It is yet another beautiful day in America’s finest city. With the knowledge of McCormick & Schmick’s philosophy of offering only the freshest available seafood, I wonder to myself about what will be on the menu tonight, as I make my way through San Diego’s ever evolving downtown. I decide to bypass the readily available parking near the Omni Hotel where McCormick & Schmick’s is located. My intention is to find parking near Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, so I can take a leisurely stroll past the ballpark and observe the stadium on a day when it is not overrun with throngs of people. Luck is on my side, as I find a spot on the street right next to the "Park at the Park". For those not familiar with Petco Park, the “Park at the Park” is a grassy berm that slops above the outfield fence, and allows for a full view of the baseball diamond. I take advantage of the pedestrian thoroughfare that parallels the field, and take in the astounding sight of the empty 42,000+ seat stadium.
I continue my short walk past the ticket windows of the ballpark and on to the Omni Hotel. As I enter the lobby, I find my guest, Carine, our Event Coordinator at SanDiegoRestaurants.com, waiting for me outside of the restaurant. “How did I get here before you?” she asks, “you left the office before I did.” After explaining my decision to park near the stadium so that I could have a look at Petco Park while it was empty, Carine looks at me the way most people do when I attempt to clarify my eccentric behavior. “Shall we?” I say, and we make our way toward the entrance of McCormick and Schmick’s.
Built in 2004, the 32-story Omni Hotel has 21 floors of luxury hotel rooms, with the top 11 floors occupied by 37 multi-million dollar condominiums named The Metropolitan. The Omni Hotel is connected to Petco Park via sky bridge, and construction of the structure corresponded with the ballpark, as John Moores, owner of the San Diego Padres also owns the lavish hotel. His residence, the penthouse suite, occupies the entire 32nd floor of the Metropolitan. I can only imagine the breathtaking views of the San Diego Bay, the Coronado Bridge, and the Pacific Ocean afforded to Mr. Moores and his guests. Rather than operate a standard hotel kitchen, The Omni Hotel opted to have the premium McCormick and Schmick’s occupy the west end of the ground floor in this spectacular building.
As we approach the entrance to McCormick and Schmick’s, the white and sand toned walls, accented with dark hard wood, lends the décor an understated elegance that harkens to the colors of the seaside. The ceiling looks to be at least 20 feet high, which provides a feeling of openness that prevails throughout the restaurant. To highlight the western face of the establishment, floor to ceiling windows provide a view of the San Diego Convention Center’s postmodern architecture. All the while, the height of the glass façade opens up a wide scope of the afternoon sky. Patio dining is clearly an option as a number of four top tables are visible through the glass walls, just outside the main dining area. As guests approach the front of the restaurant, the dining room expands to the left. To the right, the long bar extends towards the western windows, allowing guests and restaurant goers a place to enjoy a drink after a long day, or while waiting for a table at the restaurant.
The pretty hostess greets us with a charming smile as we approach her stand. After exchanging introductions and formalities, she cheerfully leads the way to our “snug”. The main dining room of McCormick and Schmick’s has private enclaves that line the eastern wall of the restaurant, and feature semi-private seating for four. A curtain provides increased privacy for those in search of a more intimate dining experience. Taking our seats, I notice that hanging on the wall above Carine is a framed photograph depicting what looks to be a baseball game’s first pitch, with President Carter’s signature prominently displayed. I think to myself that this may not be just another snug.
Our server Kaila approaches our table in the midst of my embarrassing Carine by singing along to Eddie Kendricks’ “Shoeshine boy,” which is playing softly in the background. Kaila gives us a moment to peruse the menu before we get started. I can see the menu lists the date, which corresponds with the day of our visit, a clear indicator of an establishment set on providing the freshest daily fare possible. While McCormick & Schmick’s is primarily a seafood restaurant, a quick glance at the menu shows a handful of land dwelling offerings, from Filet Mignon, a 22 oz Bone-In Ribeye, and Hanger Steak, to Free-Range Chicken Parmesan and an American Kobe Style Beef Burger.
I inspect the wine list and see the selections on offer include a wide array of choices for food pairings, including over two-dozen per glass options. Champagne and sparkling wines from France, Italy, and California will make any occasion special. While an assortment of crisp whites, sauvignon blancs, pinot grigios and pinot gris, chardonnays, pinot noirs, merlots, cabernet sauvignon, and what are referred to as “Spicy, Earthy, Sexy Reds”, round out the menu. The list of wines mentioned hail from all over the globe. Representing the domestic offerings are wines from California, Washington, and Oregon. International varieties include vineyards from Australia, Argentina, Chile, France, Italy, New Zealand, and Spain.
