No Fish Tale
A revised restaurant hooks La Jolla
Posted on Jan. 1, 2017
Many restaurateurs have gone mining for gold along La Jolla’s Prospect Street. But like most of those original forty-niners, many expeditions have proven difficult, turning up little but pyrite and broken dreams. In its original incarnation, The Hake came ashore with a seafood and tapas concept that was plenty tasty, but its owners realized quickly that it would require a change of course to compete with local stalwarts like George’s and Eddie V’s. It’s now been completely refitted by Jorge Campos, a Mexico City-based designer, and still maintains its wide ocean views of La Jolla Cove and the distant shores. With a fresh look and a new, youthful executive chef with a knack for fusion at the helm, it seems The Hake is poised to strike it rich.
A recent voyage to this seafood second coming starts at the bar, with its own small tables and a stock of fine liqueurs, nicely separated from the main restaurant. The bar boasts top-shelf aperitifs, an absinthe tower, and a cocktail program berthed in its own lengthy tome of tipples. All are designed to easily pair with the eatery’s menu that is built on oceanic proteins and bright, citrusy flavors. Many of their specialty cocktails also incorporate tart fruit juices and pack a phantom punch that doesn’t overpower.
A sterling example is the Grand 5 Masts, a cocktail so good in competition it won The Hake’s mixologist a trip to France. Grand Marnier and locally produced Malahat ginger and spiced rum are mixed with fresh lime juice for a tall, cool, fruity delight that marries well with many of the raw seafood selections. Those offerings include lobster aguachile with icy chile-pear granita, ceviche, tuna tostadas, and hamachi tiradito. The latter is a holdover from the previous menu but now with a twist — sizeable slices of yellowfin are dressed with a tastefully sweet miso condiment and topped with jalapeños. A warning to those with a spice aversion: though seeded, those peppers pack powerful heat. Know your tolerance level and navigate appropriately.
Much of the rest of the menu of small plates and other shareables, salads, and entrées infuses Chef Aarti Sanghvi’s own Indian heritage, with flair from Mexican and Spanish food cultures. A “63 degree” egg cooked in advance over a 24-hour-long span to runny-yet-just-firm-enough perfection is served atop zesty chorizo made from opah fish and paired with Indian-style naan bread. (The chorizo spicing is dead-on). Naan also serves as a conveyance tool for a mixture of smoked hake with well-integrated bone marrow and a tangy red onion escabeche. In this case, it creates a bigger topping-to-bread ratio issue, leaving one to wish for more crispy tortilla chips. Warm, tender, full-sized tortillas do make their way to the table accompanying pieces of tuna coated in a sticky-sweet ponzu, adding an Asian twist to a traditional Mexican carnitas-style dish. It’s a fun version even though it hardly copies its south of the border muse. Your taste buds will think more teriyaki than taco shop.
For entrées, mussels in guajillo broth are served in tandem with the ever-changing catch of the day. For landlubbers, the very decadent 20-ounce bone-in prime ribeye comes with a so-fresh-it’s-still-moving sea urchin, from which perfectly briny uni can be spooned. Masa dumplings add more body and ingenuity to a dish of lean strips of medium-rare lamb tenderloin. Regardless of the main course ordered, a side of glazed carrots with chèvre is unique, delicious, and highly recommended. It’s a nice display of the chef’s vegetable prowess.
For dessert, there is a chocolate-peanut butter bread pudding in a more traditional preparation. The more adventurous should tack toward a very inventive cheesecake built to mirror a classic fromage plate. The cheesecake’s almond-crumble topping takes the place of crust, while the honey and sliced grapes make a nice partner for a port or Madeira.
In the end, epicures may feel like they’ve hit the mother lode with The Hake. 858.454.1637, thehake.com Brandon Hernández
Photography by Vincent Knakal