A few hours after French Master Chef Patrick Ponsaty first stepped into the 1500 Ocean kitchen at Hotel Del Coronado on a late August Saturday afternoon, he sent me a text saying, “Lots to do. Still working on new concept. I will let u know.”
That was in response to my badgering, errrm, asking him about when, (oh, please say it’s soon…), When, could I possibly come eat his cooking again? It had been a long while since our last meal at his hands, a grueling month or so of enforced vacation during which Patrick was spotted eating and playing in California’s Central Coast, Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe and plenty of interesting points in between.
Let’s talk a little bit about the new gig first…
With Hilton Worldwide recently acquiring managing rights to the Hotel Del Coronado and their reputation for first class everything, not to mention that the Maitres Cuisiniers de France (MCF) is an international brotherhood boasting some of the most accomplished chefs in the world, it’s not hard to imagine that offers had hit the table for Ponsaty to helm the ship here (and, at spots as far away as San Francisco and Macau) far sooner than they were needed.
In fact, to imagine that a chef like Patrick Ponsaty, a chef that has 18 Michelin stars on his resume, most from the region of the world where Michelin stars were invented, would not have offers globally on a regular basis is to not understand the competitiveness of the food scene at every level. The food world pines for the skill of a man who lives to cook and create at the level Patrick does.
When you consider, also, the global acclaim and traffic the historic landmark Hotel Del Coronado and, by extension, its multiple on-property facets receive, it becomes easy to understand why this move has the potential to change the landscape of fine dining in San Diego, while heavily affecting the international perception of Southern Californian Coastal cuisine.
In the dead of a San Diego winter (meaning summer to most denizens of the globe), this beachside resort is packed to the gills. I mean, let’s face it. If travelers visit San Diego and leave remembering only one thing, from this point forward it may well be the meal they had at Patrick Ponsaty’s hands.
The what-felt-like-a-lifetime delay in Chef Patrick accepting the offer at 1500 Ocean was due to his desire to find jobs for each and every one of his staff from his now fast-fading former restaurant group. There, a comedy of mismanagement took place in July, prompting him to vacate the Corporate Chef position and the group to remove his name from the marquee. Mission fully accomplished.
Anyways, as fate, good fortune, or perhaps a little witchy, witchy woman would have it, an hour or so after I got Patrick’s text, Fluffy Unicorn asked me where I’d like to eat for my birthday dinner. It was coming up the next Tuesday, just a couple of days away. I may have cradled my head in my hands a little bit to hide the furrowed eyebrows and ever-so-slightly twisted grin when I breathlessly lamented how Patrick Ponsaty, my favorite chef in any city, would be my first choice. But, alas…I had been duly warned that he wasn’t ready.
Fluffy Unicorn did whatever magical thing it is that wives do to make things happen and off we went to enjoy the best birthday dinner of my life. It was a dirty trick to play on Patrick, knowing he was off Sunday and Monday, but, somehow he muddled through the ordeal with whatever scraps he found in the reefer.
I know. Sometimes, I hate myself, too.
Fast forward exactly a month and, despite my sincerest, deeply authentic pledge to myself and to Patrick to give him the 3-6 months he asked for to get his new place in order, I couldn’t stand it. Despite, or maybe, because of, having just returned from a quick San Francisco trip for our anniversary where we hit 10 Michelin stars in 4 days (a whole ‘nutha story), my cravings for his food once again got the best of me.
This time we tried to sneak in on a Saturday night during San Diego Restaurant Week with our and Patrick’s mutual friend, who shall remain anonymous. For clarity’s sake, we’ll give her a fake name. Something like Bonnie.
When I say things didn’t go well, I’m strictly talking about the sneaking in part. Because of the SDRW crowds, we had to make a rezzie for this meal. No problem, right? 250-300 covers a night…he’ll never notice. Be forewarned. Patrick Ponsaty always checks his rezzies. He saw us coming a mile away, or, at least around 4:00 that evening when he checked, but 4 hours notice is like a week to a chef with his chops.
As for the food, I’ll let you be the judge of how that went from here on in.
The oyster and mussel appetizer, in keeping with Patrick’s style, had a dill aspic that added a bright acidity to the dish. Along with the sesame tuile, the components contributed an earthiness as well, a countrified contrast of sorts, in keeping with many of the seafood eating territories that dot the Mediterranean coast, where a seafood laden family meal under a spread of trees in a lush pasture with no ocean in sight is as often the norm as one on a breezy coastal bluff.
My only regret with this caviar dish is that I didn’t get a picture of the ambrosial lobster consomme and chunks of lobster meat tucked beneath with the intense, concentrated flavors reminding you of every great seafood meal you’ve ever wished for reduced into four or five of the richest, flavor bursting bites you may ever have. If they could make this into a pill, you might never have to eat out again.
I know. You thought I was gonna say I regretted only having one serving. Everybody at the table got one and, lucky me, the girls were saving room for later.
There’s only one other chef I know that can pull off farm fresh veggies with straight out of the water seafood in the style of this fresh Uni offering, studded with butter poached cauliflower and topped with parsley foam. Davin Waite of Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub, aka the Sushi Whisperer, is an anchor along Oceanside’s booming mile or three of New Age coastal cuisine. Coincidentally, Davin and Patrick are also charter members of their mutual appreciation society, each naming the other the best chef in San Diego.
The menu called them shrimp. I was scared to. They were bigger than me. They were also not the best thing on the dish. Oh, they were great. Right up there with the best you’ll ever have. The right amount of snappy texture combined with a savory, slightly spicy, gently tart smoothness imparted by the bed of Spanish chorizo, green olive and lemony, buttery, mosto olive oil relish.
Relish. Not quite right. We asked Patrick what he would call the concoction, since relish didn’t seem to quite capture it. He did that little shrug and half grin thing he does and says, “I do not know.” Maybe we’ll just call it the Ponsaty…
Go back and count ’em up. The Patrick Ponsaty style is to hit you with three or four of the most amazing, always different, ever evolving seafood dishes you’ll ever have. Then, he knocks you in the noggin’ with a land based or winged protein, often game, always with fragrant flavors and enough salinity and tenderness to ease the transition. For this meal it was wagyu beef covered in truffles accompanied by baby chanterelles and a sprinkling of caviar to help you remember where you started. Basically, he’s toying with your emotions here.
It’s okay to weep a little. Most do.
There’s even a progression to Patrick’s dessert courses. Here, we each had to employ our own creativity. I started with the basil sorbet to cleanse my palate and then eased into the apricot, so as not to have the tartness of the raspberry overwhelm things. Oh, but no one told me there was saffron in the raspberry sorbet.
It might have changed things.
It might not have.
Yeah. By now, you’ve noticed I pretty much adore P.P. Wait. Oh, never mind. I’m not gonna say I’ve seen every iteration of Patrick Ponsaty’s food. But, I’ve seen a lot of ’em. If, that is you can call them iterations. What do you call it when this vastly superior energy evolves into an even superior-er one…? Doesn’t matter, I guess. No matter where, no matter what, no matter when, you can’t keep me away.
Did I happen to mention he plans on doing this for everyone? ARRYONE. Personalized menus. Slap yo’ mama flavors. Textures and contrasts that you might otherwise never imagine. Impeccable, friendly service.
Oh, and he still says he needs a few months to get things dialed in. So, whatever you do, don’t tell him I sent you. If you do happen to wander in, I’ll be the guy with the hat, sunglasses and newspaper, hiding behind the bush in the corner. Look me up. We can have a glass of bubbly and weep for joy together. Enjoy, and Cheers, my friends.
Hotel Del Coronado
1500 Orange Ave.
Coronado, CA 92118