Kaila returns, and having reviewed my beverage options, I order a Cucumber Gin Gimlet. After all, it is a warm summer day, and while the air-conditioning has the room at a comfortable temperature, I am ready for a cool, refreshing, cocktail. The cocktail menu is straightforward with martinis, margaritas, and bloody marys, among other traditional cocktails, although I am informed that a signature cocktail menu is soon to be unveiled.
Kaila asks what we would like to start our meal with, and we opt out. We explain that our plan of attack this evening is to leave the choice up to the Chef, as she knows what the best options coming out of the kitchen tonight are. Kaila nods in approval and saunters off in the direction of the kitchen to deliver our request. I did however take a look at the menu, and although the menu changes daily at McCormick & Schmick’s to reflect the freshest ingredients available on a given day, appetizers such as the Grilled Melon with Prosciutto, Dungeness Crab Tower, and Roasted Beet Salad would all make for fine choices to begin a meal.
The general manager, Charles, stops by to introduce himself. He reveals that my theory about our table was accurate. As it turns out, this is Mr. John Moores’ personal snug. The photo with President Carter’s signature is from 2004, and depicts President Carter throwing out the first pitch to John Moores at the inaugural MLB game played at Petco Park.
Soon after Charles excuses himself from our table, Kaila returns with my cocktail. The Cucumber Gin Gimlet provides exactly what I look for in a summer drink. The well-balanced mixture of ingredients presents subtle tones of cool cucumber. This superb summer cocktail is refreshingly smooth, light, and ever so slightly sweet.
Soon after taking delivery of my drink, Kaila serves our first course. The Sandia Gazpacho, prepared in traditional style with a hint of watermelon, is part of the “Celebrate Summer” menu. The watermelon is present, but not overwhelming. It blends well with the tomato that makes up the remainder of the soup base, all the while complimenting the cool and crisp mixture of diced onion and cucumber. Presented with a quarter of an avocado and a healthy dose of crabmeat, the dish is the ideal way to open a meal during a warm summer day.
As Carine and I finish off our Gazpacho, the Executive Chef of McCormick & Schmick’s San Diego, Mary Hinds, honors us with her presence. Chef Hinds has been with McCormick & Schmick’s in San Diego for a year, but began her culinary career back in 1986. She attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York and spent a dozen years working various restaurants around the Mid-Atlantic region, including six years with Sheraton. She moved back home to her hometown of Portland and joined McCormick & Schmick’s as a training chef where she opened 14 restaurants with the company.
Chef Hinds explains that her philosophy as it comes to the kitchen is to offer her customers the finest, freshest, local ingredients available. She uses the Bacon Wrapped Scallops that have arrived at our table as an example. “Our scallops are dry-packed, which means that they are shucked, packed up, and shipped on ice without chemical additives. This is expensive, but preserves the natural flavor, giving that great nutty taste only fresh scallops can provide. The majority of store bought scallops are soaked in water and sodium tripolyphospate before shipment. This allows for preservation, but makes the scallops swell, which might make for a nice, big looking scallop, but it sacrifices flavor and makes cooking the scallop difficult. When cooked, the excess water seeps out, the scallops shrink, and it’s difficult to get a good crust seared onto the scallop.” Chef Hinds is clearly mindful of details. She says we should eat our food before it cools, but before she leaves, I ask her if there is one thing for me to mention in the article, what it would be. She immediately responds, “Our great happy hour!”
Not to be one to let a request go unheeded, looking over the Happy Hour Menu, I can see why she mentioned it. Happy Hour at McCormick & Schmick’s is from 3 pm to 6:30 pm, Monday thru Friday. The menu includes a baker’s dozen dining options. Offerings range from Sweet Potato Fries with Lemon Tabasco Aioli and Peel ‘n’ Eat Shrimp with Lemon Cocktail Sauce to Fried Calamari in Marinara and BBQ Pork Sliders topped with Coleslaw, but Chef Hinds made sure to mention the McCormick & Schmick’s Cheeseburger. Served with aged cheddar cheese and French fries, this amazing deal is only $3.95.
