What: San Diego Restaurant Week at Del Mar Rendevous
When: September 16-21
Price: $30 Prix Fixe
I was invited to Del Mar Rendevous in San Diego for a Restaurant Week preview yesterday. Now I’m not normally a big subscriber to Americanized-Chinese food, but I am an advocate for it.
I’m almost hesitant to group Del Mar completely in the Americanized category. The chef is a Taiwanese immigrant and a lot of the dishes on the menu are stuff you can find in the authentic eateries in the SGV (i.e. steamed dumpling sampler, sanbeji, walnut shrimp)– they just sound fancier and have a much heftier price tag.
As I have frequently ranted about before, what exactly does the word Americanized even mean? These are Chinese chefs making Chinese dishes, just catering to a different audience. Etymology aside, Del Mar is a solid Chinese restaurant for a fancy night out. I’d say it’s the perfect Chinese food for an American audience — dishes are saucy and oozing with flavor.
And sometimes the shoddy service and lack of wine and craft beer selections at a more “authentic” Chinese resto just doesn’t cut it — especially if you’re looking to impress a date. Del Mar makes up for that slack with attentive service, an extensive local craft beer selection, and a four course menu (during Restaurant Week) with plating arrangements. And the portions are generous. Still recovering from breakfast at a Taiwanese joint in L.A., my plus one and I were practically full by the time we finished the appetizer.
It’s a good thing. This is a Restaurant Week deal that won’t have you pulling up to the nearest In-N-Out after a meal. Come hungry.
We started off with the sesame crusted seared ahi and steamed dumpling sampler. “Eh” on the dumplings. The skin was a bit tough at the edges and the fillings weren’t particularly juicy. But the tuna was the real winner of the meal.
It’s a sashimi grade ahi that’s crispy on the outside with a beautiful marbled pink in the center and drizzled with wasabi aioli. I found myself greedily soaking up all the aioli on the plate with each slab of fish.
For the entrees, my friend got the rack of lamb (shown above) and we had reserved the three-cup chicken, or “sanbeiji,” the day before (limited orders available each day). Now I’ve had this dish before at the likes of Uncle Yu’s and Cafe Fusion back in L.A., where I was never really a fan. The dish is traditionally really heavy and loaded with soy and basil. Somehow, Del Mar did it right.
Apparently the chef was hesitant on introducing this dish to a heavily Americanized clientele because the skin and bones are still on the chicken (lol, c’mon guys). But we’re glad he did.
It’s 14 ounces of chicken thigh meat chopped into small pices and sauteed with fresh basil, garlic, ginger, and red chilies. The chicken is first cooked to high heat to release the bone marrow and then simmered to allow the meat to absorb the flavors from the marrow and the sauce. The overall product is a light but saucy dish that comes with a complimentary side of white or brown rice.
Admittedly did not try the rack of lambs, but Dan ate all of it clean off the bones. It may not look like an Asian dish, but the ingredients do have a oriental twist: teriyaki glaze, red bell pepper, green onion, white onion, and an addicting bed of sautéed green beans that I couldn’t stop picking at.
Dessert wasn’t Chinese, but man – if you’re planning on stopping by, get the cinnamon banana egg roll. It’s basically a churro stuffed with banana cheesecake.