>> Monday, April 25, 2011
Price: $65 per person for 5 course tasting menu
Location: 1250 Prospect, La Jolla, CA 92037
The Quick Bit:
+ Great Ocean View from dining room
+ Attentive Wait Staff
+ Good price/selection of wines
Δ Caliber of service could be more consistent
Δ Kitchen and Front of House could communicate better
Δ Food could be more inspired
Δ Portion size perhaps could have been larger for the price
Δ Pacing of the courses could have been more relaxed
When I first moved to San Diego, I was still a closet foodie. Upon doing some research, the fine dining restaurant that seemed to be the consensus best restaurant was George's California Modern (better known just as George's). Being the closet foodie, I feared that by going there I was way ahead of myself in my ability to appreciate the food, and developed almost an Eleanor-like trepidation about the place. Fast forward to today and I had still never been to George's.
George's kitchen is run by Trey Foshee, a graduate of CIA Hyde Park. His style emphasizes the flavors of that which are fresh and local. As such, the produce at George's is sourced from Chino Farms, and the menu makes no secrets about hiding that fact. Chef Foshee was named one of America's Ten Best New Chefs in 1998 and a James Beard House Guest Chef.
One of the little-known things about George's is that there's actually a 7 course tasting menu for $95 (George's also offers a 5 course tasting menu for $65 which everyone knows about). Apparently the 7 course menu is so unknown that when I called to make reservations for the 7 course menu two weeks in advance, the special events director that I was direct to was unaware of it. However, she did go check with the kitchen and then confirmed that they do in fact have a 7 course menu. Furthermore, when I inquired more about the tasting menus, I was assured that I would be able to pick some dishes that I definitely wanted off the main menu and the chef would be sure to incorporate those into the tasting.
Excited that I would get to pick the highlights of the meal, I set about studying the menu of the restaurant prior to arriving so I could determine which wine to bring. I was even called to confirm my reservations and asked during the confirmation if I was still interested in the 7 course tasting menu. Because I figured I would have some command of the menu, I confidently selected a Spanish Red, which would otherwise be very dangerous to bring to a seafood establishment. Upon our arrival, the waiter asked what we would be having and I informed him that I would like the 7 course tasting and that I had 3 of the courses I wanted. He diligently wrote down my requests and went to check with the kitchen if my request could be accommodated. However upon his return, I was informed that I was not allowed to order the 7-course menu and that I had "not called early enough" to arrange the menu. To add insult to injury, I would not be allowed to select any courses from the menu because the tasting menu for the night was solidly prix fixe. Of course this caused even more problems because one of my companions had a dining restriction against pork, which was the main course of the evening. Luckily, the waiter confirmed that a substitution to a hangar steak was an option for this course. Despite feeling like I had arranged to go on a date with Bait and Switch to end up on a double date with Conflict Diamond instead (see 5:40 of video), we went ahead and ordered the 5-course tasting menu.
Update: I was contacted by the General Manager of George's to say that I should try the "Chuck Eats Tasting Menu" and to get that menu, should contact the restaurant at least 4 days in advance and not dine on a weekend. Furthermore the reservation should be made specifically with their Director of Sales, Kristine Fogarty.
|Crab with picked ramps on top of shaved radish and bits of apple|
|"Inside Out" Fish Tacos|
This dish was the best dish of the night - the flavors were outstanding and there was both hot and cold contrast and textural contrast in the dish. The oil of the fish was well-complemented by the oil in the avocado. The cilantro added a very good freshness to the dish as well.
My only complaint about this dish is that while it was a great dish, it was not a "wow" dish for me. I feel like I have eaten the elements of this dish before, but it is more evolutionary (to include texture contrast) than revolutionary.
|Smoked foie gras - picked plum puree, beats, marinated konbu|
As for minor nitpicks, the flower didn't really make sense to me in this dish, and the large piece of ginger didn't make much sense either. I feel like mincing the ginger and integrating it more in the dish would have made more sense than just sticking a large slice there.
|Porcini-Glazed Bone-in Halibut - peas, asparagus. braised radish, Meyer lemon yogurt|
First the good stuff; what I noticed immediately when this dish arrived was that the aroma of the halibut was heavily prevalent and that the dish could be experienced with smell much before taste. The halibut was cooked well, as were all of the vegetables.
Despite good cooking technique, this dish fell flat. While the individual components were made well, I didn't understand the big picture of the dish. The peas were bathed in the Meyer lemon yogurt and I didn't feel like they taste worked at all. The long green leafed herb was overpowering in the dish. After eating the small spring with a bite of halibut, I only tasted the herb.
|Cider Braised Pork Belly and Slow Roasted Loin - Chino Farms Greens, blue cheese,|
caramelized onion arancini
After the pork was removed, we were informed the chef decided to substitute with the hangar steak.
Fourth Course (take two):
|Prime Hangar Steak|
While I understand that restaurants are a business with a bottom line, usually when you go to a restaurant that is "fine dining" it is a reasonable expectation that if multiple entrées at a table are sent back, then all the entrées will be returned so that there is not the "watching other people eat" issue. I guess the problem at George's is that there is somewhat of an identity crisis with whether the restaurant is fine dining or not. My definition of fine dining is that the food costs at least $50 per person. It is conceivable that a couple could go to George's and order an appetizer to share, 2 entrées, and a dessert to share and for that meal to come up less than $50 per person. However when someone orders the tasting menu, they've now crossed the "fine dining barrier" so the service could stand to potentially be improved.
The steak was cooked very well, and the hangar cut imparted a lot of natural flavor into the beef. The greens with shitake complimented the steak very well, but the mashed potatoes were a failure. They potatoes had a smoky flavor to them, but the smoke was more of an acrid and offensive smoke than a gentle infusion of smoke. Furthermore, it seemed like the temperature of the potatoes was not correct as I found clumps in the potato that made the texture unpleasant as well. The half baby carrot also didn't make sense to me as the flavor didn't really contribute much to the dish.
|Red Wine Compressed Chino Farms Strawberries - goat cheese espuma, lemon balm, baby brioche, black pepper sorbet, strawberry dust|
By the time I had removed the sorbet from the dish, my palette had been contaminated by the pepper. Each bite no longer tasted as good as the previous ones and the dish was ruined.
Blogger's note: When I first returned from George's my inclination was to write this review immediately and completely vent my anger at not being able to have a 7 course menu and the somewhat sloppy policy of not removing the table's entrees. Instead, I decide to wait at least 48 hours to see if cooler heads would prevail. What has been written is perhaps not as bad as it would have been if I had written it immediately, but I think it still captures the essence of what I felt was a very disappointing experience.
While I've been told that I'm developing a reputation as a very harsh and unreasonable critic on this blog, my experience at George's failed to live up my expectations. My guess is that the 7 course tasting menu is simply unavailable on weekends, and had that been communicated to me from the start, I would be more forgiving in some of the comments. The food was average (for fine dining), but above average compared to some other places in San Diego. The only really good dish was the inside out fish taco, but I wouldn't really even call it memorable.
Usually after an experience at a restaurant like this, I would say that I'm never going back, but since George's is my Eleanor in San Diego, it is likely I will return someday. Hopefully they will do much better at that time.