A benefit of living in San Diego is access to seaside dining up and down the coast. With so many options available, it is often difficult to choose just one. Luckily, The Oceana Coastal Kitchen at the Catamaran Resort and Hotel features an unparalleled bayside view, creative twists on classic Californian cuisine, and outstanding service.
As I check out The Oceana Coastal Kitchen’s menu prior to my dining experience, I learn that the restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, in addition to weekly Champagne Sunday Brunch. For breakfast, guests can start the day with healthy choices like seasonal fruit, pastries, and cereal as well as heartier hot egg dishes. While I peruse the breakfast menu, the roasted red pepper, ricotta, and herb filled Frittata and the Chilaquiles dishes have me wishing breakfast was available all day.
Next on the meal agenda, the lunch menu offers Appetizers, Light Lunch selections, and Entrees. Being a seaside destination, it is no wonder that the lunch menu boasts many marine options. Beside classic options such as Turkey Avocado Panini and Catamaran Burger, dishes like the Grilled Swordfish Sandwich and Rock Shrimp Quesadilla look intriguing. I make a mental note to remember The Oceana Coastal Kitchen the next time I need to select a lunch destination.
Lastly, I inspect the dinner menu. Served nightly, the list of options includes steaks, chops, poultry, and seafood alongside appetizers, soups, and salads. For me, the Filet Mignon with red wine and gorgonzola butter would certainly satisfy my appetite, but everything sounds equally enjoyable. Excited by what I have seen so far, I set out to dine by the bay.
A San Diego landmark since 1958, the Catamaran Resort has been a vacation destination for tourists and locals alike. Originally the summer home of the Scripps family, this tropical resort rests one block from the Pacific Ocean on the shores of Mission Bay. Located amidst the ever-changing Mission Beach neighborhood, nestled between the apartments, houses, and retails shops on Mission Boulevard, the Catamaran Resort is an oasis in the bustling city. As I approach my destination, a large “Catamaran Resort and Spa” sign directs me. Towering palm trees line the entrance of the parking lot as I drive in, serving as a wall from the passing cars and pedestrian traffic. With a valet option easily accessible by driving through the loop on the right, or a self-park garage directly adjacent to the entrance on the left, free with a three-hour validation stamp, parking is a breeze.
What I first notice walking the grounds of the Catamaran Resort is the abundance of plant life surrounding the property. Tropical plants of various shapes, sizes, and degrees of green line the walkway as I approach the main door. Home to over 1,000 different plants, the Catamaran’s tropical paradise setting succeeds in transporting guests away from Southern California to an exotic, leafy rainforest. Even before I turn the corner towards the entrance, the sound of running water reaches my ears, and sure enough, as I walk through the glass doors, a cascading waterfall captures my attention. This eight-foot, man-made spectacle splashes water off the rocks into a Koi pond below, and it creates a nice partition between the main entrance and the hotel’s front desk. The hotel lobby looks calm and relaxing, especially with the soothing noise of the falling water, but I am here to eat. A quick glance at the directory located in front of the waterfall informs me that Oceana Coastal Kitchen rests just to my right on the first floor.
Heading directly to my right, and then left down a hallway, I spot my destination. However, I almost miss the entrance to the restaurant because I am temporarily distracted by the proximity of the beach to the resort. It is a clear, sunny day in San Diego, and the visibility of Mission Bay is picturesque. Sailboats drift across the water while scattered beachgoers play in the sand. The outside activities combined with the brightness of the sky and the calm motion of the ocean below provides the perfect backdrop to my meal.
As I walk into Oceana Coastal Kitchen, Jim Chester, Director of Food and Beverage, kindly greets me and my guest, Joy. To begin, he offers to take us on a tour, leading us outside to the open-air patio. The pristine sandy beach is just within reach, separated only by a patch of bright green lawn. The resort’s beach stretches along Mission Bay’s shores and I can see clearly across the water. Filled with spacious tables, the patio invites guests to sit back, enjoy a fresh crafted cocktail, and take in the view. On this particular day, groups of vacationers are relaxing under the sun while a cool breeze reminds us that winter is still in season. As I take in the surroundings, Jim educates us about how popular the patio is during the warmer weather.
Oceana Coastal Kitchen’s patio provides an optimal location for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but what really draws the crowds in is the Champagne Sunday Brunch. Served every Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Oceana Coastal Kitchen’s brunch buffet holds nothing back. The Sunday spread offers traditional breakfast favorites like bacon, waffles, and blintzes; salads, hot entrees, a made-to-order omelet station, pastries, and carving station. It is all-you-can-eat and perfect for family gatherings with discounted pricing for children.
