THE MARINE ROOM
Exquisite Dining as the Waves Crash
By Susan Montgomery
What do you look for in a special dining experience? Innovative, delicious dishes that are beautifully presented? A romantic, picturesque setting, perhaps with breath-taking views? An attentive, knowledgeable staff that is personable and responsive? I look for all of this, which is why our family frequently chooses The Marine Room, a world-class restaurant in La Jolla, California, for special occasions. As a matter of fact, we recently had Christmas dinner there and, as always, it was a wonderful celebratory experience.
The setting of the Marine Room, located literally right on the gorgeous beach of La Jolla Shores, is incomparable with dramatic ocean views. Sometimes during high tides, waves pound against the expansive windows that surround the dining room. Recently, during the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Annual Conference, which was based in the San Diego area, I was in a group of about twenty food writers who traveled to La Jolla for a sampling of what The Marine Room has to offer. We were fortunate to meet the restaurant’s two award-winning chefs, Executive Chef Bernard Guillas and Chef de Cuisine, Ron Nachman Oliver, who planned our superb dinner.
Chef Guillas grew up on the coast of Brittany, where he learned to love seafood and to cook with his grandmother who he describes as “an exquisite cook.” Cooking became his passport to travel, taking him to more than 50 countries. His career has many highlights, including working at several Maitres Cuisinier de France fine dining restaurants, at Maison Blanche in Washington DC, and at the US Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego. He came to the Marine Room in 1994. In addition to the Marine Room, he heads cuisine at the resort’s other two restaurants, The Shores Restaurant and the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club. On many occasions, Chef Guillas, who has received countless awards and honors throughout his career, has been invited to be a guest chef at the prestigious James Beard House in New York and has been selected to be San Diego’s “Best Chef” numerous times.
I have been fortunate to interview Chef Guillas several times and always find him to be engaging, creative and personable with a contagious sense of humor. He is obviously a “hands on” chef. Almost every time I visit the Marine Room, he is there overseeing the kitchen and greeting guests. Most recently, he was there on Christmas Day when the dining room was festive and full of cheerful guests enjoying wonderful holiday meals. (I ordered lobster tail on Christmas Day at the Marine Room and, as always, it was perfectly presented, tender and full of flavor.)
Chef Ronald Nachman Oliver also has extensive culinary experience, including stints at the Peabody Hotel in Orlando, Florida, and Roy’s Restaurant in Monterey where he worked for world-renowned chef, Roy Yamaguchi. At The Marine Room, he focuses on interesting global ingredients that surprise and please the American palate. Chefs Guillas and Oliver have published two cookbooks, “Two Chefs, One World” and more recently “Two Chefs, One Catch: A Culinary Exploration of Seafood.” It is no wonder these cookbooks are selling so well with their stunning photos and enticing recipes.
The menu items at the Marine Room focus on fresh seafood, but other appealing options are also available. During our visit there with the writers’ group, we were served a superb four-course dinner. Of course, our dinner was just a sampling of the enticing items on the menu, which changes regularly based on the season and availability of ingredients. Each course was perfectly paired with a wine that represented some of the most outstanding wines from the Marine Room’s expansive wine list.
Our first delightful course was an appetizer trilogy aptly called “Taste of the Ocean.” This included artistically presented vanilla infused lobster, diver scallop, Kona Kampachi (“designer” yellowtail bred in Hawaii) served with green papaya, sesame brittle, caviar pearls and wasabi oil. This inventive combination of flavors was beautifully enhanced by a Domain Chandon “Etoile” Brut, which was nicely bubbly, creamy and full of rich fruit flavors that complemented the fish.
Our next course was a savory soup, Hokto Farm Organic Mushroom Nectar, creatively accented by sage fig biscotti, eggplant foam, white truffle, and St. Andre Butter. Its smooth texture and herbaceous tastes went so well with the mellow and subtly spicy 2013 Pinot Noir from Jackson Estates in Mendocino.
The highlight of our dinner was Togarashi Sesame Spiced Ahi Tuna, a melt-in-your-mouth dish that was perfectly prepared and served with sticky black rice, avocado, mango, and a lovely white port hibiscus reduction. (Togarashi is a Japanese blend of chili peppers.) The 2012 L’idiot du Village from Columbia Valley’s Gramercy Cellars—a rich blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault—brought out the spice in the tuna and enhanced the avocado and mango flavors.
The luscious dessert trilogy provided another nice contrast in flavors, colors and textures. It’s hard to say which imaginatively presented treat I liked best — the Hazelnut Chocolate Pyramid, the Blackmaker Root Beer Pot de Crème, or the Hisbiscus Infused Meyer Lemon Tart. These scrumptious desserts were accompanied by a pleasantly sweet 2014 Black Muscat from Quady Elysium.
Most of these dishes are on the regular Marine Room menu, but there are many other tempting menu items that are equally appealing. Whether you live in Southern California or plan to visit the area, I believe you need to experience this iconic restaurant to have a complete SoCal dining experience. Look at www.MarineRoom.com for information about their hours, specials, and especially about their special “high tide” brunches, lunches and dinners. You are in for a dramatic, delectable experience.