Arterra restaurant in Del Mar offers exquisite California cuisine in a luxurious setting. Inspired by Earth’s seasonal bounty, the constantly evolving menu incorporates local and organic ingredients from neighboring Chino Farms, promising sensual delights, bold flavors, and artful presentation. Executive Chef Jason Maitland demonstrates a skillful command of culinary technique, proving that while Arterra may mean “Art of the Earth,” he has mastered the “Art of the Plate.” Private rooms, a noteworthy sushi bar, and a sleek new outdoor lounge all contribute to one of the city’s finest dining experiences.Read More ...
The San Diego Marriot Del Mar seems an unlikely place to explore some of San Diego’s most elegant and exciting cuisine. Yet it is home to Arterra, a restaurant that, with its exceptional preparation of local ingredients, sets a high standard for California fare.
Arterra’s modern and elegant dining room is comfortable and inviting, combing architectural innovations—high ceilings, a circular bar, an open kitchen—with modern comforts—lush booths, soothing colors, and dim lighting. Entering the restaurant early on a Wednesday evening, we had our pick of tables, although the space quickly filled with local gourmands, savvy hotel guests, and a private party in one of the restaurant’s three private dining rooms. Our waiter, Casey, was enthusiastic and entertaining, and having worked at Arterra for two years, quite knowledgeable. He eagerly set the stage for Executive Chef Brian Pekarcik’s show, explaining the kitchen’s philosophies and approach to artful cuisine.
Casey’s definition of “California cuisine” as “living off the land,” transfixed me, suggesting an oft-forgotten connection between the food that sustains us and the soil, water, and air that sustain what becomes our food. Arterra’s approach is one of both celebration and respect: an intentional and exclusive incorporation of local seasonal availabilities in a time when it is possible to obtain almost any ingredient year-round. By using local produce, meat and poultry, and by weaving these into artful creations, Arterra is making a statement of both quality and values.
Arterra’s constantly changing menu offers a plethora of seasonal dishes, and rather than choose we opted for the popular tasting menus, with wine pairings from the “All American” wine list. Shortly, an amuse bouche, or “mouth teaser,” greeted us: a miniature cube of Petit Basque cheese topped with a tangerine wedge, micro basil, and raspberry vinaigrette, paired with fresh pomegranate juice. With a single bite we gleaned our first hint of Pecarcik’s brilliant use of seasonal ingredients.
Our first courses were listed as salads on the menu, although the dishes were too intricate to be labeled so simply. My Organic Beet Salad consisted of three beet-themed creations: a salad of earthy arugula, shaved fennel, and carpaccio beets; a tower of roasted pickled beets topped with candied foam; and a decadent, velvety gorgonzola soufflé. A subtle line of dehydrated beet powder and another of gorgonzola sauce graced the plate, drawing all three elements together. The essence of the earth seemed to rise from this dish, and with each bite I felt like I was indeed feasting off the land. My wine, a Hartford Court Four Hearts Vineyards 2005 Chardonnay was layered with elusive fruit and spice, also hinting of the earth.
My date’s Crows Pass Persimmon Salad proved a delightful counterpart, exuding the essence of the vine where my dish clung to the soil. Thinly sliced granny smith apples topped with cubes of Fuyu persimmon, Chino Farms pomegranate seeds, vanilla-roasted peeled grapes, and candied walnuts sat alongside Comice pear and goat cheese fritters. The salad intertwined the distinct acidity and tartness of apples with the sweet, savory persimmons, offering hints of complexity in the vanilla grapes and smoky sugared walnuts. The fritters demonstrated not only innovation but perfection of technique; crunchy spheres gave way to subtly blended goat cheese and ripe pear. The Spencer Roloson Sueño Vineyard 2003 Voigner was unique, exceptional, and excellently paired with hints of both vanilla and fruit.
Our next course further demonstrated Pekarcik’s brilliance, with Hamachi Tartare and Mushroom Consommé, and Maine Lobster Two Ways. The hamachi—young yellowtail—was artfully presented as a sesame oil infused tower of Tartare alongside a trio of garnishes—shallot and Asian pair dice, red pepper dice, and petite ponzu jelly cubes. A line of cilantro vinaigrette and two buttery brioches divided the plate, while quail eggs united the Tartare with the savory consommé: a perfectly fried egg topped the tower of hamachi while a poached version graced the broth. Not an ordinary fan of sweet wines, I enjoyed the paired 2005 Navarro Gewürztraminer from Anderson Valley.
