At The Ivy Hotel 600 F Street, San Diego (619) 814-2000
There has been a substantial amount of press coverage on San Diego's newest ultra-chic hotel, Ivy, and for good reason. Rooms start at $450 a night. There is an optional butler service. Envy, the hotel's crazy-hip, multi level nightclub, features a fog screen entrance and cocktail waitresses clad in vinyl cat-suits. Eden, the rooftop pool lounge, has an atmosphere that would fit right in at the Playboy Mansion. There is even a temptation-driven specialty suite with king sized bunk beds, a fire pole, and a group shower. With amenities such as these, it is easy to see why Ivy would create a media frenzy. Conversely, not much has been written about this ninety-five plus million dollar venture's flagship restaurant, Quarter Kitchen. Poised amidst such extravagant surroundings, it stands to reason that Quarter Kitchen's development would not have been neglected by its creators. The culinary credentials of this establishment are amply satisfied by English-educated Executive Chef Damon Gordon. Groomed in England's Michelin-Star kitchens early in his career, Gordon went on to head up restaurants for such epicurean luminaries as Alain Ducasse, Claude Troisgros and Jeffrey Chodorow. The recent addition of local favorite, Nathan Coulon, as Executive Sous Chef has further bolstered the talent pool at QK. After enjoying a private event on the premises, I was compelled to book a second visit on my own, in order to delve deeper into Quarter Kitchen's varied repertoire.
Upon entering the aesthetically stunning and spacious dining salon, guests are treated to innovative architecture and contemporary decor that is truly par excellence.
The restaurant features an exhibition style kitchen where it is possible to view the controlled chaos of culinary creation in all its glory.
My first experience at Quarter Kitchen involved a formal group function where-in these lovely young ladies were fortuitously chosen to be my tablemates.
Much to my surprise, the girls turned out to be sugar demons. Towards the end of the meal, they laid down serious damage on the dessert portion of the menu, having voraciously ravaged through most of the offered items.
The following selections are from my two visits to Quarter Kitchen. They are grouped by menu category, rather than chronologically.
Amuse Bouche Miso Soup.
I am no expert on miso, (volumes have been written on the various forms of miso broths, soups, etc.), but I found this version approachable, flavorful, not too salty, and much to my liking.
Amuse Bouche Broccoli Soup.
This small soup was served piping hot. The soup had an intense broccoli flavor that gained further depth and richness from a drizzle of fine, extra virgin olive oil.
Spicy Crab Soup with Crispy Spring Rolls and Chili Oil ($16).
This Thai influenced soup also came out of the kitchen steaming hot, a welcome and recurring theme. It had a good, not too thick consistency, with flavor notes of lemon grass and coconut milk, as well as large, rich, chunks of tasty crab. I am also happy to report that the soup possessed the appropriate level of heat, compliments of the chili oil, which really hit me in the back of my throat. If you like spicy Thai soups, don't pass this one up.
Kitchen Sink Salad ($16).
I ordered this to get a feel for the salad portion of the menu. It features marinated shrimp, lettuce hearts, crispy brie, hearts of palm, baby striped beets, jicama, pancetta, and house-made croutons, all topped with a sweet mustard dressing. The shrimp were plump and flavorful, the deep fried brie was rich and decadent, and the mustard dressing made for the perfect finish. There is enough going on in this salad to easily hold your interest, making it a great option as a good-sized starter, or a light meal.
Caprese Salad ($14).
Heirloom tomatoes, with their inherent sweetness, proved to be the perfect foil for the tart fried green tomatoes. Combine the tomatoes with fresh, flavorful buffalo mozzarella, fine extra virgin olive oil, then finish it all with a 25 year old aged balsamic vinegar, and you have the gold standard of Caprese Salads.
Caviar Tacos ($24).
A futuristic stand makes for an artistic presentation, causing this dish to be fun from the start. These "taco shells" are created by pan frying thin slices of potato. The filling consists of a mild horseradish cream, mixed with chives and finely diced red onions, all topped with American paddlefish roe. These flavors play well off each other, with the potato, rich cream, and salty roe blending nicely. Here, Chef Damon has conceived and implemented an excellent appetizer in both appearance and taste. Beluga, osetra and sevruga aficionados that have not tried American paddlefish roe are missing out, as it is a delicious, affordable, and sustainable substitute for the world's dwindling supplies of caviar.
BBQ Lamb Ribs ($16).
