Tour de Stage: San Diego – George’s California Modern
San Diego makes a very compelling case for living a ‘laid back’ life in Southern California. We had both been looking forward to visiting the world-famous zoo, the parks, the various neighborhoods, and playing with the waves and the seals on the beach in one of the most comfortable climates the world has to offer—75˚F and sunny with an occasional breeze.
Toasting by the water in La Jolla, eating soft-serve ice cream, marveling at the Kardashian appearance, and ruminating on whether the smell of ocean decay resembled fish sauce was not the best recipe to get ready for one of our last stages of the trip, but we prevailed.
San Diego, like much of California, is very proud of its produce and farms. The fame of Chino Farms extends all the way to the Carolinas, where fellow chefs who have visited couldn’t stop talking about their strawberries that are available year round.
The city presents light beach fare, “the best Mexican food outside of Mexico” as well as sophisticated fine dining. That is only if you’re willing to step away from the beautiful beaches in the first place.
George’s California Modern, Chef Trey Foshee
The city of La Jolla and specifically the Cove at La Jolla offer some of the best natural sanctuaries on the Pacific Ocean. It’s also home to one of Southern California’s best restaurants, George’s California Modern. We walked into the restaurant on a warm afternoon and ran into George hustling from one station to another and then to front of house during an unhurried lunch service. We knew the kind of restaurant we walked into, an institution built on hospitality that grows with the demands and expectations of their guests.
Chef Trey Foshee ’90 is one of the most prominent chefs cooking in Southern California. He embraces the Mexican heritage of San Diego as well as the plant-forward cuisine that celebrates California’s farms. He oversees the operation at all the establishments under one roof at George’s as well as his much-anticipated Galaxy Tacos, which opened last year. There, he works with heirloom corn masa and applies his passion for Mexican food to great critical acclaim.
Chef Jon Bautista, a San Diego native, has spent most of his professional life in San Diego. He is the chef de cuisine working with executive chef Trey. Chef Jon has worked in many established restaurants in San Diego and made a name for himself very quickly.
Before we go into a kitchen on one of our stages, we research the chefs, the restaurant, and different aspects of menu. Seeing the final dishes come together is always highly anticipation, no matter how much time we put into understanding the restaurant prior to arriving in the kitchen. When prep is being wrapped up, unless the cooks are a little behind schedule, all the lead cooks start setting up their stations. This is when we started walking around, speaking with the cooks and tasting the components of the dishes. At California Modern, we also met Chef Foshee right before service as he touched base with Chef Jon and the line cooks.
One of the first things we noticed about the George’s California Modern is the fact that even the walk-ins have a view of the ocean. What an incredible privilege.
The most iconic dish from George’s. It has been on the menu since the restaurant’s inception.
At the end of prep, garde manger was dicing veal, frying broccolini leaves, and pounding tuna for service. One of Chef Trey’s signature dishes is his deconstructed yellowfin tuna tacos. The pounded tuna is mold-cut into little ‘tortillas’ and stored away for service. It’s one of the most popular items on the menu. The dish comes together beautifully with the tortillas rolled in corn nuts and filled with tuna tartar. The taquitos are then served with tempura avocado, jalapeno aioli, and vegetable garnishes.
The meat cook, Molly, who has been with the restaurant for five years, is refreshing the sauces, taking her counts, dusting her venison loins with leak ash, and coordinating her entremets cook’s station and his seasoning.
Chef Bautista’s technique of dusting the venison loin with leak ash creates a very dramatic effect.
During the same lull between prep and service, the fish cook is counting his lobsters, Hamachi, shrimp, salmon, and striped bass. The lobster dish is sophisticated with hoja santa gnocchi that is cooked in lobster stock with a variety of seasonal vegetables from Chino Farms. A whole butter poached lobster is served with these accoutrements. In contrast, the shrimp dish is strikingly simple. Shrimp are seared head-on and served with a butter sauce and a piece of lemon, cooked rare.
One of the most delicious bites of the whole trip was fresh San Diego shrimp heads.
The lobster dish with hoja santa gnocchi cooked with a lobster sauce is decadent, homey yet beautiful. A nod to the Mexican influence with hoja santa in the gnocchi.
Then service starts and the tickets start raining in. Garde manger is hit first with a dozen tickets on the board, not nearly as many as they would see on a really busy night. The wave of the rush trickles through the kitchen and the experience of approaching the end of our trip turns into an out of body sensation. We join Chef Jon on the pass and taste his food, excited, humbled and thankful. We feel really privileged to have met Chef Jon and Trey, and all the cooks. Thank you.
For more food photos, adventures and stories from the travels, visit Sayat and Laura’s instagram at @LauraAndSayat.