Dining at George’s Ocean Terrace has recently made its way to the top of my to-do list. After a memorable experience at California Modern, the restaurant just below Ocean Terrace, the idea of enjoying a meal top-side in the open air has been on my mind. So, I’ve invited a friend for an early dinner to check out the casual side of the George’s at the Cove family.
The restaurant is located at 1250 Prospect Street in Downtown La Jolla, just north of the famous Children’s Pool. I arrive a bit early, so I decide to take in some of the sites surrounding La Jolla’s business district. The neighborhood is filled with shops and restaurants, so the sidewalks are bustling with locals and vacationers alike. Street parking is easy to find, so I choose a space and take a short walk. The area is inviting and offers plenty to see and do with jewelry stores, art galleries, and specialty shops lining the streets. As I approach my destination, I pass by the eager parking valets in front of the restaurant, and I begin my climb up the stairs to Ocean Terrace.
Walk-ins are always welcome here, and when I reach the top, the smiling hostess offers me a table right away. But, I’m still waiting for my friend, so I take a seat at the bar to kill some time. As I look around, it’s easy to see why the Ocean Terrace is popular. Large white umbrellas rise above cheerful diners enjoying food and wine beneath the warmth of several heat lamps, which are scattered throughout the space. Every table comes with a view, but the best seats are situated along the outer edge of the rooftop, overlooking the shoreline far below. As I take everything in, my guest shows up and joins me for a drink.
Ocean Terrace, like the other levels of George’s at the Cove, has a fully equipped bar which seats up to fourteen people, and professional bartenders trained to create flavor profiles that are unique and delicious. Signature cocktails like the California Caipirinha and El Corazon, along with several others, are originals and cannot be found anywhere else. The bar menu also offers different margaritas, a broad selection of bottled and draft beers from local breweries such as Stone, Green Flash and Karl Strauss, and a wine list boasting over fifty labels, both domestic and imported. It’s refreshing to see such a wide variety of wine collected from so many different regions. While there are several California favorites, the majority of the list is comprised of imports spanning from Italy, France and Spain to Austria, South Africa, Greece, Chile and Argentina.
At the bar, I decide to try something a bit new to me. I typically stray away from fruity drinks, but for the sake of being adventurous, I order a cocktail called the Black and Stormy. Made with Gosling’s Black Seal rum, fresh blackberries, lime and a bit of Bundaberg ginger beer, I figure it’s probably a safe choice for a newbie. As I take my first sip, I’m happy that the rum is prominent. The ginger beer is mellow and adds a touch of carbonation, while the blackberries and lime remain suspended near the bottom of my glass, providing just the right hint of sweet and sour to finish off the concoction.
With drinks in hand, my friend and I follow our waiter, Billy, across the deck to our table. Lucky for us, we get to sit right on the edge, where we can gaze out over the water. The sun has begun its decent, casting brilliant hues of yellow, orange and pink across the sparse clouds in the sky. As I look down, I see the waves breaking against the cliffs, and the smell of the ocean breeze consumes me. Am I really at a restaurant? It feels more like I’m relaxing at the beach, soaking up the final rays of sun before it disappears beneath the great expanse of the Pacific. Talk about prime rooftop real-estate.
Before we order, I make it clear to Billy that this will be a decide-as-we-go type of meal, so I will need the menu close at hand. Executive Chef and partner Trey Foshee utilizes fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients, along with multi-cultural influences to create his diverse menu. Showcasing some of the finest California Coastal cuisine in San Diego, each dish is brought together with the philosophy of allowing the natural flavors of fresh ingredients to speak for themselves - particularly those from Chino Farms in Rancho Santa Fe. I’ve heard great things about George’s Famous Soup; however I don’t want an entire bowl for fear of becoming full prematurely. Billy quickly recommends a cup instead. As the soup arrives, I’m pleased that the cup is filled with ample amounts house smoked chicken, broccoli and black beans. The meat is tender, and the slightly creamy broth provides a delicious blend of pepper and spice. The starchy consistency of the black beans and the crunch of cubed carrots create great texture contrasts, and the broccoli is loaded with flavors absorbed from the broth.
As I reach the bottom of my soup, I also reach the bottom of my cocktail. Maintaining the spirit of trying new drinks, I decide to taste one of George’s Infusions (house-infused vodka with fruit). There are three choices: Ruby Red Grapefruit, Strawberry, or Pepper. I choose to stick with something sweet and order the Strawberry, tall, with lemonade. The subtlety of the vodka is surprising. Rather than being overly sweet, the strawberry is more so a hint and it balances well with the citrusy lemonade. I have no doubt that this is a favorite among the ladies.
As I veer back towards the food, I realize that Ocean Terrace truly hits the nail right on the head with their Starters, offering a range of flavors so that anyone can find a dish to delight in. Veggie lovers can choose from the Baby Green Salad, Marinated Roasted Beets, Caesar Salad and Butternut Squash Bruschetta, while those who have a taste for the sea can order Fresh Mussels, Seared Rare Tuna, Crispy Calamari or the Mexican Style Shrimp Cocktail. My friend and I decide to share the Marinated Grilled Fresh Fish Tacos, yet another oceanic offering, with homemade chips and salsa fresca. The tacos come on corn tortillas with jalapeno-lime crème fraiche, guacamole, shredded cabbage and mango salsa. The fish is fresh and the sweetness of the mango is a perfect counterpart to the spice of the crème fraiche. The guacamole contributes a rich, buttery flavor while the chips have a nice salty crunch.
