Nestled just above the scenic ocean bluffs of La Jolla, A.R. Valentien inside The Lodge at Torrey Pines features innovative California cuisine in a truly spectacular setting. Executive Chef Jeff Jackson conveys his market driven approach with seasonal ingredients from organic farms, orchards, and local fisherman. Wine lovers will rejoice in the extensive wine list boasting a vast collection of regional varietals from a string of California wineries. Just beyond the entrance, with its charming overhanging foliage, the interior of the restaurant showcases American Craftsman design with features like beautiful exposed beams and stained-glass lanterns, as well as selected artwork from famed Botanical Artist, Albert R.Valentien. The Lodge at Torrey Pines has held the esteemed AAA Five Diamond award for 10 consecutive years, and this highly acclaimed restaurant follows suit with timeless elegance and impeccable service. With picturesque views of the lush golf course, towering forest trees, and the stunning Pacific horizon, A.R. Valentien is the perfect backdrop for your next special occasion.Read More ...
A.R. Valentien is an unsurpassed culinary refuge tucked away from the constant commotion of the city. Located inside the award-winning Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, with six and a half acres of property overlooking the exquisite Torrey Pines Golf Course and glittering Pacific Ocean, there is no finer destination for a secluded romantic get-away. The architecture of the hotel is impressive, echoing the popular California Craftsman design of the early 1900s with low-pitched roof lines, exposed rafters, overhanging eaves, and hand-crafted woodwork. Approaching the beautiful timber porte-cochere of The Lodge with my dining companion Carine, we are greeted by two doormen clad in crisp green Scottish kilts. The massive mahogany doors feature stained glass windows depicting the Lodge’s emblem: a silhouetted pine tree along the edge of an ocean cliff. Fitting. As we pass through the promising entryway, we are transported to a world of cozy nostalgia and full-sensory indulgence that is The Lodge at Torrey Pines.
Rich dark wood beams, a crackling fire place, lavish leather armchairs and wooden rockers beckon us from the blustery winter evening into the expansive lobby. Floor to ceiling windows with serene prospects of the golf green and several large potted plants supplement an open, airy feeling to the elegant space. To the right of the lobby, just past the concierge desk lies the hotel’s lounge and the entrance to A.R. Valentien. In the longue, several guests are curled up beside yet another fireplace with a grand antique brass canopy hood. We are seated in the adjacent waiting room, utterly charmed by the old world aura, before we are promptly greeted by a hostess and guided into the restaurant.
A.R. Valentien has served as host to San Diego diners for nearly 11 years, whether they are visitors staying at the hotel, or native restaurant-goers. The restaurant is named after famed early 20th century artist Albert R. Valentien, known as one of the best American art pottery decorators of his time. In the early 1900’s, Valentien migrated to California and was commissioned by Ellen Browning Scripps to paint a collection of the indigenous wild flowers of California, a project that took nearly 10 years to complete. Later in his career, he began to focus on California Impressionist landscapes. It is these remarkable landscapes and momentos from his estate that are scattered throughout the restaurant, further enhancing the refined setting.
We are tucked away in a plush burgundy velour booth on the left side of the main dining room, in a somewhat secluded area. We admire the intimate space and the uninterrupted view of the voluminous pool, land and seascape. In the distance, the setting sun casts hues of pink blush and tangerine into the fading sky, a truly magical display. Each table is elegantly draped in thick white linen tablecloths adorned with a bouquet of fresh, bright pink and lemon yellow lilies. The lighting is soft and dim, while classic tunes from the 1920’s to the 1950’s softly hum over the sound system, pleasantly reminiscent of an earlier time. Our server for the evening, Eddie, kindly introduces himself and welcomes us to the restaurant. He asks us for our preference of sparkling, bottled, or regular ice water. Opting for ice water, Eddie swiftly fills up our stemmed glasses and gives us a moment to look over the menus. Another server, Enrique, stops by with a small basket of various breads and biscuits. I go for a Cornmeal Thyme Biscuit, and upon the first buttery bite, I fall in love. These delicious biscuits are so popular that the restaurant provides the highly requested recipe to guests on a small card.
