Finding Fortune at Kitchen 1540
Just last month, we featured Juniper & Ivy’s Richard Blais, a Georgian chef making his mark on San Diego’s culinary scene. Thirty short but delicious days later, our spotlight is firmly affixed on another Peach State transplant — Brandon Fortune, the new exec toque at L’Auberge Del Mar’s Kitchen 1540, whose arrival includes infusions of his Southern upbringing complete with homages to his grandmother and excerpts from her recipe box.
A bowl of shrimp and grits that looks very close to what one would find below the Mason-Dixon Line is garnished with heirloom popcorn procured from the same place as the premium ground hominy it accompanies — Anson Mills. While its impact on the taste profile is negligible, it takes the dish from mushy to interesting, as does the bold Cajun rubdown the shellfish are subjected to and a West Coast-inspired add-on, chorizo.
While Fortune overtly includes pieces of his heritage throughout the menu, for the most part, his food is in keeping with what regulars at Kitchen 1540 have come to expect — California cuisine with a mixture of classic French and neo-gastronomical flair. The new chef’s fare is in line with his talented predecessors.
A surprisingly hearty bowl of garden fresh ramps and two types of asparagus with a generous dollop of lemon sabayon comes across more as a nod to the Pacific Northwest than anything. Unctuous, cold-smoked Steelhead trout served with hashed browns and blood orange vinaigrette-dressed roasted beets over a smear of zingy blue cheese makes for a delightful, and in no way regionally influenced, starter. And scallops soaking in a shallow bowl of creamy asparagus soup presented with a freshly uncloched billow of wood-scented smoke, come across more as a wink to the chef who inspired them — Thomas Keller of The French Laundry and Per Se fame — than Fortune’s home-cooking matriarch.
On the entrée side, moist sous vide lamb bursts with flavor borne mostly of a rub of charred leek ash that pairs up well with tomatoes given extra dimension courtesy of a toasted cumin vinaigrette. A golden-crusted, pontoon-sized filet of halibut flakes apart into the multi-textured arms of fiddlehead ferns served two ways — sautéed and chicken-fried. The latter — and much of Fortune’s menu — proves you can take the boy out of Georgia, but there’s absolutely no reason to take the Georgia out of the boy. (858.793.6460, www.laubergedelmar.com/kitchen1540) BRANDON HERNÁNDEZ
Photography by Vincent Knakal