Back to the matter at hand, following the Sandia Gazpacho, is an order of Blue Lump Crab Cakes. Garnished with a fire roasted corn salsa, and lemon butter, these large cakes are full of large chunks of Blue Crab. Lightly bound with a fine emulsion, the cakes crumble under the tines of my fork. The corn salsa lends a slight sweetness that pairs well with the fresh Blue Crab, and kernels of the salsa offer a contrasting pop to the soft texture of the main ingredient.
Our final appetizer is the aforementioned Bacon Wrapped Scallops. As much as I enjoyed both the Sandia Gazpacho and Blue Lump Crab Cakes, the scallops are my personal favorite opening dish. Not only are the scallops soft, slightly briny, and nutty, but they are wrapped in bacon! The Mediterranean Salsa and Soy Maple Glaze garnishes meld with the richness of the bacon and scallops, adding brilliant dimensions to this already flavorful offering. This dish is both straightforward and refined. I am a firm believer that simplicity is the secret to success, and this appetizer is exactly that.
Our entrées arrive soon after finishing off the scallops. Chef Hinds has selected a duo of dishes from the wild waters of Alaska for our main course. Fished with sustainability of the species in mind, The Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon is pan seared to preserve both the nutrition and the full flavor of the ruby red fish fillet. Plated upon a bed of wild baby arugula with mustard vinaigrette and fingerling potatoes, the fresh fillet, with crisp skin, is exquisite. I am the kind of person that eats for health, and this salmon has everything I look for in a meal, low calories, high protein, tons of omega 3-fatty acids, low saturated fat, and full of the magnificently bold salmon flavor. The wild baby arugula offers a pleasant, slightly bitter green taste that contrasts with the soft and slightly sweet fingerlings. The Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon is the pinnacle of fresh, healthy, and delicious guilt free dining.
Carine’s dish, the Alaskan Halibut, comes served upon a creamy wild mushroom risotto. The delicate yet firm flaky snow-white meat of the halibut is pan seared to perfection. The mild flavor of the halibut coupled with the wild mushroom risotto is yet another spot on pairing by Chef Hinds. Like the Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon, the Alaskan Halibut is a nutritional powerhouse. Halibut is high in protein and minerals, while low in sodium and fat. Carine is more than happy with the Chef’s pick for her, and only offers up a couple of fork-full tastes so I have an idea of the richness of the sweet halibut and savory risotto. I do not blame her at all; I would be reluctant to share this incredible Alaskan Halibut.
Our meal is winding down as Kaila stops by to check in and see what we would like for dessert. She asks me if I would like an after dinner drink, perhaps a port or cognac, but I reluctantly abstain. I offer the excuse of being a cheap date, and besides I have to drive home. Glancing at the dessert menu, I find myself torn. The Chocolate Bag catches my eye, as I am a self-proclaimed chocolate enthusiast. The Crème Brûlée certainly raises an eyebrow. Jake’s Famous Truffle Cake, a flourless fudge “cake” and a McCormick & Schmick’s specialty must be pure decadence. Considering all of the options though, I decide the best way to finish this meal is with a piece of the Upside Down Apple Pie. Baked twice, the decedent dessert features a candied walnut crust, and is drizzled with warm caramel sauce. This is then topped off with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream provided by Humboldt Creamery. My tastes when it comes to pie are rather simple, and for a self-proclaimed dessert purest such as me, the Upside Down Apple Pie is a slice of heaven come to earth. The warm filling of cinnamon and apple is enhanced by the nutty crunch of the candied walnuts. All the while the top shelf vanilla ice cream, and caramel sauce melt together to form a harmonious balance of sweets. I cannot help but eat more than my fair share of this wonderful confection.
Kaila visits our table one last time, offering either of us a fresh brewed Starbucks coffee or espresso drink, but we reluctantly decline. I explain that as much as I would love to, I would be up all night if I did. As we are left to gather ourselves before our departure and reflect upon our astonishing meal, I gaze west through the wall of windows. I observe the warm light of early evening diffused by wispy cirrus clouds. There is no doubt in my mind; McCormick & Schmick’s has the ideal ambiance for a fine evening out.
Insider tip – McCormick & Schmick’s is open for lunch. Like the Dinner menu, the Lunch menu changes with what is fresh and available on a daily basis, so expect a wide range of Sandwiches, Entrée Salads, and Lunch Specialties.