While we are left to take in the lovely surroundings, we are honored to meet Executive Chef Jeff Jackson and Sous Chef Kelli Crosson. Jeff explains that seasonal ingredients from local sources inspire the oft-changing menu. This dedication to freshness has deemed A.R. with a prestigious title as one of the top ten farm-to-table restaurants in the nation. We are told that everything found on the menu, aside from bread, is made in house. “Jennifer, our Pastry Chef, will be sending out some surprises later on,” Jeff adds, smiling, before heading off to the kitchen. We can hardly wait.
Paul Krikorian, the Service Manager and Sommelier, warmly greets us and strikes up a friendly conversation. He has served as the manger here for about a year and a half, and seems to take genuine pleasure in his current position. We excitedly accept his offer to pair our meal with a glass of wine at his discretion. The wine list is extensive, and mirrors the regional California focus of the restaurant. The list features approximately 30 sparkling, white and red wines by the glass, and over 300 bottles of wine. A conglomeration of varietals is available exclusively from wineries across the Golden State, from the Southern towns of Temecula and Santa Barbara to the Northern prime wine counties of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino. With bottles ranging in price from approximately $30 to $335 dollars, there is always something available to satiate even the most discriminatory of palates. Aside from wine, patrons may also delight in the full bar, abundantly equipped to craft just about any refreshing cocktail of your choice.
Glancing through the leather bound dinner menu, I am intrigued by all of the wondrous, contemporary California offerings. The menu is comprised of charcuterie, appetizers, vegetables, entrees, artisanal and farmhouse cheeses, as well as desserts. Notable options include the House Made Pappardelle with red wine braised duck leg, tangerine, and red walnuts, the Butter Poached Maine Lobster with English and sugar snap peas, truffle butter, carrot puree and preserved lemon, and the Guerrero Negro Scallops with Bloomsdale spinach, caramelized fennel, blood orange and Pernod. Being a pasta fanatic, I am immediately enticed by the Pappardelle. “If pasta is on the menu, it is made here,” Eddie assures us.
A four-course Tasting Menu is available at a set price for those who wish to experience the chef’s favorite dishes with an optional wine pairing for each course. In addition, every Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m., up to sixteen guests may reserve the communal Artisan Table to experience the best of local food sources and wineries in Southern California. The four-course menu is reasonably priced at $85.00 per person and includes seasonal appetizers, a main course, cheese, dessert, coffee and wine. For those in the mood for lunch, A.R. Valentien is open daily with an assortment of gourmet salads, soups, desserts and entrees like Corned Veal Cheeks and Moroccan Spiced Chicken Thigh. On Saturdays and Sundays from 7:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., the Breakfast menu is readily available, featuring a plethora of fruits, breads, cereals, griddle classics, and sides. Current breakfast selections include Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with raspberry syrup, Anson Mills Grits with Shredded Short Rib served with poached eggs and salsa verde, and Homemade Strawberry-Rosemary Jam Doughnuts.
With Eddie’s recommendation, we begin our epicurean retreat with a charcuterie selection, the Platter of Three with House Made Pickles and Dijon Mustard. On a separate smaller plate, several toasted pieces of bread are served to accompany the pates. To the left of the plate is a medium sized square of Chicken Liver Pate with pickled carrots, and grain and Dijon mustard. It possesses a carnation pink color with milky white edges. It is silky smooth, with a mild saltiness that is not the least bit overpowering. The mustard bestows a sensational pungent heat to the pate. On the right hand side of the dish, the Duck and Pistachio pate with D’Anjou pear and currant mostarda has a speckled pink and white color, similar to salami. Coupled with the fruity mostarda, there is a harmonious marriage of savory and sweet flavors. In the center of the dish, the Potted Beef Short Rib pate is nestled beside a celery root remoulade with tarragon vinaigrette. This pate is full of salty flavor, while the remoulade has notes of wild herb and a subtle sourness. The house made pickles are exceptionally zesty, with a brilliant crunch that I instantly adore. This delightful, substantial dish has set the tone for the remainder of the evening. Paul’s first wine recommendation, a splendid 2010 Gewürztraminer from Navarro, provides a nice sweetness to balance out the savory essence of the pates. This pale yellow wine is light bodied and very refreshing, an instant favorite.
