I had such high hopes for Chandler's Restaurant and Lounge. There it sits, facing the bright, blue ocean, separated from the sand by a particularly fast section of Highway 101. Its home is the new Hilton in South Carlsbad (1 Ponto Road), a clean and modern property that exudes bland and non-threatening warmth. And, yet, like so many beachfront restaurants, the location is the star, the food coming in a distant second.
My husband and I recently had an entire baby-free day (thank you, grandparents of the world!), and high on our giddy list of activities was brunch at Chandler's. As avid 101 cruisers, we'd watched the hotel being built and thought the coastal locale had the potential to be a tranquil, grownup hangout.
Turns out it's just a boring restaurant with smiley service and salty food. Bummer.
My love of hollandaise drew me to the Shrimp Benedict. What's not to love about shrimp, crab and lobster meat, served with poached eggs and a mustard hollandaise sauce? For $18, I expected much more than overcooked shrimp, scant flakes of lobster meat and a sad drizzle of thin sauce.
Biscuits and gravy with a twist were up next. Chorizo provided the base to a creamy sauce that came off tasting more like Dennison's chili than the zesty, sophisticated comfort food we hoped it would be.
I tried being positive: "I like chili con carne! It's so good on nachos when we watch football!"
Then we looked at the bill, and I could be cheery no longer. I can't justify paying Hilton-restaurant prices when the best compliment I can give the kitchen is, "Look, it's not bad."
I hoped our brunch experience was an anomaly and decided to give Chandler's another try. I checked out their weekday menu, hoping the A-team kitchen crew was on the job.
A warm bowl of beet soup was decent, though way too salty (and I love salt), but it was certainly the prettiest cup of soup I've had in awhile. Nature hit it out of the park when creating the vibrant, magenta root, and dipping a slice of buttered bread into the creamy cup of soup was satisfying on a cloudy coastal day.
My server assured me that the sandwich featuring ground lamb was "amazing," so I went for that instead of the shrimp panzanella salad (I didn't want to be disappointed again by overcooked shellfish). The pita was warm, soft and chewy—the highlight of the sandwich. The slices of lamb were dry, occasionally gritty, and would easily be defeated in a Gyros taste test by your average mall food court.
I think the lesson here is to always maintain low expectations and hope to be pleasantly surprised. OK, fine, I'm far more of an optimist than that, but when it comes to dining on beachfront property, I'm going to keep looking for the whole package.
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