My Favorite Valentien
Posted on December 1, 2017
For more than a decade, before terms like “slow food” and “farm-to-table” became delightfully commonplace, The Lodge at Torrey Pines’ gourmet enclave, A.R. Valentien, adhered to both principles, thanks to the devotion of Jeff Jackson, the restaurant’s executive chef and renaissance gastronome. Jackson was one of the first in the San Diego region to go to lengths to meet local farmers and work with Southern California purveyors to get the freshest of the area’s edible bounty into his kitchen.
Little has changed from that ideological standpoint, but changes are a part of daily life at A.R. Valentien, where the bill of fare frequently shifts with its pantry’s contents. Chef de cuisine Kelli Nicole Crosson adeptly adjusts her proteins’ preparations and accompaniments to fit the season. Tender brown butter-tinged gnocchi and earthy, meaty chanterelle mushrooms are served with a purée of kabocha squash with a burst of saltiness from a baked Gouda cheese crisp. A fall salad artfully presents persimmon, Asian pear, and pickled butternut squash complemented by smoky, candied pecans and a vanilla-laced vinaigrette. The result is a bright taste of freshness full of interesting textures. Squash and pears also play major roles in a butternut and green apple soup, and a pork belly appetizer adorned with pear salad and vinaigrette to match.
Autumnal accents dot many main courses, without detracting from that side of the menu’s strong and varied core Mediterranean theme. The saffron and vanilla poached pear is a nice additional touch to a duo of seared duck breast with leg confit in rich, savory jus, but the dish would still be a star without the fruit. Solid base dishes are key to A.R. Valentien’s impressive versatility and ability to turn on a farmer’s dime.
There are offerings uniquely delicious enough to transcend a discussion of seasonality. They include crispy-skinned Hawaiian snapper served in a mélange of bacon, black olives, slow-cooked tomatoes with okra, and a zippy house-made sriracha. Then there’s a salted caramel chocolate tart with bourbon- and espresso-spiked ice cream. That sweet endnote could easily be foiled by the addition of orange marmalade — elsewhere chocolate and orange are the undoing of many a great dessert — but here the levels of cocoa and citrus are harmoniously scrumptious.
Charcuterie, dry-aged beef, local cheeses, a well-curated wine list, and varied cocktail menu are year-round reasons to return to this standout. “The 15” celebrates The Lodge’s quindecennial anniversary and blends sweet, salt, and spice, care of 15-year-old El Dorado rum, amaretto, and peach and orange juices with a tajin-spiced rim. The drink awakens one’s palate for duck and pistachio pâté with apricot mostarda or the prime rib-eye (aged 28 days) snuggled up with decadent duck fat-braised potatoes. But in the end, it’s the fresh, local ethos implanted early by Jackson, and adroitly perpetuated by Crosson, that’s the ultimate star here. 858.777.6635, lodgetorreypines.com/ar-valentien Brandon Hernández
Photography by Vincent Knakal