Our mouth-watering culinary voyage continues with the Spec and Burrata dish, served on a narrow rectangular serving plate, mixed with marinated artichokes, arugula, and a Sicilian white balsamic with olive almond and parsley. It is one of the chef’s favorite appetizers on the current menu, and the reason is obvious. The burrata is exceedingly creamy and soft, offered in two generous dollops on the plate. The deep red spec is pleasingly salty and contains a mild smoky flavor that is seamlessly balanced by the mild, nutty presence of the artichokes. Using my fork, I merrily unite each individual ingredient for a collective burst of flavor.
The next appetizer we are delighted to sample is the Hamachi Crudo with Meyer Lemon. The hamachi crudo (raw cuts of yellowtail) are presented with full slices of avocado, Cara Cara oranges, and micro cilantro on top. Underneath the colorful display of vibrant greens and pinks, is the yellow Meyer lemon agrodolce, a sweet and sour vinaigrette that adds an extra kick to this palatable dish. The raw slices of fish are exceedingly fresh and invigorating; they pair nicely with the contrasting tastes of earthy avocado and citrusy orange.
To the right of the plate, the Fanny Bay Oyster commands our attention. This fascinating creation is served on a bed of greens, and almost wholly submerged in effervescent pink foam, which Kelli tells us is made from a blood orange juice, Meyer lemon, and Pernod. This menu item is a seafood lover’s dream; I scoop out the succulent meat of the oyster, making sure to get a nice lathering of the pink foam, and take it all in one full bite. There is an immediate energy on the palate heightened by the citrusy foam, and the rich saline. As I chew, there is some resistance on the tooth, my favorite part of eating an oyster. It is in the chewing that the richness of the oyster’s flavor is released. Minutes after swallowing, the salty impressions linger on my tongue.
Up next, Kelli describes the Albacore Tuna Carpaccio as one of the people’s favorites. This is one of the only dishes that has never been removed from the constantly evolving menu; it has persevered for nearly a decade. Presented on a round white plate, the pink-colored Carpaccio is garnished with fresh grated horseradish on top alongside crispy capers and parsley. On the edge of the plate, four toasted pieces of bread are gracefully displayed, and underneath, a layer of white horseradish cream offers a spicy, velvety finish. To complement this dish, Paul has recommended a crisp sauvignon blanc from Cakebread Cellars winery with jovial floral notes and a long finish. We take turns sipping the delicious wine and savoring the tender consistency of the carpaccio.
Before the main course, Eddie presents us with a small scoop of vibrant Blood orange sorbet to cleanse the palate. The sorbet is served ice cold, smooth and stimulating. “It tastes like a fresh frozen orange,” Carine elatedly describes.
Kelli returns with all three of the special entrees we will sample, and we are giddy with excitement. The first entrée I relish is the Niman Ranch New York Strip with trumpet mushrooms, fingerling potatoes and large stalks of broccoli. The steak is displayed in a curved fashion with several large cuts to reveal the pink interior. The steak is cooked to a faultless medium rare, and the natural juices fan out across the plate in a rich, brown river. I sigh with delight from the first bite; the meat is tender, juicy, and the inherent flavors truly shine. The fingerling potatoes are roasted and soft, while the mushrooms are large and presented with an elegant criss-cross pattern. I make a note of the large knife, both heavy and untarnished, the perfect tool for carving the thick cut of gourmet meat.
