Veladora: Shining Brightly
Finding one’s way to Rancho Valencia Resort’s fine dining enclave, Veladora, is by no means a whimsical undertaking. For the most part, it’s not a restaurant that can be stumbled upon. One must be in the specific mood to enjoy its farm-to-table, sustainable ethos and the myriad fresh dishes that it produces to endure the trek through the lush, green Rancho Valencia compound. And should the uninitiated somehow find their way to Veladora by happenstance, they would likely be drawn away from it by the exterior hostess stand and lively atmosphere of The Pony Room bar next door. But as those in the know are aware, a lack of directional signage is the greatest of Veladora’s shortcomings and the long and winding road to get to it is rewarded with quality cuisine.
Meals begin with house-made rosemary focaccia (the rosemary, like many of the herbs used at Veladora, are picked from fertile soil on the resort grounds), California olive oil, and 18-year-old balsamic vinegar. It’s an indicator of the thoughtful dishes to come. Another fitting precursor is soup made from fresh, seasonal ingredients. Recently, sweet corn was presented in velvety smooth and creamy form over a petite lobster knuckle. It isn’t the only place that crustacean shines. A full claw and half a tail share an appetizer plate with sliced and cubed red and gold beets, avocado, and a zingy lemon vinaigrette. It’s a dish that, even with superfluous wedges of grapefruit (also picked on property), delivers such a complete flavor profile that it reaches must-try status.
Similarly impressive are plump scallops, some of which are outfitted with a tile of pressed parsley and shishito pepper that brings in an element unique to this eatery. The same holds true for golden brown “fritters” filled with fresh corn in liquid form, which beautifully complements a corn and shishito ragout. Dover sole comes across classic and light thanks to a well-composed, sparingly applied lemon buerre blanc. On the field side, prized Elysian Farms lamb is tender and ethereal. But regardless of what one orders, an order of the ricotta gnocchi side dish should be mandatory. It’s comforting and zesty thanks to braised kale, salty Pecorino cheese, and the punch of crushed red pepper flakes. It would make a perfect entrée on its own.
The level of cuisine at Veladora matches the environs, which have held up beautifully since the restaurant was overhauled and converted to its current concept over a year ago. The columnar space is dimly lit by candle-lined, metal chandeliers with spotlights transforming tabletops into blank canvases. Comfort comes in the form of many pillows, lightening up what might come across as a rigid atmosphere were it not for the added cushioning and a bright glass, blue butterfly-adorned mosaic on the far wall that’s evocative of earth, sky, and flame and adds a splash of vibrant color, much as this restaurant’s culinary stylings do to the resort it calls home. (858.759.6216, www.ranchovalencia.com) Brandon Hernández