It’s no secret by now that I love flavor. And, by flavor, most of the time I mean salt. I was that kid in the school lunchroom who’d fill his palm with the table salt shaker and lick it as an accompaniment to my PB & J or ham & cheese sandwich, with equal measures of contentment. And, the more I’ve learned about food, the more experienced my palate has become, the more I appreciate all of the elements that make a dish really pop…the more I still believe that salt is the most important spice in the kitchen. Without it, truly great, distinctive flavors are not possible. Chef Danilo “D.J.” Tangalin, who has recently taken over the helm at Tidal, is my new salt hero.
It also seems that Tidal, a standalone restaurant that is located on the property and part of the Paradise Point resort, is my new corporate resort restaurant hero. Its laid back, casual vibe belies the gourmet, refined offerings coming out of the open kitchen. It’s unique in that the restaurant, contrary to most traditional resort dining models, has a price point that is more in keeping with an independent, owner operated style establishment than bloated, over-inflated, typical resort costs.
Tidal has also, the last few years, given extraordinary control of the menu and “theme de cuisine” to its Executive Chefs. In its previous iteration, slightly over a year ago, Tidal served me one my favorite meals. The menu featured confident, flavor forward cuisine, with a heavy dose of Americana, leaning toward the left Coast.
That confidence, a year later, is still present under Chef DJ Tangalin. The completely rewritten and revamped menu now might be better described as being distinctly San Diego Coastal impacted with fresh seafood and produce prominently featured. It’s the preparation with Filipino flavors, Mediterranean influences and impeccable French technique, all representative of Chef DJ’s unique style as a Filipino native who has traveled coast to coast honing his skills in Michelin rated venues, that sets it apart from anything else you’ll find in San Diego.
“Did he just say, ‘Filipino flavors and Mediterranean influences?'” Yes. It’s not as strange a combination as you might think. Filipino food is substantially Spanish influenced and is typically known for being spiced and flavored toward the heavier side of the spectrum. From deep fried lumpia, a meat filled version of the ubiquitous eggroll to Dinaguan, a savory blood stew, most traditional Filipino dishes will overload both your palate and your stomach with flavor and heft in short order.
Chef DJ has managed to extract the lighter side of Filipino ingredients and Mediterranean nuances, capturing accenting flavors and textures, but incorporating them into dishes in a feather light manner. By combining them with fresh, local ingredients, he has created a style that has definitive main ingredients running the gamut from steak to shellfish on every plate. But, it’s the special accompanying touches, clever combinations of items like longanisa sausage, star anise, yuzu and even pepperoni that make each dish unique and define his inventive approach to cooking.
Beautifully plated fare quickly becomes cosmetically inconsequential as you start to tear through the offerings, spurred on by the balanced, yet shockingly distinct flavors. In any of DJ’s dishes, you’ll winnow out sweet, sour, acidic, bitter and salty notes in perfect allotments, working as teammates rather than adversaries. As the meal progresses, though, in spite of the varied use of eclectic ingredients, you may note an undertone, like a phantasmic tickle on the tongue. It seems almost an essence, a mild current running through many of the dishes working behind the scenes, keeping all flavors pointed in the same direction and tying them unequivocally to each other.
It’s a subtle influence, but powerful and prevalent enough so that I had to ask DJ if A) I was crazy or B) I needed to see a doctor.
It was the salt. DJ’s got a special place in his kitchen for his salts and, with very little groveling on my part, he let me taste a couple. He’s got one salt that’s baked in coconut husks. This one is handmade and rare – only about a thousand made per year. It’s a solid sphere about the size and weight of a baseball, for which he has to use a micro-planer to apply it to the food. He planed some in my palm. Yes, there it was – a cool dryness to the salt that seemed to draw in the surrounding flavors and provide them a sense of commonality without robbing them of their individuality.
He’s got another salt that is culled from the bottom of shrimp beds. It’s still moist, stored in a heavy, resealable plastic bag inside a woven bamboo box. There it is! This was the one has a bit of electricity, like licking a 9 volt battery, causing a slight tingle to run across the tongue.
Tidal, for the second time in as many years, with as many executive chefs, has stunned me. The freedoms allowed to the chefs in the venue are its greatest asset and a testament to how great things can happen when the right personnel are put into place and trusted to execute a vision. The food, well, it speaks with far greater eloquence than any mere words I can assign to it. It is elegant, refined and yet, still casual. It’s also served in a setting where it can be enjoyed with a glass of wine or a beer, in shorts and flip flops or jacket and tie. But, in the end…it must be enjoyed.
And, no, I didn’t forget about the foie gras pop tart. I just wasn’t sure I was ready to make our relationship public. It’s one of the all-time great bites in the universe. Order it. You can thank me after you wipe away the tears. Cheers, my friends!
1404 Vacation Road
San Diego, CA 92109
Phone: (858) 490-6363