A Perfect Ten
Posted on January 01, 2018
San Diegans can be fickle about our food. We’re often attracted to the latest shiny trends, swayed by of-the-moment offerings like poke, zoodles, mocktails, and hipster toasts. Yet, throughout all the flavor fluctuation — like the foie gras to no foie gras to foie gras renaissance — La Jolla’s Nine-Ten has transcended the latest fads. Executive Chef Jason Knibb’s culinary creations result in perpetual top-tier status for the pristine white-linen enclave at the base of the Grande Colonial hotel.
The restaurant recently underwent an aesthetic overhaul, trading muted earth tones for bright aquatic hues that mirror the nearby Pacific. It added art that pays homage to “The Jewel” itself, along with a touch of whimsy in keeping with Knibb’s plates. Even with a much-improved environment and after 14 years in business, the food remains the sparkling star of this long-running show thanks to clever intermingling of new and old at this classic.
Nine-Ten’s appetizer menu is a garden of delicious delights. A refreshing lobster salad gets a flavorful Thai curry treatment with lime, mint, coconut, and chilies. Lamb tartare with smoked onion aioli spooned onto nori-speckled lavash makes for an extraordinary, earthy bite. Spicy stone crab with thin spaghettini has such a rich texture, eating it feels like committing a misdemeanor. And the seared foie gras is punctuated by a gastrique flavored with locally procured hops. Then there’s the stalwart of the starters — Jamaican jerk-spiced pork belly with black-eyed peas and sweet potato puree — a signature dish if there ever was one. It’s Knibb’s soul in a complex and cohesive dish.
Core proteins typically dictate any diners’ entrée choices, but attention should be paid to accompanying vegetables, which are fawned over and presented with precision. These farm-fresh accoutrements burn as brightly on the plate as their meaty partners. Sweetness from caramelized cauliflower puree and glazed carrots counters the smolder of smoked duck breast, which is heightened by the sweet spice of a pomegranate-ginger gastrique. Tangy tomato jam plays well with verdant notes of roasted lamb loin. Salsify adds an oyster-like nuance to the rich, oceanic clam nage served beneath the striped bass filet. Many main dishes come across as memorable edible art.
If you’re looking for a quicker food fix, a diverse culinary adventure can be had simply by sticking to first courses at the bar, which also received a facelift while retaining a knowledgeable service staff, including fascinating tidbits from certified sommeliers. Plan it for a Wednesday and enjoy half-priced bottles (or half-bottles) of any wine on Nine-Ten’s extensive, award-winning list.
When addressing his admirable longevity, Knibb says he feels very fortunate to be among other resilient La Jolla colleagues like Bernard Guillas of the Marine Room and George’s head toque, Trey Foshee. Knibb acknowledges the challenge of keeping things new and fresh for so many years. It’s certainly not easy. He just makes it look — and taste — that way. 858.964.5400, nine-ten.com Brandon Hernández