Since no bayside buffet would be complete without a seafood selection, Oceana Coastal Kitchen’s Sunday Bruch provides a vast assortment of options to satisfy any shellfish enthusiast’s appetite. This elaborate collection of marine cuisine includes mussels, oysters, smoked and poached salmon, crab, and a specialty sushi table for guests to enjoy. For those looking to partake in Sunday Funday, the buffet brunch includes unlimited mimosas. This weekly event is so popular that on major holidays like Mother’s Day and Easter, the staff fills the lawn space between the patio and beach with extra tables.
After enjoying the outside patio, we head back inside to Oceana Coastal Kitchen’s dining room. Surrounded by luscious plants, and wooden walls with etched glass tops, the interior space is relaxing and festive. The tropical theme transcends into the main room, with colorful artwork lining the walls. Aside from several large tables, there are half booths available on a slightly higher elevated platform. Small events are comfortably accommodated in a private dining room equipped with large table for ten, a buffet station, and paneled windows with the beautiful Mission Bay just outside.
As I settle into my seat, Kyle, our designated server for the evening, fills our stemmed water glasses with refreshing ice-cold water. He inquires if we would like a specialty cocktail from the bar, and although the fruity beverages and seasonally appropriate drinks like Spiked Cider sound inviting, we opt for a glass of white wine instead. Oceana Coastal Kitchen offers a very laidback atmosphere, and the service rivals many formal fine-dining establishments. Kyle expertly presents us with a bottle of unopened Sonoma-Cutter Chardonnay, and then proceeds to pour a sample for approval. The wine is crisp but not too sweet, chilled to the optimal temperature, and overall refreshing.
Oceana Coastal Kitchen’s wine list covers most major players in the vineyard game. Featuring a variety of popular wines like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot, Oceana Coastal Kitchen has a wine for any taste. On the forty-two bottle list, a majority of the domestic wineries from Napa Valley, the Californian Central Coast, and Sonoma, as well as the international locales of New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina are available by the glass. For the beer drinkers, a sample of the local breweries, including Stone Brewery and Mission Brewery, is readily available.
Now that the drinks are situated, it is time for the feasting. Oceana Coastal Kitchen’s appetizers focus mainly on seafood fare like the Braised Scallops, but also include a selection of soups and salads. Tonight, Head Chef Steve Riemer appears tableside to present our starter courses. We are treated to the Dungeness Crab Cakes, and a Short Rib Terrine as an introduction to what the night’s culinary revels will bring.
As I slice into the crab cakes, Chef Riemer explains that this is his spin on an East Coast staple. Presented as three charred rounds, this West Coast version consists of chunky crabmeat and scallop mousse fashioned around a watercress salad, with a radish and spicy mustard for a kick. The crab cakes are crispy and every bite involves a mouthful of seafood.
As I continue eating, Chef Riemer details how his inspiration for the crab cakes arose from his time spent in Seattle. Wanting guests to benefit from a seasonal menu, Chef Riemer practices using fresh, quality ingredients and produce from local farms in his creations. The particular scallops I am savoring at the moment were caught south of the border in Mexico. After creating a mold of crab and scallops, the crab cakes are seared on each side for an added crispy texture. This simple extra step puts a welcomed spin on a seaside culinary staple. The juxtaposition of crunchy outside with the fluffy inside, combined with the spicy mustard, coalesce into a mouthwatering combination. For a full culinary experience, I follow a bite of crab cake with a swish of chardonnay, and to no surprise, the sweet wine heightens the flavors and texture of the crab cakes.
Thoroughly impressed by the first appetizer, I am eager to try the Short Rib Terrine. Chef Riemer informs us that he constructed this terrine earlier today, so guests at Oceana Coastal Kitchen have yet to see it on the menu. Plated as a square mold with a piece of cured ham in the middle, with toasted bread, spicy mustard, and homemade pickles and onions, this terrine is a form of pate without the fat. Served cold, the spread contains pieces of short rib and vegetables; it is certainly hefty enough to be classified as a winter appetizer.
Piling terrine, mustard, and a pickle onto a piece of bread, I sample the second appetizer. The bread, baked artisan-style and toasted to a golden brown, allows for a nice crunch when bitten. Just as with the crab cakes, the mustard, which is imported from France, spices up the terrine’s meaty flavor in a zesty way. The homemade pickle is a thinly sliced cucumber that is both tart and sweet but overall tasty. Each ingredient of the Short Rib Terrine has its own unique flavor, yet together they create a new identity of taste.
