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Dining Review: Paradisaea

Fine fare and a fancifully fun motif in Bird Rock's Piano Building

With a colorful mural running the length of the south wall, Paradisaea’s dining room provides a feast for both the eyes and the stomach
Image Credits Vincent Knakal

Like a siren’s song, the coastal community of Bird Rock calls out to those in search of a tucked-away refuge from the day-to-day, a locals-only locale where everybody knows everybody. Its laid-back, purely San Diegan charm was enough to inspire veteran chef Mark Welker to make a permanent move two months into a consulting gig for a project aiming to bring the community one of the few things it lacked: fine dining. Named Paradisaea (after the Bird of Paradise genus, get it?), that patioed Polynesian-styled bar-and-restaurant concept debuted in the iconic Piano Building on Bird Rock’s roundabout-studded main drag last September.

Mark Welker, Paradisaea culinary director and executive chef
Mark Welker, Paradisaea culinary director and executive chef

Adorned with an eclectic array of furnishings and embellishments — ceramic-tiled tabletops, Japanese lanterns, bronze lighting fixtures, and a colorful mural running the length of the south wall — Paradisaea’s dining room provides a feast for both the eyes and the stomach. Chic yet not overdone design is also a hallmark of a horseshoe-shaped, travertine-and-cast-glass bar anchored by a grand column packed with an impressive arsenal of spirits and liqueurs. Those liquid assets are put to clever use in a collection of signature drinks and creative spins on standards, all of which are detailed in a full-color, picture book-style menu that makes for a compelling page-turner.

Japanese Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky, brown butter, Amaro, and mole bitters comprise the “Top Gun,” a unique take on an Old Fashioned, while a cutting-edge machine creates carbonation akin to sparkling wine in a highball made with Toki (another whisky from the Land of the Rising Sun). A “Oaxacan Negroni” combines the sweet of ancestral corn liqueur with sourness and smokiness from tamarind-infused mezcal, while an authentic (egg white) whisky sour is given balance and depth from plum, bergamot, and Earl Grey tea. Custom glassware (Piña Colada), house-made macadamia-nut orgeat (Mai Tai), and charcoal (“Lobster Lounge”) add flair to a collection of tropical libations that look right at home in Paradisaea’s island-inspired environs. 

Any of Paradisaea’s drinks can be had for $10 during happy hour, which takes place from 3 to 5pm Wednesday through Sunday, along with selections from well-curated wine and beer lists.

With drinks taken care of, one can shift attention to the main event. Welker, a veteran of vaunted NYC operations Eleven Madison Park and NoMad, has devised a menu that’s full of surprises. Rather than being coated in shredded palm fruit and deep-fried, the Coconut Shrimp appetizer presents four sizeable, skewered lemon-and-harissa marinated prawns alongside a creamy coconut-lime dipping sauce. An entrée of olive oil-poached sea bass has an element of unboxing with zesty ratatouille hidden inside a summer squash and a pepper stuffed with scallop purée.

White Baja Sea Bass
White Baja Sea Bass

Reliable starters include a Jalapeño Caesar served with a literal “pile of Parmesan” and a brilliant fava bean hummus. The latter’s garden-fresh greenness and bright citrus zing meld perfectly with the garlic notes of griddled, miso-infused focaccia bread. Other solid raw apps include West Coast Oysters with frozen passionfruit sangrita as well as a beet salad with sheep’s milk yogurt and Chino Farms strawberries.

West Coast Oysters topped with passion fruit sangrita
West Coast Oysters topped with passion fruit sangrita

Sherry-dressed tagliatelle with morel mushrooms is a seasonal standout, while al dente spaghetti served in a saffron uni condiment topped with large lumps of Dungeness crab and richness-cutting Sungold tomatoes is a year-round indulgence. Both have been hits out of the gate, along with an Australian wagyu ribeye served with sauce au poivre and french fries. A similar peppery treatment can be applied to another fan favorite, an off-menu dry-aged cheeseburger served on a Portuguese muffin (with chilies and/or applewood-smoked bacon, if you please).

Beet Salad
Beet Salad

Red meat mains are rounded out by a show-stopping 90-day dry-aged Aspen Ridge ribeye, and impressively marbled lamb loin served in an earthy Moroccan spice jus with tahini-eggplant purée and toasty, incredibly flavorful quinoa worth writing home about. 

Beef Tenderloin
Beef Tenderloin

Welker’s extensive pastry experience is illustrated in the moist devil’s food cake and luscious chocolate mousse making up a Dark Chocolate Pavé. It’s the lead on a surprisingly short dessert roster featuring another all-star: a vanilla soft-serve sundae with shortbread fashioned with avocado blossom honey. 

Bringing fine dining to Bird Rock was the mission with Paradisaea, and its menu fits the bill. That said, Welker and his staff are playing loose and not taking themselves too seriously. As a result, there’s an approachability that’s important in a community where locals expect — if not require — all of their eateries to be downhome to some degree.

Golden Forks

Service: 4.5
Timeliness: 4
Ambience: 4.5
Culinary Innovation: 4
Food Quality: 4
Cocktail Program: 4.5
Wine List: 4
Beer List: 4
Value: 3


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