Having had two of the most memorable meals while he was the chef at Casa Del Mar's Ocean Front Restaurant and coincidentally a remarkable meal while he was in the kitchen at Union Pacific (a meal that could almost forgive Rocco di Spirito his later TV outing), we literally dropped everything when a friend around 5pm last night mentioned that Quinn and Karen Hatfield had opened their new restaurant this past Friday. (I've since seen the earlier posting and whole heartedly agree with what was said.)
Walking into the clean open space we were struck by the thoughtfulness of the endeavor. A small bar greets you immediately with a little window exhibiting the chef and kitchen crew at work. Simple framed windows reveal additional seating on a narrow wrap around patio. We were welcomed immediately with confidence and warmth.
The menu is a joy to behold-five appetizers and five entrees all of which we wanted to try. Just when we made our decision the amuse of deviled quail eggs with shots of a watermelon coconut agua fresca arrive that alert us to the fact that this is going to be both serious and fun. We start with a charred octopus salad sitting on an olive puree with sliced vailla scented hearts of palm that is, well, amazing. A 'croque madam' with Hamachi is equally impressive. We both order fish and the contrast of the crisp salty skin on the striped bass to the slightly sweet creamy crab risotto is lovely. My halibut is so tender and light sitting on the freshest asparagus that my friend remarks, "It doesn't get better than this."
We finish with desserts that like the food before them seem both at once innovative and familiar. The blueberry napoleon with wafer meringue discs and a creamy lime foam is completely refreshing and reminiscent of the earlier jolt of chilled fresh fruit from that agua fresca. The peanut butter chocolate cake is the perfect twist on those molten centered truffle cakes but it's the salted caramel ice cream accompaniment that I'm still thinking about.
Everyone here is working to please not impress and I hope that this is the lasting impression for most. This is the best kind of eagerness and given that this is their first week service is outstanding. There are five white wines by the glass from almost every wine making corner of the world and the server is quick to recommend the 'vino de casa', an $8 Ceja Chardonnay-Marsanne blend that hits the mark and the whole list proves once again that a small select offering is often the most rewarding.
I'm not certain where Hatfield's sits on the current local restaurant opening radar but if last night's any indication, this unexpected contender may just be the one to remember. $128 before tip.