A glass of champagne and then it’s time to stroll along the private beachfront for dinner at the Marine Room. Our table is in a private corner tucked up against a massive sweep of glass windows. On the sand a flock of tiny white Sanderlings play Dodge ball with the surf, running down to the sea’s edge a as the water recedes; then racing back up the sand to safety as another wave sweeps in.
It’s a hard act to follow, and I wouldn’t want to be the chefs who have to compete with a showstopper like that of crashing surf and white water views.
But the Marine Room (www.marineroom.com) has managed to hold its own as the main attraction since 1941. We met one of the chefs as the restaurant was closing, Ron Oliver, the Chef de Cuisine, (www.chefronoliver.com). Every month he introduces new alcoholic alchemy in a champagne flute adorned with a collectable hand-crafted charm. In the fall, he and executive chef Bernard Guillas will debut Two Chefs One World The Flying Pan, inspired by their travels. Then he’s off to Southeast Asia for some culinary inspiration. On previous trips, he discovered exotic spices to lift the Marine Room menu to new levels – Australian lemon myrtle oil, Peruvian red quinoa, Mexicanannatto seed, and Chinese sour plum powder. But there’d be a revolt if the chefs ever replaced long-time favorites like the Mandarin Imperiale Scented Baja Prawn and Maine lobster bisque starter or the espresso and vanilla bean cobblestone pie dessert.
An Enclave unto Its Self
Spanish for jewel, La Jolla has a reputation as an exotic international destination of legendary wealth and art. But it wasn’t always like this. “If you look at the 1900-1910 census statistics for La Jolla, lots of grocers, carpenters, accountants, doctors and lawyers lived here because it was a village rather than a resort area,” says Michael Mishler, archivist/curator of theLa Jolla Historical Society. “But from the beginning, there has always been a contest between those who wanted to bring people to La Jolla and those who wanted to preserve it as a village, and that still goes on today. For instance, when Highway 101 was being built, some residents didn’t want it to go through La Jolla – they wanted to bring businesses, but not tourists into the village. In fact, there’s a cycle in La Jolla history where residents wanted to secede from San Diego, but like Montreal, Canada, it both never took off but never goes away.”
Enter F. W. Kellogg, a visionary who believed that the future of La Jolla was tourism. In 1927, he purchased La Jolla Beach & Yacht Club, and by 1935 had transformed it into an elegantly understated Spanish hacienda with a sweeping drive lined with towering Palm trees. He renamed LJBTC, (www.ljbtc.com) built tennis courts, a par-3 golf course and an Olympic sized pool and set out to attract travelers, movie stars, well-healed locals and tennis championships. With 98 guest rooms, cottages and one, two and three bedroom suites set on 14 acres of private beach, this membership club is the setting for everyone’s beach book fantasy. Luckily, even nonmembers can book accommodations and enjoy all the related privileges and amenities.
Art and About
You don’t have to be well-heeled to revel in the concerts, art history lectures, and special events offered from free to $40 at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, (www.ljathenaeum.org) a gorgeous building in the village center. One of just 16 nonprofit membership libraries in the US, the Athenaeum is devoted exclusively to music and art. Originally formed by the La Jolla Reading Club, which constructed the first building – a Reading Room – on the site in 1898, it quickly outgrew its modest quarters on the corner of Girard and Wall. The sumptuous Spanish Renaissance-style building that stands in its place was designed in 1921 by architect William Templeton Johnson, who also created the San Diego Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History in Balboa Park.
Stop for lunch nearby at Whisknladle (www.Whisknladle.com), a gourmet bistro that’s caused a buzz since it opened February 2008. A bit reminiscent in shape of the San Diego Convention Center, the restaurant is actually one large tented space with outdoor heaters that’s attached to a small main building housing kitchen and bar. The effect is very casual and minimalist, though noisy when it’s packed. Twenty-eight year old proprietor Arturo Kassel’s favorite phrase to describe his restaurant philosophy is that “the three-course dinner is dead.” Instead, he and executive chef Ryan Johnston encourage grazing through items on the top half of the menu, although the portions of items like mussels & fries, flatbread and the cutting board are gargantuan! Breads, cheeses, cured meats, pastas and ice creams are made in-house of organic and locally sourced ingredients. If you prefer to picnic romantically, a new option is their Prepkitchen, opening spring 2009, where you can pick up the yummies and go to the beach.
Next it’s time to stuff your esthetics at the nearby San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art (www.mcasd.org), which holds astunning spot overlooking the Pacific. With its more than 4000 pieces of art created after 1950 by emerging, under-recognized midcareer and major contemporary artists, what’s particularly fascinating is discovering how curators make their selections of new works to add to the permanent collection. At various times of the year, these “candidates” are displayed in the galleries, and are voted on at the membership’s annual meetings. The museum also screens films from time to time. The museum store is a treasure trove of art books, jewelry and everything exquisite for the art lover.
Dinner at the New George’s at the Cove(www.georgesatthecove.com
Before everything changed, the “old” George’s used to be my absolute favorite because it’s beach-almost-funky ambiance made me feel like the girl in Jimmy Buffet’s “The Pina Colada” song. But flip flops won’t cut it at the new George’s California Modern, a slick interpretation of what’s happening in contemporary dining in San Francisco, New York and Chicago. This space is designed more like a cutting -edge museum, all angles and glass so that the view is always the main attraction. The California cuisine new menu has gotten stellar reviews, culminating in kudos like the AAA Four Diamond Award, Zagat’s Most Popular Restaurant in 2007, and an induction into the Fine Dining Hall of Fame in May 2009.
La Jolla’s certainly the spot to eat your heart out deliciously!
Sheila Sobell and Richard N. Every are professional worldwide travel journalists. Visit them at www.writersobell.com
Photos courtesy of SDCVB and Richard N. Every
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