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Friday, March 11, 2011

Getting the Flavor of Del Mar

THE VIBE:  Vacation perfect ocean view wonderful, hip and trendy
THE COST:  Lunch is moderate, dinner entrees around $30

I was stumbling around Del Mar the other weekend looking for a new place to eat.  I love going out to lunch but have to fight the urge to go to the same old places.  A while back there was a place called Epizote in the Del Mar Plaza. It had a spectacular ocean view but that was about it.  Gone.  In it's place is the new Flavor Del Mar, a hip new place that's been getting a lot of buzz. I checked out their menu and saw these magic words:  HAPPY HOUR ALL DAY SUNDAY!  Beers on tap for $3, small plates for $6, a sunny table for two in front, I'm in!

So check this one out.  It's a steamed Chinese bun typically used for Peking Duck but topped with a crispy pork piece and a zesty hoisin sauce and Asian slaw.  Man oh man, was this good and at only $6, a steal!

Next up was the lunch entree lobster roll ($14), served on a hot dog bun and with house made chips.  This was so good I almost cried.  Let's go in for a closer look.

Look, it's not smothered in mayonaise or surrounded by fillers.  This lobster was fresh and delicious, pour a bit of that drawn butter on top and it's pure heaven.  The house made chips were good, too, though a touch overdone for me.  But who cares, that lobster, that lobster!!  Look, you want one of these.  Don't even look at the rest of the menu, get this!

So the next day I was thinking about how good the food was at Flavor and had a bright idea - let's go there for dinner!  No argument on that one.

Before we get to the food, I love fancy cocktails.  I had a Tangerine Jalapeño made with peligroso añejo tequila, cointreau, tangerine, lime, housemade jalapeño purée, and finished with a chili-lime salt rim.  So good, so dangerous, but so delicious with the peppery overtones mixing with the sweetness, a perfect balance.

The meal started with some rustic bread and various salts to top them with.  I know, I've been a skeptic on the idea of fancy salts but this was so good that guess who now has his own jars of fancy salts at home?  You know.  Anyway, each salt was different, one was Chinese Five Spiced, one was crunchy, you get the idea.

Next up was the Butternut Squash soup.  OK, I usually don't care for this but I was gushing all over this one.  No cream used, don't ask me how they got it so creamy but really a perfect start.  But wait, there's more!

Beef Carpaccio, aka raw beef, with a quail egg and capers and man more of that crunchy salt!  Super good delicious.  

Recently I ragged on Island Prime.  Not only was the food expensive and not that special but the waiter was a huge dufus, a college kid who when asked for a recommendation would refer back to the menu and read you the options.  At Flavor the waiter was actually knowledgeable!  He knew wines!  He knew foods!  He had opinions when asked "what do you think of this dish paired with this wine?" and unbelievably steered my wife away from the expensive scallops and towards what appeared to be the token pasta dish.  Crazy??

Homemade pasta with mushrooms and a hint of truffles, do I have to tell you that this dish blew me away?  The texture was perfect, the flavors perfect, and though it's the cheapest thing on the menu it might be one of the best pastas I've ever had.  

Before you go WHAT IS THAT, A SQUIRREL BRAIN? I have to remind you that this restaurant is really dark so taking food photos is really tough!  I had to turn on the flash and bother everyone around me (the things I do for you guys) and as every food photographer knows, flash is the kiss of death to good food shots.  So NO, that's not a squirrel brain or a goat liver but a veal cheek (see, that's better, right?) on top of pork belly and duck confit and gnocci and.... wow, just taste it and shut up!  And the waiter was right, it paired very nicely with the wine.

So there you go, a new place to go eat at!  Flavor Del Mar has to rank right up there with some of the best restaurants in San Diego.  If lately you've been going to the same old places, do yourself a favor and go to Flavor.  Hey, nice rhyme!


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