My date’s duo of Maine lobster presented lobster tossed with Satsuma orange essence and edamame topped with delicate fennel foam, alongside lobster with arugula and shaved fennel. The dish was an explosion of flavors, the rich lobster seeming heavenly paired with airy citrus, while more grounded in the context of earthy flavors. A 2005 Anglim Roussanne from Paso Robles provided a mineral mouth feel that worked with both the sweet and the earthy.
A live jazz band commenced just before our third course, as if celebrating two dishes that would prove the best yet. Casey presented me with a glass of Roederer Estate multi-vintage Brut from Anderson Valley along with a gorgeous plate of Seared Main Diver Scallop, comprising a single scallop topped with shaved Elf Mushroom, frissee, arugula, and truffle vinaigrette surrounded by a ring of gold and green. The mushrooms were delicate and savory, the scallop exquisite and complex. The green and gold ring was as flavorful as it was aesthetic: tarragon foam and golden brown butter interspersed with delicate green Romanesca and golden cauliflower. A Dungeness crab cloud crowned the plate, a flavorful treasure hidden beneath tarragon foam.
My date’s Miso-Glazed Black Cod dish offered a refreshing yet intense fennel broth, two dim sum dumplings, and black cod topped with daikon radish and frissee. The rock shrimp dumpling offered an intense burst of heat, while the lobster provided a mellow yet succulent flavor. The cod was the crowning achievement of the dish, the creamy flesh offering an almost smoky miso flavor. For the first time I found the wine pairing—the Orchid Hill Pinot Noir—to be too strong for the dish, the bold tannins overpowering the subtle flavors of the black cod. However, the crisp and effervescent brut seemed to pair just as nicely with the cod as with the scallop.
An intermezzo, green apple sorbet served atop julienne granny smith apples, arrived next. The essence of apples filled our mouths as the sorbet dissolved, while a bite of the julienne provided a burst of tartness and acidity. I glanced up at the open kitchen, and noticed with a smile how the six cooks in white uniforms seemed to in graceful harmony as they busily moved to and fro. As he poured our last wines, Casey must have noted my gaze, and described the kitchen staff as exhibiting camaraderie unlike any he had seen.
I was excited to try my first red of the evening, a J.C. Cellars 2004 “California Cuvee” Syrah, one that General Manager Tom Mastricola noted as he passed by our table. “That is an excellent wine,” he stopped to convey, “I think you will really enjoy it.” I took my first sip of the syrah and noted the gentle spice, ripe tannins, and a smoky finish. The wine would prove excellent with my Trio of Lamb, which I found as pleasing to the eye as to the palate. Savory olive-crusted rack of lamb rested on kalamata olive and golden raisin sauce; moist sous vide osso buco sat atop an elegant Jerusalem artichoke puree; and braised ravioli with succulent lamb filling sprawled across rich chanterelle mushrooms. As I relished in the lamb’s exotic flavors, I glanced across the table to see how my date was fairing.
Sipping from a glass of J. Bookwalter “Lot 20” Columbia Valley blend, he seemed giddily content. His plate featured Kobe Flank Steak and Short Rib, accompanied by a forest mushroom and cipollini onion strudel, roasted beets, and Chino farms winter vegetables. The flank steak, perfectly medium rare, tasted savory and hearty. The strudel, with its crusty puff pastry shell and creamy mushroom filling, epitomized comfort food. And the glorious short rib provided the most succulent bite of the evening, practically dissolving upon the tongue.
If the meal’s climax was the main course, dessert offered a satisfying denouement. Casey brought my date an Organic Pumpkin Butter Cake with huckleberry compote, caramel ice cream, and a delightful translucent strip of pecan toffee, along with nutty and sweet oak-aged Cossart Gordon Colheita 1995 Madeira. I was presented a glass of 2004 King Estate Pino Gris “Vin Glacé” from Williamette Valley to pair with three layer Carrot Cake with ginger crème anglaise, accompanied by carrot sorbet, buttermilk ice cream, and candied carrots. The both cakes were astoundingly earthy, emanating the natural sweetness of earth’s fruits; both ice creams, ethereal.
To the last bite, we found our five-course experience at Arterra to be filled with exceptional quality ingredients, bold earthy flavors, and colorful tones. Vivid sensations of taste and smell had stimulated our thoughts as much as our taste buds; we felt—as much as was possible seated in a swank atmosphere in the middle of affluent Del Mar—that we had somehow forged a connection with the land.
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