July 6 2011 10:26 AM

Flavor Del Mar impresses palates, not wallets

Chef Jason Maitland
Photo by Jenny Montgomery

So, I've entered an interesting new phase as a food writer. I'm now a pregnant food writer. Although all the unsolicited advice I've received says I'll be feeling like Wonder Woman any day now, from an eating perspective, the past few months have been a bit challenging for my palate. As symptoms go, I've had it very easy. But when I think about food, the only things that sound good are Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and Entenmann's Chocolate Frosted Donuts (the yellow-cake kind, please).

I think that's why investigating a place like Flavor Del Mar was a wise idea. With a menu offering a wide variety of tastes and textures, I was sure to find something that wouldn't make me want to lie down and cry.

I knew our meal was off to an exciting start when, along with a slab of warm bread and ramekin of softened butter, our table was presented with a quartet of flavored, house-made finishing salts. Sprinkling each salt on your bread and butter is a very hands-on and slightly precious “foodie” experience—but, hey, it's fun! If you really want to taste the nuances in all the salts, sample a few grains alone. The Thai chili basil really does taste like the skin of a pepper, with grassy, herbal notes from the basil and a short but intense burn on the tip of your tongue. The white miso is a richer and milder salt, far less prickly on the tongue.

Each month, Flavor has unique tasting menus, showcasing a particular ingredient or theme. In May, Chef Jason Maitland gave top billing to suckling pig. And when I was there in June, there was a delightful Duck & Cherries combo. I loved the warm duck rilette, a quaint little jam jar filled with the quasi-paté—soft and fatty shreds of rich duck, served with glistening Bing cherries, as plump and flushed as the lips of a Del Mar cougar. This combination tasted like the most sophisticated Thanksgiving plate ever.

'Tis the season for stone fruits, and if you're like me, and you lack the ability to pick out a good peach, plum or nectarine from any store whatsoever, then cut out the middle man and order the Stone Fruit Salad. Nectarines, plums and apricots sweeten up a fluffy bed of bitter greens and chili-dusted pistachios. A firm and slightly chalky goat cheese mellows out the tart and spice.

Homemade pasta is another one of those hard-to-resist menu items that Flavor does so well. The pappardelle arrives as a pile of velvety ribbons laden with earthy tastes. Every bite is filled with chubby, tender mushrooms, and the whole dish is drizzled with musky white truffle oil. The thinly sliced San Joaquin Gold garnish is perfect—possibly one of the best cheeses ever.

Maitland clearly loves his pig, and the porchetta with house-made sausage is a great showcase for his skills. The porchetta is fatty, flavorful and juicy, and the sausage is exceptionally tender, with notes of fennel and just a touch of heat. Served with bursting al dente peas and a sweet, sunny, root vegetable purée, this dish is a pork lover's dream.

Flavor Del Mar's menu is filled with culinary adventures that pregnant ladies in an overly paranoid society are supposed to avoid (cue teeny-tiny violins). But don't let that stop you from checking out its unique offerings. Beef tenderloin carpaccio? Crispy sweetbreads? We'll meet again in a few months, my friends.

Do be warned that you will pay steep Del Mar prices for the food here, so manage your expectations. But the service is professional and attentive, the views can't be beat and with the talented Maitland behind the burners, you're going to get food worth its salt.

Write to jennym@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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