Not Just Blowing Smoke
Posted on September 15, 2019
With fine-tuned execution and layered, balanced flavor, veteran chef Michael Mina’s Michelin star-studded reputation has arrived at One Paseo’s recently debuted International Smoke. The indoor-outdoor eatery offers San Diegans an introductory glimpse of the thoughtful cuisine upon which Mina’s 34-venue empire was built.
In devising an entrance strategy for the affluent-casual Del Mar locale, Mina and celeb partner Ayesha Curry incorporated signature staples while culling heritage-inspired dishes from his army of chefs. The result is a dining experience that feels more like dropping in on a family meal or an off-shift staff barbecue; honest heart and technique applied to simpler cuts and everyday offerings that both epicures and the less adventurous can appreciate equally.
As the name would suggest, smoke is widespread here, but not overbearing. Though numerous dishes are served under vapor-trapping cloches and airtight containers, it’s mostly for aromatic appeal. Smoked meats and cocktails like the Cold Smoked Old Fashioned (Bulleit Rye, cardamom, Corazón cocoa- and coffee-infused bitters) have just enough smolder to add dimension without taking away from the inherent flavors drawing customers to them in the first place.
Three versions of St. Louis-style pork ribs are on the menu — tangy American, peanut-dusted Vietnamese lemongrass, Korean sesame-gochujang — and are best sampled as a “combo rack” for their unique flavors, all of which benefit from smoke without being dominated. But the show-stopping star of this smoke show is the Flintstonian bone-in beef short rib, which easily surrenders on first fork, revealing a deep smoke ring and ungodly succulence. Its can’t-miss status is matched by Mina’s king crab fried rice, which is served in mini iron vessels, making for plenty of grains crisped by contact. The multi-faceted sweetness of the shellfish and cooked-in condiments is downright addictive.
Among Mina’s classics is a finely layered banana tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream and citrus caramel (hailing from his industry beginnings as a pastry chef), and a spicy, salty (ancho chile salt) tuna tartare given creamy, homogenous texture care of quail egg yolk. The latter is mixed in upon service, just one form of tableside flair that is prominent at International Smoke. That extra effort extends to the cocktail program, where sugar cane is flamed for the Velvet Underground (Elijah Craig bourbon, Zaya aged rum, Falernum liqueur, and Tiki bitters) and the Smoke Signals cocktail is liberated from a smoke-filled glass box.
But, some of the showiest plates are presented simply. Miso butter-brushed crab legs, gulf shrimp, lobster, and baked, breadcrumb-topped Kumiai oysters burst with natural flavor. (Pro tip: Spend $2 for Curry’s Thai red curry buttered cornbread, then enjoy with a forkful of the crab for a perfect bite.) Kampachi Hamachi in an earthy yuzu ponzu is made extra assertive by thinly sliced serrano peppers. Bold, clean heat is something Mina has embraced at International Smoke — jalapeño creamed corn, the Korean ribs’ glaze, and chile-infused “fire water” vinegar accompanying bao buns stuffed with tender strips of pork belly. The capsaicin-averse should be advised, while fans of fire will surely rejoice.
Mina’s reach and eatery count has risen behind his proven ability to provide extensions of his culinary point of view that jibe with the regions he expands into. That knack is on display at International Smoke, a literal and figurative cornerstone for One Paseo. You won’t arrive in a fine suit and depart with a deflated wallet. You’ll settle in comfortably and leave with sticky fingers and a full belly, just as chef intended. 858.523.2298, internationalsmoke.com Brandon Hernández
Meet The Star Chefs
Q&A with International Smoke’s Michael Mina and Ayesha Curry
By Deanna Murphy
From its origin as a pop-up concept in San Francisco in 2016, International Smoke has become a celebrity chef dream collaboration for founders Michael Mina and Ayesha Curry. The partnership began after Curry made a deal with Mina about an opportunity to cook with him, the terms of which hung on her beloved Carolina Panthers making it to the Super Bowl. They did, and the rest is history. We caught up with the duo at the jam-packed opening of International Smoke Del Mar.
R&C What does it say about the San Diego culinary scene that we are now on the Michael Mina map?
MM It’s more about the fact that we get to be here. It’s amazing — the product was all here, you’ve got great chefs here already. We just want to be part of the community. When we pick cities we want to go to, we want to bring something that adds to an already really rich food scene.
AC I think it’s obvious — this place is booming! We love being here. For Del Mar to welcome us with such open arms, it means a lot to us.
R&C The menu was originally created with contributions from many chefs, but how much of it is distinctly you?
AC Our original staples are still there. Upon arrival our guests receive house-made barbecue chips with a green seasoning dip and that’s all me, but honestly, our menu is so collaborative because it’s so international.
MM And that’s really the joy of it. Ayesha will call me, I’ll call her, and she’ll be like ‘we should do the chicken like this’ and then we sit and we talk about it and work it out.
AC I just came in and tweaked the fried chicken dish two days ago…
MM And it’s really good, too!
R&C What part of this endeavor takes you furthest from your comfort zone?
MM I can answer that! Look at her personality — how sweet she is.
AC I’m so afraid to be stern! I’m doing some shadowing, but he’s a big teddy bear too, so don’t let him fool you!
R&C How has working with Chef Michael influenced your home cooking?
AC I’m a mise en place queen now! Preparation is key! But I will say you get spoiled in commercial kitchens because you don’t have to do the dishes. At home? Not so much.
R&C Chef Michael, is this restaurant different in comparison to your other restaurants?
MM There are no two International Smokes that will ever be the same. This amazing staff, they’re going to decide what this is. At the end of the day, it’s the people who are going to be here and put their heart and soul into it, and it will be its own baby here in Del Mar.