There's a reason some restaurants stay in business for so long, and this evening The Marine Room proved exactly why it's been one of the few destination dining venues in San Diego for over 50 years. Located less than 50 feet from the surf, on the ground of the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, the restaurant defines casual elegance. A long and narrow room, its been done in pale shades of tan and beige, with high beam ceilings and stone walls. Without a doubt, however, they've let nature provide the most spectacular part of the decor -- via the floor to ceiling plate glass windows that comprise the West wall providing every seat in the house with smashing views of the beach and ocean.
Chilepm and I settled into our window table along with our friend Andy for an early dinner just as the sun was sinking over the Western edge of the Pacific and turning the sky vivid shades of orange, red and purple. What a terrific way to end the day!! By the time we finished our meal the spotlights on top of the Marine Room had come on to illuminate the beach and we were entertained by the seagulls, sandpipers, a wayward stilt and a whole fleet of little sand birds scurrying up and down the beach in perpetual motion. But it was the huge flight of pelicans in almost v-formation that came swooping over the restaurant and past the windows, as if on cue, at just the moment when dusk was becoming evening, that provided the most dramatic impact.
There were 3 choices for appetizers, 3 choices for entrees and 3 choices for dessert, and there were 3 of us, which meant we could try all the Restaurant Week menu if we wanted. Chilepm chose the Magenta-Mache Salad, which was a melange of very fresh, very tender baby greens with candied red and gold beets in a very light vinaigrette of olive oil and huckleberry balsamic, topped with a couple of generous shavings of Romano cheese. I had the Signature Maine Lobster Bisque. Lobster Bisque happens to be a particular weakness for me and is done badly more often than not. The Marine Room version is very, very good. It's a velvety cream soup with enoki mushrooms, crispy/chewy pancetta and came with a petite tartlet filled with yuzu cream floating in it. Satisfying but not overly rich.
While our appetizers were exceptionally good, Andy had the real winner in the apps. category. She chose the Hazelnut Dukkah Spiced Baja Prawn and Diver Scallop. Dukkah, it turns out, comes from the (East) Indian cooking tradition. Whereever it comes from, it was delicious. Both the prawn and the scallop were quite large. I didn't get any of the prawn, but I did get one bite of the scallop and it was probably one of the best scallops I've ever had, anywhere. Tender, sweet, crispy on the exterior, creamy on the interior, perfectly cooked. Clearly the perfect example of quality far outshining quantity.
Chilepm had the Fennel Pollen Parsley Scented Pacific Butterfish for her entree. It came in a large oval soup plate, garnished with red quinoa, an assortment of perfectly cooked young vegetables and a cranberry port reduction. The fish was moist and succulent with a mild flavor that sort of melted in the mouth. Once again I was only able to snag one tidbit from Chilepm who was quite pleased with her fish, and for once, more interested in keeping most of it for herself than in sharing.
Andy wasn't even willing to give up one bite of her Australian Lobster Tail. It was served with a couple of slices of linguica, a small mound of boniato (a tuber similar to sweet potato mostly found in the Carribbean) with a small slice of pepino melon on top and a thin round of deep fried lotus root. I know there was a sauce on the plate but have no clue what it was. I do know that it was all gone by the time she was done.
I chose the Cinnamon Port Spiced Filet Mignon. I requested the filet medium rare, and that is exactly the way I got it. It was a nice piece of meat, very tender and full of good beefy flavor. I chose this entree mostly because I was curious to see how the cinnamon would pair with the beef. The cinnamon port sauce was really good, and by and large, it matched pretty well with the beef, though I think I probably would have liked it better with lamb or poultry. It certainly did not detract from my enjoyment of the filet, and did provide an interesting alternative to the more routine sauces and reductions served with beef. My accompaniments were a timbale of mashed purple potatoes (with it's own deep fried lotus root disk), a baby carrot, an aspargus spear, roasted beet and a pickled red onion. The filet had been plated onto a portabellini mushroom whose earthiness complimented the meat well.
The 3 choices for dessert were Triple Layer Chocolate Mousse Cake, Espresso & Vanilla Bean Cobblestone Pie or an organic Lemon Tart. Just to be different all 3 of us ordered the lemon tart. The lemon tarts arrived looking very innocent and rather pedestrian to say the least. Two bites would prove that this was a very lethal dessert, lethally good that is. The pastry crust was light with no hint of toughness. The lemon curd exploded with clear lemon taste and no cloying sweetness that can often mar lemon fillings. The tart wedge was topped by what at first appeared to be overbeaten whipped cream, but turned out to be either stiffly whipped creme fraiche or sour cream, or a combination of both. Whatever it was, it was wonderful and paired well with the lemon providing a pleasant contrast to the tartness of the lemon. On top of the topping was a meringue cookie bigger than a quarter, smaller than a half-dollar. One bite and the merignue dissolved into bursts of tart lemon. But wait there's more, the tart, the topping and the meringue cookie were all set off by a deeply intense raspberry coulis with a few drops of creme anglaise added AND a few of the largest, most perfectly sweet, beautifully red raspberries I think I've ever eaten. Looks can be deceiving and that was definitely the case with the lemon tart.
As if the room, the view and the food wasn't already enough, the service was terrific as well. It's evident that time and care has been taken in both hiring and training everyone involved with the front of the house. Every one was personable, warm and friendly, but the handled their jobs with professionalism, efficiency and pride. Waiters were knowledgeable about the food, service ware replaced easily and almost without being noticed, there was no rush to turn the table.
The quality of our meal - all selections - far out stripped the price we paid, making this a tremendous value for the $30 we each paid. There was nothing second-rate about anything we had, in fact, all the Restaurant Week selections are all on the regular menu. There is a light hand in the kitchen, many of our choices could have been heavy and/or too rich, but none of our selections were, not even the lethal lemon tart. Everything - even the beef, even the lobster - was light and satisfying, not heavy and filling. Since it was a work night and we were all driving, none of us had wine with dinner. The wine list is spendy, but the wines by the glass were reasonable - champagnes/sparkling wine were in the $11-16 range, reds from $8 - 16 and whites from around $7.50 - 14.
After 50 years in business, The Marine Room is still going strong and still an institution in San Diego, and deservedly so. I wish them 50 more years of great business.