The marinated lamb ribs were flavorful on their own, but paired with Chef Damon's homemade BBQ sauce, they rose to a new level. The sauce had a moderate sweetness, due in part to caramelized onions, and a bit of heat from what I believe was chipotle chilies in adobo. The dish was also served with a moist, jalapeno corn muffin, which I used to finish off the delicious BBQ sauce.
Kobe By the Ounce Ishiyaki Style ($18 per ounce).
Chef Damon offers Kobe sirloin imported from Japan, off the menu on a daily basis, bless his British heart. Service consists of a Japanese stone cooking grill, chopped shallots, two dipping sauces (ginger bud ponzu, and a soy sauce/black truffle oil vinaigrette), and the star of the show, thinly sliced, raw, Kobe sirloin. Just look at the amazing marbling!
It was difficult to contain my excitement, as I used the supplied chopsticks to place my first slice on the scorching hot stone grill.
Overcooking meat of this caliber is certain to land you at the feet of old Beelzebub himself, so the cooking time should be confined to no more than five to ten seconds. First piece to last, I was thoroughly impressed. The meat was full of rich beefy flavor, and possessed an alluring sweetness. I sampled a few pieces raw ("the true rare"), and they melted in my mouth. Both sauces were excellent, my favorite having been the soy and black truffle oil vinaigrette, but using them with the Kobe is gilding the lily to some extent. I ate most of my slices plain, after a quick sear on the stone. Some may ask, "Is it worth the money, is it really that good?" My answer is simply, "hell yes!" It is not a matter of whether you should order this or not, but how many ounces you can afford to hoard, and savor for yourself. I would visit Quarter Kitchen, if for no other reason than to revel in this luxurious delicacy.
Grilled Asparagus with Parmesan ($8).
The pencil thin asparagus had been brushed with olive oil and grilled, which really brought out its natural flavors. Large shavings of parmesano reggiano were layered on top, which added a rich and salty component.
Grilled Sea Bass with Herb Mushroom Risotto and Shellfish Foam($32).
The skin of the sea bass was crisped, while the flesh had been cooked to a juicy medium-rare. The foam tasted like a seafood bisque, only much lighter, and nicely accented the mild flavor of the bass. Execution of the risotto was perfect, which formed its signature creamy consistency, yet preserved the toothsome texture of the individual rice grains. Chef Damon's Sea Bass entree caused my taste buds to jump for joy, and should not be missed by fish lovers.
Tempura Onion Rings ($8).
For me, even mediocre frozen restaurant supply onion rings are enjoyable, but the house-made version at Quarter Kitchen are exceptional. The hand cut rings are dipped in tempura batter, and then fried to crispy perfection, leaving the onion moist and tender inside. Served with its tasty aioli, I could make a meal out of these.
Veal Chop (14oz), ($38).
The menu is strong in the grilled meats department, and the veal chop is a prime example. This beautiful, premium quality, generous cut was grilled to a perfect medium-rare, and served au jus with a scratch made hollandaise. The tender meat possessed excellent flavor, and paired with the incredible hollandaise, was brilliant in its simplicity.
Fans of dessert will do well at Quarter Kitchen. Intrigued by several of the many options, I decided to go old school with one of the three flambes, and chose the Hawai'ian Baked Alaska ($12). Below, my dessert server is shown preparing for the flambe.
Fire in the hole!
The beautifully caramelized, finished product.
This dessert, made popular in the United States by New York City's iconic Delmonico restaurant in the 1870's, is given a tropical twist with mango ice cream and a Malibu Rum mango sauce. The textural contrasts of the ice cream, coconut cake, and coconut meringue gave it a good mouth feel, and the tropical flavors were outstanding. This is a fabulous dessert.
The service at Quarter Kitchen is first-rate. My skilled servers were in sync with the kitchen on delivery, which maddeningly, in many restaurants, is not the case. The lead server, Gavin, even handled my laundry list of questions with aplomb.
Standing proudly on the ground floor of the uber-fabulous Ivy Hotel, Quarter Kitchen has a glamorous, indulgent feel. Menu items, such as the Kobe sirloin by the ounce and the beluga caviar service, let diners know that they are partaking of something quite privileged. Add to this the spectacular dining space, spot-on service, and top-notch chef Damon Gordon running a well-oiled culinary machine, and it becomes very clear why Quarter Kitchen in the Ivy delivers an over-the-top dining experience. Go ahead, treat yourself, you deserve it!
Friday and Saturday 5:30pm-12am
San Diego Restaurant Reviews