Had President Harry Truman been a chef and restaurateur in today’s world, he might have thought a little harder about popularizing the concept, “The buck stops here.” These days, putting your name over the front door of a restaurant, as French Master Chef Patrick Ponsaty has done with the freshly opened Ponsaty’s restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe, is tantamount to hanging your cell phone number out on social media for the world to see.
For all intents and purposes, with Ponsaty’s, Chef Patrick is telling the world, “Here I am. I’m the guy. Come on in and tell me exactly what you think of my food, anytime…day or night.” It’s an open invitation for any member of the yelp and blabber crew with two opposing thumbs and a phone smarter than a whole room full of their sort to take pictures and write essays either extolling or trolling every ounce of accomplished energy Patrick puts into his food. Putting your name on a restaurant in today’s Wild West climate of social media one-upmanship is a move not dared by many – it’s an invitation to sleepless nights and worried days and a hit to the family name if things don’t work out.
Patrick Ponsaty isn’t just any chef with any name on any restaurant, though. As has been regurgitated so recently and frequently in slavering anticipation of his new opening, he’s one of two French Master Chefs in San Diego and the only one with his name on the marquee. Patrick’s also a 5th generation chef in a family of chefs and restaurateurs who has worked his way through some of the most prestigious fine dining locales in the Western hemisphere, accumulating 18 Michelin stars on his resume and an understanding of food and its preparation that transcends sheer knowledge and ability.
Ponsaty’s restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe is a simple result of Patrick’s many years of work with the Grand Restaurant Group, refining their menus, developing their concepts and charming their loyal guests. It’s a no brainer, the only logical evolution for a world class master chef who was born into food and has spent a lifetime learning how to perfect its preparation.
At many modern, upscale restaurants, dishes are de-constructed and re-imagined to give us a false sense of audacious and bold creative intent on the chef’s part. But, a few seconds examining these towers of pretty, if often senseless, food can reveal that the true meaning of the dish is indecipherable, clumsily disguised behind what is supposed to be a clever presentation. We start to pick at the plate, wondering how to combine all of the different elements to get those one or two perfect bites that might capture the theme that the chef imagined, but failed to provide an instruction manual for. Understanding and enjoying these types of plates at those types of places is a hit or miss proposition, based more on luck and hope than design.
With Patrick Ponsaty’s food, every bite on every plate always seems to be the perfect bite. Oh, they may each be different, evoking a wide range of tastes, memories and emotions, even within the same dish. But, as you dig into any of the elements, in any random order, each bite is meaningful, capturing the fundamental essence of what food preparation is really all about – taking what would be raw and difficult to digest basic ingredients and adding flavor, texture and temperature in exacting amounts that allow us to fully celebrate the experience of chewing and tasting…without all the guesswork. There is no gratuitous altering or disguising of ingredients in Patrick’s cooking. When he creates a dish it is beautiful, yes, but it also looks like food. You know, the type of food you can recognize…
With that said, nothing about the menu Patrick is doing at Ponsaty’s restaurant comes a surprise to me, though it may for you if you haven’t tried his food, yet. Heirloom produce picked daily from the restaurant’s own Ranch at Bandy Canyon takes care of ensuring the herbal, fruit and vegetable components in every dish. California Coastal influenced plates ranging from hearty meat to vegan marry the experience that oozes from Ponsaty’s every pore; the culmination of hard earned lessons from working in precision, world class kitchens in dining hotspots throughout the South of France, the Mediterranean coast, Monte Carlo and New York.
Watching Patrick work in Ponsaty’s kitchen or talking food with him for a few minutes over a glass of his favorite champagne in the bar is to understand what it is like to be in the company of a person who was not only born to an undertaking, but possesses a world class talent for it and a lifelong drive and passion to perfect it. It is viewing poetry in motion and listening to conviction in every syllable. Patrick is a chef who gets as excited about a new paella pan as he does sourcing a new, local variety of aromatic herb, grown by some secret farmers who may or may not have grown funny smelling, smoky, not quite mainstream, other kinds of “herbs” in days not long past.
A diehard supporter of local businesses, Patrick and Ponsaty’s offer items on their new menu like Tim Connelly’s Heirloom Tomatoes, which feature a tomato water that drinks like nectar and a luscious tomato sorbet to accompany the explosively ripe fruits, which are cut into wedges and lightly dressed in balsamic procured from San Diego’s own Baker and Olive. More traditional dishes such as filet mignon are not safe from the artistic, regionally conscious Ponsaty hand either. Hefty portions of fois gras are arranged on top of the King Ranch, California raised, beef, bathed in demi-glace and then adorned with summer truffles from Carlsbad based direct importer and retailer, Angel’s Salumi & Truffles.
Prepping, cooking and assembling ingredients in a Ponsaty dish is akin to a master miner, smithy & jeweler working as one during the minting of a crown for the first sitting king of a new dynasty. Only, Patrick does it a hundred or so times a night with hand picked and personally trained back of house staff, a pinch of panache, a dash of excitement and, dare I say, a healthy sprinkling of humble appreciation for the legions of loyal diners who regularly enjoy his luxurious fare.
Here’s the Rundown on Ponsaty’s Restaurant:
Location/Ambience/Service – As with Bellamy’s, Ponsaty’s pre-cursor and sister restaurant in Escondido, service is just on the West Coast side of stuffy and formal. It is professional and attentive without suffocating glomminess. The new interior and exterior dining spaces at Ponsaty’s are classic, with rustic European, Coastal and Welsh themes blending seamlessly throughout the downtown Rancho Santa Fe location, offering different looks, feels and experiences in which to enjoy the continuously consistent food experience.
Cuisine/Cost – There is no mistaking that Patrick Ponsaty is first and foremost a FRENCH Master Chef. Hours and years of continually mastering and personalizing the basic foundations of classical technique have given him a platform to introduce a variety of tastes and flavors into dishes that are far from fusion (or as Patrick likes to call the style, “con-fusion”), but equally distant from classic. Instead, his New World, coastal take on traditional presentations give his dishes a unique character that might only be accurately described as Ponsaty-esque. Every bite introduces a palateful of rich, well-developed flavors and smooth, silky textures – nothing fighting its neighbor, but with each element somehow holding its ground.
This is some of the finest cuisine in the county that can be enjoyed at the upper-middle side of the San Diego dining cost spectrum – $50-$100 average cost per diner with apps, cocktails and wine by the glass. But. it’s a sheer bargain in the spectrum of the quality of food that is being served with similarly created and plated meals being served in establishments that offer more sizzle than steak for 4-5 times the cost.
Let me know when you’re going to be there – I’ll pry myself from my seat to come over and say hello. Cheers, my friends!
6106 Paseo Delicias
Rancho Santa Fe, California 92067