Photo by Michael A. Gardiner
Tidal’s duck confit
My blood began to boil almost as soon as well-known local chef Flor Franco said it: "Why don't you write about female chefs, Michael?" My first thought was to couple outright denial with examples. Then it occurred to me my long list of examples was a short list indeed. My next thought was to ask myself why, exactly, I hadn't been to Tidal (1404 Vacation Road) in Mission Bay to try Chef Amy DiBiase's food?
When a chef's moved around a lot it's sometimes perceived as a strike against her. Make no mistake, DiBiase has been in a lot of kitchens: Roseville, the Cosmopolitan Hotel, The Glass Door and Baleen, all before returning to Paradise Point Resort & Spa's reimagined fine dining restaurant, Tidal. But rather than tarnishing DiBiase's reputation, the result was a perception of a very talented chef who'd just never had the opportunity to make a place truly her own.
Tidal, it seems, has become that place. DiBiase's culinary personality is defined by an omnivorous approach to local ingredients grounded in a Mediterranean profile. As is often the case in chef-driven restaurants, many of the most interesting dishes on Tidal's menu are the appetizers. The Venus clams with salsify puree, purple potato and bacon is one of DiBiase's signature dishes. It's a subtle, punny take on clam chowder with the salsify taking the place of cream in the broth but also referencing the traditional oyster cracker accompaniment (salsify is also known as "oyster root").
Another DiBiase signature—ricotta gnudi with maitake mushroom, asparagus, red pearl onion and truffle froth—was less successful. The flavor profile of the dish was terrific, and the presentation dramatic, but the gnudi themselves—essentially gnocchi with ricotta replacing the potato—were technically flawed, the outer covering of flour nearly raw. Yellowtail carpaccio with white strawberry, Thai chili, lemon, avocado mayonnaise and basil was better. Though described as a "carpaccio," it ate more like a tiradito with the chile spice a welcome addition to the party.
The cook on the Kumquat-chili glazed pork cheeks with spring vegetable ragout, English pea puree and pea tendrils was perfect, even if the glaze tipped too far toward sweet. The vegetables—particularly the peas—were the real stars of the dish. DiBiase's lamb ragu over fettucine with allspice and preserved lemon-ricotta was better. It would be easy for a lamb pasta dish to tilt to the heavy, but the heady allspice and preserved lemon flavors kept the dish surprisingly light.
My favorite entrée, however, was the duck confit with local shelling beans, applewood bacon lardon and kale. It was, effectively, cassoulet stripped down to its essentials. The duck was perfectly crisp on the outside and wonderfully tender in, but it was ultimately those beans my spoon kept going back to the bowl for.
As a lazy dusk descended on Tidal's incredibly picturesque patio I didn't care about the overly "attentive" service and I certainly didn't care about the gender of the chef. In fact, I didn't even care anymore that Flor Franco had pretty much called me sexist. I was just glad she'd gotten me to go to Tidal.