Delighted by what I have consumed so far, I look around Oceana Coastal Kitchen and take in the welcoming atmosphere. The noise level is at a minimum, only the sound of soft music plays in the background. Service thus far is four-star quality; each dish arrives delicately arranged, and Kyle swiftly responds to any requests we may have. Being that the Catamaran is a resort, Oceana Coastal Kitchen effortlessly caters to guests needing a quick bite before adventuring around San Diego, or those looking to relax under the sun enjoying their meal.
Before the main event of indulging in one of the carnivorous entrees, Kyle presents another bottle of wine, this time La Crèma Pinot Noir. Placing a large stemmed red wine glass in front of me, he pours a generous taste. Contrary to other Pinot Noirs, this particular blend is smooth and fruity.
For the entrees, Chef Riemer presents the Apple Wood Smoked Pork Chop and Herb Crusted Halibut. Before I can even reach my utensils, the delicious aroma reaches my nose. If the dishes taste half as delectable as they smell, I am in for a real treat. The fragrance of sweet tomatoes, fish, and smoked meat hover over the plates. Giddy with anticipation, I dig into the entrees.
The Herb Crusted Halibut with stewed Heirloom tomatoes and house made gnocchi is the first I sample. The fish is caught just south of San Diego in Mexico, buttered, covered in an herb crust, and then baked. Again, the balance of crunchy and soft textures is evident with each bite. The simplicity of the herb crust allows for the natural flavor of the halibut to take precedence, and the fish is fresh and tender, falling apart easily when cut. On the side, the homemade gnocchi is thick yet soft, and sweetened by the stewed tomatoes.
As I am enjoying this dish, Chef Riemer details his passion for his craft. Although he is a Southern California native, his career path has taken him across the United States. His culinary travels include stops in Seattle, Northern California, Texas, and the East Coast. Taking full advantage of the various locations he has encountered over the years, his cooking style involves synthesizing the techniques and cultures into his own. Driven by his passion for nourishing and welcoming guests into his kitchen, Chef Riemer feels a personal connection to the cuisine he creates. This enthusiasm for innovation is evident through Oceana Coastal Kitchen’s constantly changing menu, therefore exposing guests to seasonal specialties and fresh ingredients on a regular basis.
Next, I try the pork chop. Artfully placed on the stark white plate atop mashed polenta and chili oil, the smoky smell of the meat teases my nostrils as I slice a piece off the bone. Prepared in Oceana Coastal Kitchen’s outside smoker, another cross-culture result of Chef Riemer’s time spent in Texas, the pork chop is thick, juicy, and a pleasant combination of smoky and sweet. The chili oil adds just enough spiciness to complement the southern-style flavor combination. Underneath, the finely mashed polenta adds a creamy texture to the plate, pairing nicely with the crunchiness of the pork chops.
After lavishing in the entrée selection, Chef Riemer presents us with the creations he is most passionate about, dessert. Formerly a pastry chef at the Ritz Carlton for four years, Chef Riemer’s motto for dessert is less is more. My sweet tooth is unsure of this mantra at first, but the presentation of each dessert at the table assures me Chef Riemer knows what he is doing.
Of the delectable confections on the menu, the Chocolate Tart and Valencia Orange Cheesecake are the two we will be indulging in this evening. First glance at the sweets indicates that the use of seasonal ingredients extends to the dessert menu as well, with each slice containing a pop of bright orange. Picking up my chilled dessert fork, I dive into the Chocolate Tart. Crafted with an almond short crust and candied oranges, this creation is new to the menu. The first bite is a mouthful of dense chocolate nuttiness with a hint of orange zest. Any chocolate lover will fawn over the richness this dessert holds. I finish off the entire slice and prepare to dive into the cheesecake.
While the tart is densely nutty, the cheesecake is fluffy and fruity. Made with Grand Marnier, this cheesecake tastes like I am biting into a mandarin orange. The piece puffs back up when sliced into, and the sweet graham cracker crust crumbles with each nibble. The delicate texture of the cheesecake would complete the meal; however, Chef Riemer has one more surprise up his sleeve. Before my guest and I depart, he slips two macarons on the table. This particular treat is a soft, filled French cookie made of different flavors. Tonight, I enjoy a chocolate almond flavored one, and it gently crumbles as I take a bite. Now the night has ended perfectly.
Overall, Oceana Coastal Kitchen contains some of the best aspects that San Diego dining has to offer. The outside patio is versatile enough for families to gather or for a romantic date under the stars. The service shines with friendly hospitality, and the mouth-watering cuisine casts a new spin on Californian favorites from land and sea. When in need of a vacation from the norm, head to Oceana Coastal Kitchen, a paradise in plain sight.