The drive up to The Grand Del Mar, a resort in the hills above San Diego, is particularly beautiful at sunset, when the sprawling estate, with its peachy, hacienda-styled buildings, glows intensely.
Outside, the grounds are immaculately manicured. Inside, the rooms are richly decked, lined with marble, dark wood paneling, thick fabrics, and gushing with flora. The Grand Del Mar boasts a bottom-line-be-damned sort of grandeur rarely found in the United States, or anywhere else these days for that matter. Every corner, every turn peels back yet another layer of shock.
Guests are chauffeured about the grounds in a fleet of late-model Mercedes Benz sedans and SUVs. That is how my friend Villa Vixen and I were transported from the hotel to Addison, the resort’s flagship restaurant, one evening this past August. When we arrived, the maitre d’, flanked by two hostesses, stood waiting to greet us at the front door like Colicchio, with Lakshmi and Simmons, on a season finale of Top Chef. It was, as Addison’s chef, William Bradley, likes to say, “soigné.”
Let me disclose upfront: William Bradley and I met earlier this year at the Bocuse d’Or USA Competition at the Culinary Institute of America. I subsequently invited him to Kansas City to be a guest chef at this year’s Harvester’s Chefs Classic in June, an annual fundraising dinner for a local food bank (I serve on the Chefs Classic committee). At the dinner in Kansas City, he insisted that I have dinner at his restaurant the next time I was in his area. So, in August, when I passed through San Diego for the Words Alive fundraising dinner that my friend Villa Vixen had organized, I reserved one night to dine at Addison.
Not only was I known to the house when I arrived – both to the chef and to one of our servers, Jason White, who used to work in the front of the house at The American Restaurant in Kansas City, where I dined often – but, at the end of our meal, we were told that our meal was a gift from Bradley. We were refused a bill.
So, if you are the type to distrust blog posts about restaurants when the writer and the restaurant are known to each other, or when the writer has been comped, then you can stop reading this one right here. Otherwise, you’ll have to trust that I’m giving you the most honest summary of my experience that I can.
To say that the service at Addison, a Relais & Châteaux restaurant, was impressive is an understatement. The staff moved beyond choreography into the realm of intuition. When I took my phone out of my pocket to put it on the table, for example, a small, silver tray magically appeared and was slipped under my phone just as it was about to land. When my friend dripped a drop, a stain too faint for either of us to notice, it was covered up with what I call the “the napkin of shame.” I actually asked the server to remove the napkin to prove that my friend had soiled the tablecloth. I couldn’t believe I had failed to notice it. I always notice.
To some, this amount of attention might seem stifling. And, I’ll admit, a bit of it might have been unnecessary. But, the inspiring part of Addison’s service was that all of it was administered, seemingly, from instinct alone. Servers did not hover or circle or crane from afar, as they do in some restaurants, where you’re always aware of their presence. At Addison, my friend and I were largely left in privacy, which is why it was so impressive that the servers knew, almost to the second, what was happening at our table, presaging our every need.
Bradley’s food was just as precise and flawless as the service, which wasn’t surprising with Anthony Secviar (formerly of The French Laundry), and Shaun Gethin (formerly of Alex at the Wynn) by his side. I should also mention Stefani De Palma, a young sous chef in Bradley’s kitchen. She proved to be a focused force of nature when she came to assist Bradley in Kansas City.
With the exception of the seafood courses, which leaned towards Asia, the majority of Bradley’s food was firmly planted in the Old World. Classical French technique and flavors appeared on almost every plate.
Among my favorite courses were a tangy bowl of verjus with Champagne grapes and sultanas, and a fist of Alaskan king crab coated in beurre monté accompanied by a pretty little salad of melons, Asian pears, and avocado. I would also include among my favorites a bowl of chanterelles covered in pungent, Australian black truffles and doused with sweet corn cream at the table. It was earthy, sweet, and very rich.
Actually, most of the dishes were very rich, and, in extension of The Grand Del Mar’s personality, over-the-top in the best of ways. A coddled egg ringed with escargots came with buttery brioche soldier toasts, crusted in garlic and shavings of Parmesan. Lamb, served two ways, appeared with a side of leek cremeaux levitating above a layer of potato purée that was definitely more fat than starch. And, as if the peanut butter terrine (with Port ice cream!) at the end wasn’t thick enough, with it was poured a glass of aerated milk. I’m not sure the bubbles made the dessert any thinner. But it was delicious.