At this point, I’m in love with the atmosphere at Ocean Terrace. Sometimes you just need a place to kick back and relax while you eat, and what better place than a rooftop restaurant with an ocean view? I think the best part is that the experience feels so casual, while still maintaining an air of subtle elegance. I can easily picture myself bringing a date here to catch the sunset, and with plenty of umbrellas for shade, I feel it’s also the place to be for lunch, served from 11a.m. to 4p.m.
The lunch menu includes several dishes that are not offered for dinner, including sandwiches, pasta and a few additions to the salad section. I would personally love to try the Ancho Chile Shrimp Tacos, or The Cuban: a hot pressed sandwich with sliced roasted pork, Niman Ranch ham, mustard, pickles and gruyere cheese. Perhaps next time…
To finish off our first course, I ask Billy for an order of the Butternut Squash Bruschetta. As his face lights up, I immediately know I’ve made an excellent choice. He explains it’s a favorite among the staff here and insists that the flavor is unlike any other. I eagerly await the arrival of this California Coastal interpretation of a traditional Italian appetizer. Rather than utilizing the standard recipe of tomatoes, basil and garlic, Chef Foshee creates a creamy butternut squash puree topped with fresh ricotta, goat cheese and toasted almonds, to be spread at the diners’ discretion. The bread, which comes drizzled with olive oil for extra flavor, is just right, not too soft or overly crunchy, and the squash puree has a light, buttery texture and after-taste. The cheese adds a creaminess that does not go unnoticed, and the almonds provide a nice crunchiness at the end of each delicious bite.
Now it’s time for the difficult decision of our main course. The first thing to catch my eye is the Grilled Loch Duart Salmon and subliminally my decision is made. But, to choose without seeing all of the options would be irresponsible, so I continue to read. Garlic Roasted Shrimp, Sesame Crusted Tombo, Mahi Mahi… alright, now I’m at a loss. Billy suggests the Mahi Mahi, his personal favorite, but ultimately I stick with my gut and order the Grilled Loch Duart Salmon. I had noticed a gentleman at a table nearby who ordered his fish blackened, so I ask Billy what his thoughts are. He suggests the traditional grilled salmon as opposed to blackened, explaining that this method preserves the fresh, natural flavor of the fish. Enough Said. The salmon is grilled to perfection and topped with pesto, on a bed of farro (a whole grain similar to wheat) with cucumber, carrots, radish, asparagus and lemon vinaigrette. With my first bite I instantly understand what was meant by “fresh, natural flavor”. If you like salmon, I mean fresh salmon, you’ve got to try it at George’s Ocean Terrace.
I know there are some who don’t prefer fish. The menu has more to offer than just seafood. Other entrees include Roasted Organic Chicken Breast, Asian Marinated Skirt Steak, and Niman Ranch Pork Milanese, just to name a few. But the item that captures the attention of my guest is the Steak Frites: a hanger steak with red wine onions and blue cheese butter accompanied by a side of French fries. The meat is tender and juicy beyond belief. Smothered in a sweet red wine sauce with blue cheese butter for dipping and spreading, it has a flavor combination like no other. The taste of the red wine is prominent throughout the dish, while the fries provide the perfect match of starch and salt. This is a definite must-try for any steak lover.
With the steak gone, the time has finally come to order dessert. I have quite the sweet tooth, and with options like Vanilla Crème Brulee, Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake and Mango Mousse I am excited, to say the least. We narrow things down to a toss-up between the Warm Chocolate Cake and the Carrot Cake Trifle. Realizing that the choice is becoming nearly impossible, I give up and order both. Like I said, sweets are a passion of mine, so why limit myself?
I also take the liberty of ordering a bottle of Firestone Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout, a very dark beer with strong roasted malt and coffee flavors along with hints of dark chocolate and oatmeal. Although this is the only dessert beer per se, there are plenty of other beverages to enjoy with the sweet end to your meal. There are also espressos and cappuccinos along with several Specialty Drinks such as the Café La Jolla: French roasted coffee, Hershey’s chocolate, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Kahlua and fresh whipped cream.
The chocolate cake arrives first, drizzled with cinnamon caramel sauce and adorned with a generous scoop of dulce de leche ice cream alongside a hefty chunk of café fudge. To sum it up in one word: Wow. The cake literally melts in my mouth! The outside is light and fluffy, and at the center is a reservoir of tantalizing molten cake batter that takes this dessert to a whole new level for me.
My oatmeal stout is the perfect pairing for this rich, creamy creation; it goes down smooth and provides a good, slightly bitter finish to clear the palate for more delicious cake. With each bite I notice that the cinnamon caramel sauce is somehow the last notable flavor as I swallow, and the dulce de leche ice cream adds just the right touch to counter the richness of the cake. For chocolate lovers like me, this dish is pure heaven.
The Carrot Cake Trifle arrives shortly after with cream cheese ice cream, pineapple, and toasted walnuts. The cream cheese ice cream truly makes this dessert memorable; it replaces the traditional cream cheese icing found on carrot cake perfectly. The pineapple adds a great texture and a blast of sweet, juicy flavor, while the toasted walnuts closeout the dessert with an excellent crunch. Although the Warm Chocolate Cake is my favorite, the Carrot Cake Trifle definitely receives two thumbs way up.
As the bus boy clears away the remnants of our desserts, I’m sad to leave. George’s Ocean Terrace is, without a doubt, an unforgettable experience. With a view to die for, delicious California cuisine and a laid-back atmosphere, what’s not to love? Whether it’s a family get-together, a romantic date, or just going out with a few good friends, Ocean Terrace is the place to be. All-in-all, this is the premier destination for true seaside dining in San Diego.
Insider Tip- George’s Ocean Terrace is open for lunch. It’s the perfect place to get together and soak up some sun this summer.