Utterly California

John Yelenosky — a good friend from my La Jolla High School days — and I had dinner last Tuesday at what is clearly one of San Diego’s finest restaurants, Market in Del Mar (about 20 minutes north of La Jolla). His father owned a wine store when we were coming up together and today John is the European Wine Specialist for the San Diego offices of Southern Wine and Spirits, one of the preeminent distributors of European wines in North America.

The concept behind Market is what some in the business call “market fare,” i.e., heirloom produce sourced from artisanal growers. The restaurant is located not far from the legendary Chino Farms,* a once humble roadside produce stand in Rancho Santa Fe that became a flash point in the heirloom vegetable revolution (thanks, in part, to a hearty endorsement from Alice Waters). Nearly all of the fruits and vegetables used in the kitchen, explained our waiter, are sourced daily from Chino Farms.

Executive chef and owner Carl Shroeder (La Jolla High, class of 87, same year as my brother Micah) shows a deft hand in the kitchen — especially with the entrées — and his food was excellent if not entirely original. The wine service by Brian Donegan was impeccable but our waiter was a little overly enthusiastic and too precious for my taste.

The dish that impressed me the most was the “Market salad,” which strangely does not appear on the menu.

The salad consists of fresh and lightly steamed heirloom fruits and vegetables (note the light green, pine-cone shaped broccolo romanesco florets above), dressed in olive oil and cask-aged vinegar, served over different types of heirloom lettuce. The pasta-bowl serving dish was warmed before assembly and the heat gently wilted the lettuce leaves and delicately accentuated the flavors of the dressing. We matched with a 2005 Vin de Savoie Apremont by Pierre Boniface, made from Jacquere grapes — an unusual and commendable wine-by-the-glass. This utterly Californian dish needed the bright fruit and acidity of the Vin de Savoie and the pairing of the seemingly just-picked vegetables and this fresh wine was great.

Above: the “Hot and Sour and Wonton” soup that the chef sent over didn’t exactly overwhelm me but was tasty.

Above: wine director Brian Donegan really knows his stuff and his wine service was top-knotch. I liked the 2004 Spätburgunder by Julius Wasen und Söhne that he poured for us by the glass. I was nonplussed, however, to see only a few tables ordering by the bottle on this busy evening (after all, this decidedly upscale restaurant is located in one of San Diego’s most ritzy neighborhoods, Del Mar/Rancho Santa Fe. Do Californians not drink wine at dinner? This one does!).

Back in the day, John and I used to play in a band together, ditched fourth-period art class together, and generally had a good time growing up in a sleepy beach town where nearly everyone surfed and/or played guitar (I only did the latter). Neither of us would have imagined in 1985 (when we graduated from high school) that — at age 40 — we’d both be working in the world of wine.

Above: John Yelenosky circa 1985.



Above: despite my doofus looks (and all the trouble I got into), I did well in high school.

* Chino Farms
6123 Calzada del Bosque
San Diego, CA 92067
858-756-3184
Hours: Tue-Sat 10 am-3:30 pm, Sun 10 am-1 pm

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