Marine Room: Oceanfront at its Finest
Few chefs in San Diego — or anywhere for that matter — boast such longevity at their post as Bernard Guillas. He’s spent the better part of the past two decades helming the culinary jewel of the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, the shoreline-gracing Marine Room. The only thing more impressive than his tenure is the number of stamps in his passport. From a young age, Guillas has been obsessed with world travel, visiting more than 30 countries and immersing himself in each foreign locale’s food traditions. Because of this, the chef embraces exotic ingredients, making for one of the most unique winter menus in the county. Unless, of course, Malahat-spiced, rum-glazed cobia is a fixture on your dinner table come the cold season. We didn’t think so. For this dish, Guillas accessorizes this firm Atlantic fish with a most unlikely cast — purple potato mash, Japanese eggplant, cranberry gastrique, local liquor-soaked fruit compote, and a crouton made from a honey bread recipe handed down from his grandmother. The result is something that tastes yuletide in nature, baking spices, root veggies, and booze, but gets a gust of new life breathed into it care of the protein. Winter is about tradition, but there’s nothing wrong with switching things up, and this dish proves it.
Also harnessing the bounty of the sea is succulent monkfish wrapped in smoky bacon and served atop honey faro. The pork-gilded protein is akin to a bowl of soup in its hearty, warming ways, while grapefruit supremes and fennel confit brighten things up and match the licorice character of a fluorescent green citrus sauce laced with absinthe.
From wild prawns given zing by Meyer lemon and outlandish appeal with crispy cumin-dusted papadum to acorn noodle-based Baja stone crab cakes and a trilogy of lobster, tuna, and scallops served with ginger consommé and caviar pearls, this innovative bill of fare shows that during the holidays it doesn’t have to be all about turkey, ham, and roast beast. Letting one’s thoughts and palate drift toward the ocean (literally and figuratively, as the Marine Room still sports one of the best oceanfront views in all of Southern California,) can be refreshing and delicious.
Of course, for those looking for something more traditional, mainstays like veal tenderloin in a reduction of old vine Zinfandel, lamb osso buco, or braised beef cheeks with truffled potatoes will hit the spot and warm one’s heart in tandem with the holiday spirit.
And for those in search of a holiday gift idea for the epicure in their lives, consider Two Chefs, One Catch: A Culinary Exploration of Seafood (Lyons Press, available on Amazon). Penned over the past year by Guillas and Marine Room chef de cuisine Ron Oliver, it tackles myriad recipes focusing on fish and shellfish while offering educational non-sequiturs on topics such as sustainable seafood. It’s a follow-up to the long-time duo’s IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) award-winning first cookbook, Flying Pans, and includes recipes from the winter menu. God bless us, everyone. (858.459.7222, www.marineroom.com) BRANDON HERNÁNDEZ
Photography by Vincent Knakal