Del Mar staple Pacifica Del Mar has been through a lot over the past two years. Installation of a swank new bar, multiple menu revamps coinciding with a rotating quartet of chefs, and the loss of upscale neighbor Flavor Del Mar. Yet, through it all, for more than two decades, Pacifica Del Mar has remained a favorite among Del Martians and a draw for neighboring foodies. That’s no small feat in today’s economy. But the staff at Pacifica are eager to trade in “consistency” for “perseverance” on their list of attributes. The 2012 addition of executive chef Stephanie O’Mary-Berwald has them well on their way to doing so.
A chef with lineage spanning south to Peru and a résumé; citing Todd English’s Olives, O’Mary-Berwald incorporates touches of her heritage as well as techniques picked up at her vocational posts. The former is most evident and obvious in her Peruvian ceviche. The fish changes (winter’s fluke has been subbed out for halibut on the current spring menu), but the flavor remains the same. Bracing acidity rushes the palate while lending enveloping brightness to chunks of fresh fish while sturdy kernels of choclo corn provide an interesting added textural element.
But O’Mary-Berwald is no South American one-trick pony. In fact, the majority of her cuisine is based around fusion of Mediterranean and Asian ingredients. Garlicky shrimp are provided a sharp counterpoint in the form of a kimchi yogurt sauce, while in another shellfish preparation, plump tiger prawns, are mounted atop Chinese udon noodles that positively melt into a vibrant, straightforwardly Italian tomato sauce that would make nonna proud.
Mussels are ubiquitous on starter menus these days, but Pacifica’s are perhaps the best and most inventive in the county thanks to the addition of succulent shredded duck confit and a decadent white wine-garlic sauce bolstered by Cognac. Use bread or, if need be, discarded shells, to slurp up every last bit of that rich and ever so delicious accoutrement. Another popular treat, beet salad, is deconstructed into a plated app with soft Bucheron cheese and crunchy almond brittle, adding both ingenuity and flavor.
Pacifica’s many longtime fans smartly remain true to the signature sugar-spiced salmon with Chinese beans, garlic mash, and mustard sauce. They prove as timeless as juicy steaks dressed with gorgonzola butter and truffle demi-glace, and pristine sea fare like ahi in ginger-soy butter, soy-glazed sea bass with sticky rice in green coconut curry, and mahi-mahi given a top layer of sweet sun-dried tomato puree atop a hash of crab and sweet potato.
The top floor real estate and double-shot view of downtown Del Mar and the ocean is a perfect setting for edible artistry. Pacifica’s been searching for the right artiste for some time. In O’Mary-Berwald, they have someone with a keen and logical palate and a lot of promise. Here’s hoping she paints a pristinely plated future for herself and this beloved gem of an eatery. (858.792.0476, www.pacificadelmar.com) Brandon Hernández
Photography by Vincent Knakal