in place and it had absorbed moisture so it was a bit soft and wet.
  • I liked the crunchy texture from the cinnamon meringue although the cinnamon was quite mild.
  • The use of cinnamon was apparent in a few desserts which is generally common in San Diego being so Mexican/Latin influenced.
  • The meringue was quite substantial and thick for the size of the torte, but I still liked it for bringing texture to the mousse.
  • I never get too excited about meringue as a component or garnish just because it sounds a bit simple, but I am a texture person and it is better than nothing.
  • The espresso soaked madeline was very strong with espresso and it was reminiscent of lady fingers in a tiramisu.
  • It actually kind of reminded me of a pumpkin pie spiced chocolate tiramisu when I ate all the components together, and I even could have used some mascarpone.
  • I loved the cubes of roasted pumpkin and I actually started eating this dessert with the pumpkin custard dipping sauce from the doughnuts.
  • I found the other desserts more creative and interesting, but this would be generally liked by all. And of course the doughnuts can be appreciated by all ages too.

See – California Modern – Part 1/3

See – California Modern – Part 2/3

See – California Modern – Chef’s Tasting Menu

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