The Duck (one of Kelli’s personal favorites) is sizeable with confit leg and a half breast, served with scarlet turnips and kumquats made into a marmalade sauce. Every part of the duck is exceedingly succulent, and the skin is full of rich flavor. The cheerful orange kumquat provides a sugary tang that seems destined to accompany this dish. The breast is elegantly presented, layered into four opal cuts. After several silent moments while we savor every morsel, Carine and I concur that this is the best duck we have ever had.
Another mouth-watering entrée selection, the Swordfish with Cavolo Nero, is served with artichokes and garlic confit (cooked in olive oil) with rosemary and dilju. The swordfish is presented in the center of a clean white round plate with the dark leafy greens underneath. The portion is generous, and has a beautiful coloration of pale creams and golden hues. A sea of juices on the plate creates an intoxicating aroma. The texture is perfectly soft; each cut of fish flakes away with little effort. The taste is scrumptious, with only the faintest whisper of the ocean, and pairs nicely with the rosemary and earthy artichokes. To accompany all of these incredible entrees, Kelli presents us with the Roast Beets and Pistachio Butter. This dish is vibrant and rich with that indescribable, slightly sweet beet taste, and goes great with the creamy, nutty butter. Kelli tells us that every table is sent out a veggie plate, compliments of the chef. For our tasting, a delicious concoction of beet greens fully satisfies all of our veggie cravings. Our final wine pairing, a 2010 pinot noir from Twomey contains a deep red tint and a full-bodied taste that has perfectly accented the bold flavor combinations of the poultry, beef, and fish. Perfectly
Pastry chef Jennifer Costa approaches our table to present three luscious and whimsical confections. The first is a Vanilla brulee, rolled into an almond sponge, and served with a spicy clove tuile and orange champagne sauce. The clove tuile provides an added spice to contrast the sweetness of the custard. The oranges also served on the plate are incredibly juicy and appetizing. Next we are treated to a marvelous tasting dessert. Jennifer states, “For a tasting dessert, I like to have one idea multiple ways”. The Meyer Lemon Tasting dessert is the perfect example of a dish with a reccurring theme. This dish boasts Meyer lemon chiffon, Meyer lemon sorbet, and a long almond brittle with orange curd. The fresh, tart flavors from the notoriously bold lemons are delightful in each contrasting texture. From the lunch menu, Jennifer has also crafted the Almond Milk Panacotta with rhubarb and almond cake. The crispy, long rhubarb garnish is an inventive addition, which lends a nice tanginess to the sweet cake.
Even though we are nearly full to the brim, we are pampered with one more small dessert sampling given to every guest, compliments of the chef. This is another unique and playful touch on behalf of the restaurant that I find very special. Several petite pastries are presented on a small dark green antique plate including warm sugar doughnuts, white chocolate tart, and carrot cake. The bite sized round of carrot cake is smeared with a rich butter cream and ornamented with the joyful image of a carrot in orange and green frosting. The sugar doughnuts are remarkable, soft and blissfully warm. Carine and I are satisfied beyond words.
After our relaxing culinary escape, Paul treats us to a tour of the grounds and private dining areas. The night air is cool against our skin, and like a true gentleman, Paul graciously offers us his coat. We admire the charming outdoor patio with its majestic pine trees and calm waters of the heated pool. We take a peek at the private dining room from the massive windows outside, which can accommodate up to 16 guests. For large banquets, several breathtaking ballrooms on the property are no strangers to corporate events, wedding receptions, and any number of special celebrations one can imagine. Paul points out a certain spot on the golf course, near the 18th hole and illuminated fountain, where he indicates some of the most beautiful weddings have taken place.
Paul invites us to come back again soon, and we intend to. Bidding him a regretful farewell, as we could gladly stay all night, we begin our reflective stroll to the car. A.R. Valentien has proven to be a truly unrivaled experience. This 5-star restaurant is a crowned costal jewel with its culinary ingenuity, highly attentive staff, scintillating ambience, and breathtaking views. From the creative menu and immense wine list, to the handsome architecture and the man behind the name, A.R. Valentien is California at its best.
Insider’s Tip: Parking is free for the day in the parking garage located to the left of The Lodge’s entrance.
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