On the Cusp of Something Great

| October 1, 2012 | 0 Comments

Chef Donald Lockhart is the new chef for Cusp Dining & Drinks.

I’ve been there before, many times. I’ve reviewed a number of restaurants there, all with different names. I’ve always enjoyed the amazing views from this location. But the other restaurants have come and gone. Where am I? I am at the top of the Hotel La Jolla, located on La Jolla Shores Drive, one of the gateways to the Shores and the Village.

But things are different now and both the hotel and the restaurant are on the cusp of something great. Fittingly, the restaurant’s name is Cusp Dining & Drinks, presided over by a chef new to San Diego, yet with a world full of culinary experience, Chef Donald Lockhart.

The hotel is now managed by Kimpton Hotels, a boutique chain that has a significant presence in San Diego. The chain also manages both Hotel Solamar and Palomar Hotel, both in the downtown area. The general image of the chain is “hip, cool, contemporary.” They brought their sense of style to Hotel La Jolla.

The lobby of the hotel has been opened up, with a small reception area and unique furniture. A bar has been developed off the lobby, Hiatus, that looks really cool and welcoming. Rooms were upgraded a few years ago.

Cusp, located on the top floor, has also undergone change. The décor has been modified and also looks really cool and hip. And the view is fantastic. Being so high up, one can see far out over the ocean, gazing as brilliant sunsets that plunge into the horizon.

There is a “show” kitchen near the middle of the restaurant where chefs seem to jostle and push each other to prepare the dishes that delight their diners. The cuisine can be easily categorized as “coastal Mediterranean cuisine” utilizing fresh local ingredients. “I love my guests,” Chef Lockhart said, “and I go overboard to make certain that they always have a memorable experience. My cuisine is simple but very flavorful. I use many local ingredients to enhance the tastes of my dishes. We are right next to the ocean and the freshest seafood, and minutes away from local farms, fresh produce and culinary artisans.”

Chef Lockhart grew up in Southern California, where his family was in food related businesses. So he had an early introduction to food. “We had a family garden where we grew much of our own produce. This taught me a respect for food and an ethic towards how we grow and cultivate it” he said. He’s indebted to all the master chefs with whom he worked, who helped train him and influenced is culinary approach. He worked with Julia Child and other great chefs. He competed in the World Culinary Olympics and cooked at the James Beard House. He’s worked at international locales as well as in the United States.

The menu is not extensive but has something for everyone. There is a “raw bar” with seafood on the “appetizers” list, which also includes some of Chef Lockhart’s signature dishes. “Crispy pork bellies” is crispy on the outside but soft on the inside and comes with a terrific honey glaze. “Pepperoni rolls” are like cinnamon rolls but have mozzarella and tomato on the inside.
Flatbreads come stuffed with savory ingredients, perhaps similar to pizza but way different and, in some ways, way better. The “San Sebastian” is perhaps reminiscent of that picturesque Atlantic Spanish city, filled roasted shrimp, Spanish chorizo, garlic and cilantro flavor.

Among entrees, the “pan roasted Jidori chicken” is a real winner, accompanied by a very tasty polenta. The “Morrocan spiced king salmon” is beautifully presented and very flavorful. For dessert, leave room for the chocolate peanut butter cake, served warm and with toasted marshmallows.

The bar offers some very fresh, interesting cocktails created by veteran mixologist Nate Howell. There is a nice selection of beers, including a number of local brews, and a good collection of spirits. There is even an extensive collection of single malt scotch, listed by region of distilling, including a selection of hard-to-find Bruchladdich from the Isle of Islay region. Wines by the glass are available, including a delicious Monterey Pinot Noir by Carmel Road.

Prices at Cusp are surprisingly moderate, given the quality of the cuisine and the delightful ambiance. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and features a daily happy hour. Weekend brunch offers an a la carte menu. Whether by day or evening, the amazing view seems to just add to the cuisine.

The restaurant is located on the 11th floor of the Hotel La Jolla, 7955 La Jolla Shores Drive in La Jolla. Call 858-551-3620 for information, directions, and reservations.

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