Pacifica Del Mar
1555 Camino del Mar
(Del Mar Plaza)
Earlier this year, I called Epazote in the Del Mar Plaza all style and no substance. But I had long thought its neighbor across the cobblestone, Pacifica Del Mar, was a more earnest and worthy place. Back in my North County days, Nutri-Girl and I enjoyed many a sunset there, drinking wine on the patio and picking at a Thai chicken salad with cabbage, brown rice and peanut sauce (it was one of her favorites, of course, and remains a good salad). I never delved much deeper into the menu. Or menus, that is-there are separate lists for brunch, lunch, dinner and the bar, plus a happy-hour selection. With the wine list, your table can start to feel like a library carrel.
Recently, I had the chance to go back a few times, and I learned that Pacifica is, in fact, a step above Epazote. Just not a very big step.
From the bar/happy-hour menus, the Bistro burger features a neat square of unmelted cheese on top, some lettuce and "caramelized" onions-menu copywriters often confuse "sautéed" and "caramelized"-topped with horseradish aioli. The menu also offers a carb-free version of the burger, specially prepared, get this, without the bread. You know, in case any of you carb-deprived Atkins bastards couldn't figure that one out on your own.
The calamari was a little heavy on the breading, but topped with abundant cilantro and tolerable. The paltry dipping options, though, were either a simple soy sauce or aioli, again, this time in red pepper. You can never have enough glorified mayonnaise, can you? The small, routine fish taco came with a double-whammy of it, on the fish and on the side, next to another ubiquitous we-must-kill-it-now-before-it-becomes-entrenched food trend: jicama slaw.
Lunch was an improvement, except for the one or two short black hairs that garnished almost every dish. (Either the busboys are under a lot of stress, or kitty is up on the counter again.) Minus the stray follicles, the steamed mussels were the highlight. I always find mussels inconsistent: one is perfect, the next fishy or bitter, the next gritty. But the Pacifica's steamed mussels had more good than bad, and the white wine sauce with still-crisp sautéed garlic and chunks of tomato made the most of the good ones.
The finely shredded Maine crab cakes, over sprouts and drizzled with sweet mustard, were good enough for a passing grade. I also enjoyed the mushroom, mozzarella and pesto from my portabello sandwich. Unfortunately, the sandwich also included bitter grilled red peppers and slimy squash on unremarkable and poorly matched ciabatta bread. The mulligatawny soup tasted like Campbell's (dry) chicken and (overcooked) rice-she called it wild, but I call it brown-with a couple heaping spoonfuls of curry powder thrown overtop.
Later that night, I brought some friends by for a nightcap and a last-ditch effort to find some bright spots in at least one of those menus. I made my usual mistake, ordering something I thought was a sure-fire winner. In this case, it was the pancetta-wrapped scallops over cream cheese grits. The bacon was dry and the scallops overdone past any hint of delicacy. The paddy of grits and mushrooms, meanwhile, had the taste and consistency of cold, soggy French toast. Utter disappointment. The comprehensive dessert sampler ran from that same disappointment-the pumpkin mousse, the coconut tart, the bonbon-to a decadent peanut butter chocolate bar to an inexplicably runny but otherwise wonderful crème brulee.
I had planned to order more, but our waitress that night was so comically inept we were lucky to get anything to our table at all. She took four or five tries just to nail down our drink order, and at the end of the night, she tried to bill us $14 each for a couple coffee drinks.
Later, a credit card statement showed that another waitress had "mistakenly" charged an extra $10 for her tip. That might be the kind of thing the beautiful North County people overlook, but it effectively killed whatever slim chance Pacifica had to get a good review from me. Come to think of it, I hereby boycott the Del Mar Plaza until further notice.
I'm sure they'll get over it.
The Broadway musical Hair never caught on with the dinner-theater crowd. Discuss at cityeat@SDcity beat.com.