A Fresh Perspective
Though shorter in stature, the historic U.S. Grant Hotel stands tall among the skyscrapers of downtown San Diego. Famous as a venerable lodging for historic figures, celebrities, and the crème de la crème, it has also served as a stopover for many talented chefs manning its upscale eatery, the Grant Grill. Recently, a new chef de cuisine was added to the lineage. Hailing from Chicago with several years of experience gained via Quality Social, Whisknladle, and Prepkitchen, Sam Burman has a flair for foraging for the best Southern California’s farmers’ markets have to offer, and bringing familiar flavors to the table in unexpected combinations and presentations.
The most stunning example of Burman’s offerings is his “Flavors of Paella” dish. The chef and his kitchen staff have a soft spot for paella, but endeavored to present it in a lighter format well suited for the appetizer section of the menu. So, rather than seafood-studded, saffron-infused rice, diners receive perfectly cooked mussels, clams, and shrimp over a streak of piquillo pepper sauce — which comes across as a tasty tomato-bell pepper hybrid — topped with an airy cloud of saffron foam. The latter allows for paella’s primary flavor component to coat the proteins without adding weight. Meanwhile, smoky slices of chorizo and puffed rice add complementary flavor and texture respectively.
Perfectly pink squares of albacore meld with a similarly delicate fennel and apple slaw topped with plump, unctuous uni while the flavors of autumn are presented in breakfast form with veal sweetbreads fried in a tempura batter of carnaroli rice then glazed with maple syrup and served over squash ravioli with bacon, walnuts, and pears. While a touch too sweet for my taste, it still feels like a warm hug on a chilly, red leaf-strewn day.
The mains section of the menu changes with great regularity with the catch of the day, each of which gets fresh, seasonal touches, such as Hawaiian opah with tatsoi (a mustardy, leafy green) and wax beans in a warm chamomile-based broth. And the more carnivorous will appreciate the recent addition of white Pekin duck breast in apple dashi, or the most surprising offering at this white linen, “Phil’s Backyard BBQ.” No, it’s not a collaboration with locally famous Phil’s BBQ. This sweet, spicy dish — a heightened take on barbecue featuring a root beer, ketchup, and ginger-based sauce applied to Flintstonian ribs, tenderloin, and fall-apart pork shoulder, that even features house-made beans and slaw — was developed by an eponymous member of Burman’s kitchen team.
Creativity overflows into the dessert menu, which includes a delicious autumnally spiced panna cotta that, garnished with glazed corn flakes, tastes like extra-special Cinnamon Toast Crunch, as well as a petite banana cream pie served with dots of avocado mousse. That accoutrement was inspired by Burman’s one-year-old, who consumes lots of bananas and avocados. The garnish tastes very much like guacamole, but when consumed in the proper ratio with the confection, makes for a brilliant salty-sweet balance. It’s hard to find anything mundane, making for another burst of new life at this venerable venue. (619.744.2077, www.grantgrill.com) BRANDON HERNANDEZ
Photography by Vincent Knakal