Obviously, this sort of affair isn’t an every-day kind of thing. I love mother sauces and Old World opulence, but even I reached my limit by the end our our meal. It was magnificent while it lasted. I was slightly relieved when it was over.
The sommelier on duty that night, young Marty Winters, who had recently arrived from the two Michelin-starred Cyrus (which closes tomorrow, October 29, after a seven-year run), poured a couple of great wines that paired beautifully with the food.
There was a magnificent cheese trolley. And for dessert, crème fraiche ice cream with fresh fruit, and flakey crêpes dentelles, still warm, that left a wake of crumbs so wide no napkin of shame could possibly suffice. And, just as I was lamenting to my friend that it would probably be another decade before I would see crêpes dentelles of such greatness again, a second plate of them arrived, fresh from the oven. While I waited for them to cool and crispen, the server told me that chef Bradley knew I would want another round (just like he somehow knew I needed to scrub out the fattiness of the veal sweetbreads panés with some mango and yuzu before moving on to lamb).
See? They know. I don’t know how they know. But at Addison, they know.
Why write about a restaurant so positively to the public when I know that I was probably given extra attention?
Because, I am convinced that Addison operates high above the average on a normal basis, and probably at the level, or very near the level on which I experienced it. I have no proof of this, because I have only been to the restaurant once, and it was, admittedly, not under normal circumstances. But, the service and food that I experienced at Addison were issued with such confidence that they could not have been a product of a one-time effort. Why would they have gone through all of that trouble just to impress me? That would be incredibly wastefully, if not silly. Instead, they had to be products of practice.
A Michelin three-starred chef is rumored to have hedged that, if Addison were rated by the Michelin Guide, it would also receive
three stars. If my meal was par for the course, then I’d have a hard time disagreeing. If not, then, at least I have proof of what Bradley and his team are capable of achieving.
Regardless, the public should know about Addison at The Grand Del Mar.
Addison at the Grand Del Mar
5200 Grand Del Mar Way
San Diego, California 92130
Chef Bradley offered to cook for us. Here are the dishes that he sent out.
Champagne grapes and sultanas.
Scottish smoked salmon, sauce gribiche, salmon roe.
“Fruits de Mer”
Oyster, Caviar, Sea Urchin
Alaskan King Crab
Sea bean; melon, Asian pear, and avocado.
Wild King Salmon
Trumpet mushrooms, bok choy, and dashi.
Australian black truffles, sweet corn.
Escargot, Parmesan and garlic bread.
Ris de Veau Panés
Leeks and caper- cornichon confiture, and veal demi glace.
Lamb “Deux Façons”
Arugula panade, potato purée and leek cremeaux.
Crème Fraîche Ice Cream
Mission figs, apricot, and strawberry. Served with crêpes dentelles.
Peanut Butter Terrine
Milk chocolate, Port ice cream, and aerated milk.
White Chocolate Peppermint Lolly
Click here to see all of the photos from my visit to Addison at the Grand Del Mar.
Photos: “Fruits de Mer;” sunset at The Grand Del Mar, San Diego, California; wild king salmon with bok choy and dashi; chanterelles with Australian black truffle and sweet corn cream; coddled egg with escargot; crème fraîche ice cream with figs and crèpes dentelles; and Le Roy Bourgogne, 1999.
2 replies on “review: realm of intuition… (addison)”
This is the first tasting menu you’ve posted in a while that actually sounds like someone would want to eat more than a course or two.. curious what your take on Pete Well’s take on tasting menus in a recent NY Times piece was.. I thought it was right on.. and the comments page was hysterical as well, most people saying how the pics of the courses looked revolting… someone describing how how it took three people to deliver shavings of truffle in a box at French Laundry and get dinged $75 for the honor.. just shows how ludicrous the whole tasting menu thing has gotten so out of hand.. way over priced, often inedible, tiny, cold portions.. snooty, terrible service.. the whole thing is usually about as fun and enjoyable as a stick in the eye… although the one above certainly sounds good…
I went to Addison last may for a special dinner with my wife and friends. It was a really great experience. Great ambiance, and beautiful drive in. Glad you enjoyed it as well.