Above: a classic Southern California Caesar salad, tossed tableside on a guéridon by Meliton Lescana at The Marine Room in La Jolla, CA – a relic of Cold-War-era “continental” dining (click image for animation).
A trip home for New Year’s conjured up nostalgia of growing up in a sleepy seaside community where the waves are big and the beach is your backyard. Besides an excellent dinner at my mom’s (braised brisket, roast potatoes, and wilted spinach with a López de Heredia Viña Tondoñia 1999 that I found on sale at the local BevMo), great sushi (So. Cal. has some of the best in my book), and a bevy of burritos, tacos, tostadas, and flautas (look for a post next week on Mexican culinary adventures), we made a trip down to The Marine Room in the La Jolla Shores, a blue-blazer, khaki-pants-and-docksiders restaurant that sits right on the beach with floor-to-ceiling waterfront windows.
Above: 2002 Montmain (Premier Cru) by La Chablisienne. Sommelier Jeff Hoover surprised and impressed me with a list that offered some options to those of us who cannot drink barriqued Chardonnay. The shrimp cocktail is no longer on the menu but they made it for me anyway.
The once strictly “continental” menu has undergone some changes since I was a kid and although the surf and turf still makes an appearance (at $70+), most of the classics have been replaced by things like the “Mulberry Kalbi Glazed Organic Pompano,” which I ordered.
The pleasant surprise was the wine list. I wasn’t expecting to find a lot of things that I could drink and indeed the list was comprised mostly of heavily oaked Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon (for the most part, Marine Room diners get what they deserve: at the table behind ours, I heard a gentlewoman pontificate about wine, extolling the virtues of Merlot, which, she informed her companions, “is a blend”). But after leafing through the heavy-handed California chapters of the list, I was relieved to find one of my all-time favorite Chablis producers, La Chablisienne.
Chablisienne makes traditional-style wines that show the characteristic minerality of distinctive Chablis. The wines are very reasonably priced: the premier crus generally retail for less than $30 and the Petit Chablis and Chablis AOCs can come in under $16. I had never tried the Montmain Premier Cru and it went great with a jumbo shrimp cocktail (the latter doesn’t appear on the menu anymore but can still be ordered). I just love these wines…
We also drank a 375 ml of Guigal’s 2003 Condrieu, a 100% Viognier that definitely sees some time in barrique (about a third of the wine was vinified and aged in new wood according his website). It was unctuous and rich, perfect for the Pompano and the fruity flavors of its sauce.
The Marine Room isn’t cheap, the food is somewhat affected and slightly tired, but the views and the Cold-War-era feel are worth every penny (that you don’t put in your loafers).
Above: an image of the Marine Room, battered by the surf in 1949. The Marine Room sits right on the beach and has been closed numerous times over the years because of weather damage. It’s not cheap but the views are worth it. The night I was there, sandpipers scurried and danced across La Jolla Shores beach like ballerinas.