Restaurant: George’s at the Cove – California Modern (Part 1/3)
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 2/3
- 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:
- I always comment on the bread and butter because it can say a lot about a restaurant. I’m pleased to say we were off to a great start! They cared.
- This was Levain (type of sourdough) bread served with black pepper, sea salt, house made seasoning salt and artisan butter.
- It was hard to eat only a slice. The bread was served warm with a rustic and crisp crust.
- The inside was soft, chewy, fluffy and still moist with a nice earthy sourdough flavour.
- I would think they are baking it in house; because being by the water they have the ideal climate for making sourdough and Levain bread.
- The house made seasoning was reminiscent of taco seasoning and I could taste smoky cumin and paprika.
- The butter was a highlight though and it made me eat more bread.
- It was Grand Reserve Butter made in Wisconsin.
- It is a sweet European-style butter with a 83% fat content and it was incredibly rich, creamy, flavourful and addicting.
- Lobster, ikura, lemon cream, sorrel
- It was lobster knuckles, lemon cream, sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke), ikura (salmon roe), and fresh sorrel.
- The plating was gorgeous! It tasted as delicate as it looked and the flavours were quite mild.
- The sunchoke was smoked and then grated like a potato and naturally a bit sweet.
- It is also called a Jerusalem artichoke and it tastes like a tangy artichoke meets a refreshing and crisp water chestnut.
- It is a root related to the sunflower and not an artichoke. It was my favourite component on the plate.
- This one was intense with smokiness which I could taste when I had it alone, but it got overpowered when I tried everything together.
- Deep fried sunchoke crisps are also fantastic and add great texture and contrast to sunchoke plates.
- The lobster was perhaps poached until it was just cooked and drizzled with a fruity olive oil.
- There was a “Smoked Maine Lobster” on the a la carte menu as a main, but the lobster knuckles didn’t taste smoked.
- I liked that it was lightly dressed with California olive oil instead of traditional butter, although the Grand Reserve butter is still stellar.
- The lemon cream was a bit under seasoned and I couldn’t taste the lemon, but the saltier salmon roe helped give it flavour.
- The ikura was almost the only salt on the plate, but even so it wasn’t a salty ikura and it didn’t have a pop or bright flavour.
- The sorrel leaves are like thicker spinach leaves and they didn’t add much flavour as much as they played a role in colour.
- The plate looked very fresh and I expected it to be citrusy, but it was actually very tame and almost neutral in flavours.
- I actually enjoyed everything individually more so than together because each component had its own delicate flavour profile.
- It had good texture and warm colour and it was a nice and simple way to start the series.
- Comté, charred onion, thyme pearls
- It was smoked beef tongue carpaccio, comté cheese, charred onion, thyme pearls and black winter truffle butter on crostini.
- I wasn’t expecting much nose to tail dining here so I was surprised with this plate.
- Beef tongue is one of my favourites and it was shaved thin and disguised as carpaccio.
- I almost thought the tongue was sous vide instead of smoked because I didn’t taste the smokiness, but it was incredibly tender and natural in flavour.
- It is naturally oily, so it was very moist.
- The sauce accompanying the carpaccio was rich and fragrant balsamic beef broth gels.
- It replaced the traditional balsamic vinaigrette with carpaccio.
- The gels were savoury and made with perhaps mushrooms and it had great umami.
- I enjoyed the flavours of the gel, but they were a bit chunky so it was slightly reminiscent of congealed sauce.
- The thyme pearls were very potent and intense with herb flavour and I wouldn’t have minded some lemon juice or acidity to them.
- The pearls had so much flavour on their own and it was almost stronger than the beef.
- All the sauces and condiments were well contained so the plating was quite clean and compact for a carpaccio.
- The comté cheese (unpasteurized French cheese) can vary in flavour depending on age, but this one was soft and a bit grainy like Parmesan, but nowhere near as salty.
- The plate was rich in textures, but it didn’t come across as rich in flavour.
- The combination of components played with savoury, sweet and subtly bitter flavours, but I did miss some acidity because it was slightly flat.
- I liked the charred onion, but I was missing either capers, pickles or lemon to just brighten up the flavours, but it was still good.
- The small crunchy crostini had a rich and creamy truffle butter, but the truffle was mild in flavour.
- The crostini was beautiful with some of the beef tongue and shaved comté cheese draped over top.
- It was a creative interpretation for carpaccio with some Parisian inspiration.
- Charred octopus, wild fennel, pine nut
- I loved this and it was my favourite savoury course of the night.
- It was a lima bean, ricotta, and lemon raviolo, charred octopus, wild fennel broth and pine oil.
- It was a vegetable based broth which graced the richer raviolo, and as odd as it sounds, it was as rich and savoury as it was delicate.
- The sauce was buttery almost like a beurre blanc, but I think it was olive oil based and there was a natural sweetness from vegetables.
- It was a very aromatic broth infused with fennel for a mild licorice undertone.
- It also had orange juice and likely some saffron for colour, but I couldn’t taste the orange or saffron really.
- There was also chili which I learned was it in later, but it was undetectable and not spicy.
- I could not taste any seafood stock or seafood flavour in the base so I was surprised it reached umami, but it did.
- There was also some lightly sautéed diced fennel bulbs and that just enhanced the fennel flavour in the broth. It was lovely.
- The raviolo was super fluffy and quite mild since it was ricotta cheese instead of something richer like goat cheese.
- The ricotta was puréed with the lima bean and lemon and it had a starchy texture which was lighter than a potato.
- It was a bit like egg yolk in texture and the skin was fresh, house made, thin, consistent, and al dente with a nice bite.
- The octopus was simply beautiful and it needed nothing.
- The octopus was cooked perfectly and it was a bit crispy from the charring and I barely had to chew it.
- I couldn’t really taste the pine oil and I would have loved something crispy, but it was an elegant plate that came off as effortless.
- It was Spanish, Mediterranean, Italian and Californian influenced and I could have had a full plate of this.
- I mentioned non-alcoholic cocktails and artisan sodas in my Top 10 Food Trends for 2013.
- This was actually closer to juice than soda because it either was not carbonated or had gone flat.
- It was a syrupy sweet passion fruit nectar infused with Buddha’s Hand fruit (lemony flavour).
- The drink was aggressively sweet and sour (not tart) and it was very fruit forward with passion fruit being dominant.
- Buddha’s hand grows in Southern California so I liked how they featured it here as their local ingredient.
- It is a lemony and sour fruit and it is commonly used for cocktails rather than cooking.
- It was nice to see it paired with tropical and exotic passion fruit and it was an appreciation for local and global.