The La Valencia Hotel is a major landmark in La Jolla, CA. It’s majesty holds court over the village and the sea with its gently imposing, beautiful pink stature. Its entrance on Prospect Avenue welcomes all with the notions of your great-grandmother who still believes in chivalry and perfect etiquette.
The food outlets have witnessed many chiefs during its 85 year history. Most recently, the highly acclaimed Chef Paul McCabe, Chef Daniel Barron and now Chef James Montejano are those recognizable, fine dining names but in the kitchen of a great chef is always a team of incredible builders, contractors and clean up crew who deliver a complete finished product day in and day out. The reigns of this crew generally falls under the tutelage of the Chef de Cuisine… and at the La Valencia, that driver is a quiet and gentle man whose calm facade makes you confident that your Executive Chef has made the right choice.
Chef Stephen Gage is the “top knot chef”… the young blond chef with the cute smile that wears his long hair in a neat top knot. His zen-like personality never strikes me as one suited to be a chef. It is precisely what makes him so endearing. I would be so bold to venture that this trait puts him on his game because of his incredible focus on distinctly, on-point flavors and lovely presentation. Each plate is a beautiful combination of colors, textures and perspective that any food explorer (or instagrammer) could fall in love with.
An unexpected La Jolla meeting brought me back to the La Valencia which was once my “go to”, 3 times a week, regular, hot spot for it’s view, ambiance and culinary leadership. It has been some time since my last visit but I am quite happy I stopped in to see what the chefs have been cooking up.
I asked Chef Stephen to surprise me.
***WARNING*** some chefs ABSOLUTELY HATE THIS! I know Chef Paul McCabe did it for me all the time during his stint at Delicias in Rancho Santa Fe but his replacement always seemed uncomfortable with my request. Chef Daniel Barron, well, he loved the challenge.
Needless to say, Chef Stephen is a grand observer. He remembered from my numerous previous visits during the Chef Daniel Barron tenure at La Valencia, that I don’t like dessert and prefer NOT to eat with my hands (think sandwiches). I received a lovely plate of fresh, flaky sea bass set atop a bed of garbanzo bean puree. The togarashi gave my dish the precise umami depth that I love and it played nicely with the contrarian blackberry tangerine gastrique . The produce; mushrooms (shiitake and enoki), brussel sprouts and herbs were all fresh — I’m guessing Specialty Produce. The asian flavor profile was simply lovely.
FYI -The least I expect from a restaurant of this caliber is that the fish is cooked properly. I don’t usually consider it at all because if that has gone awry, flavor doesn’t matter to me.
Keep your eyes on this young chef. You will be hearing Stephen Gage’s name tossed around in the near future, I assure you.
If you like a restaurant and frequent it, get to know your chef. They are not all crazy, ego-maniacs the way television reality shows portray them. It takes all kinds to impress your palate and knowing the creator of your food makes your dining experience more memorable.
Eat Well. Be Well. ~ cur8eureats