Last summer, the iconic Hotel del Coronado lent a sweeping facelift to its fine dining enclave, using its oceanfront setting to drive home a new Mediterranean identity conceived by Clique Hospitality. The result is Serẽa, a lovely indoor-outdoor sanctuary bathed in natural light by day and offering low-lit sophistication in the evening.
Stepping in from The Del’s bustling tourist tides transports guests to a simpler locale. An iced counter displays the day’s oceanic bounty — whole fish, oysters, sea urchin, lobsters both standard and spiny — providing an appetizing preview of what’s to come. Executive chef JoJo Ruiz (who splits time at downtown’s acclaimed Lionfish) spends sun-up at the docks procuring the finest local sea fare take from fishermen he has worked with for years. It is the key to Serẽa’s across-the-board quality.
Options abound for enjoying Ruiz’s thoughtfully procured bounty, the freshness of which comes practically untouched in shellfish platters stocked with oysters, Mexican blue shrimp, Maine lobster, and crab, served chilled or wood-roasted. Mix-and-match connoisseurship can be had by the full or half-dozen with oysters plucked from Baja and both the stateside coasts. And, a variety of fish and shellfish (which change based on availability) come flash-fried or grilled whole then deboned and served up tableside.
But Serẽa is a chef-driven restaurant and Ruiz’s creativity with a Med-centric palate is on full display. A quartet of sashimi plates offers pristine, freshly sliced fish enhanced by enlightened flavor combinations. Brilliant for the winter season is Baja-caught hiramasa dressed with sweet dried cherries, tart lime juice, cashews, cilantro, and bright mint. When available, San Diego sea urchin with charred scallion relish and a touch of citrus is a must.
Other seafood starters of note include seemingly standard fried calamari punched up with spicy saffron aioli, pine nuts, capers, and lemon; and local halibut ceviche with avocado in a coconut-citrus broth. Lobster croquettes topped with reserve caviar and beef carpaccio with Manchego and 20-year-old balsamic bring the luxe, but the simplicity of Mediterranean cuisine is equally celebrated care of patatas bravas (fried potatoes) with garlic aioli, gigante beans with marinated feta, and charcoal-grilled octopus with sumac and chimichurri.
Main dishes are less plentiful but plenty hearty. Local swordfish is steamed en papillote (sealed in parchment paper), making for a delicate yet steaky, fennel- and oregano-scented delight. Salmon is anointed with sumac-infused yogurt and pistachio aillade (nut-infused garlic sauce). But a New Orleans-inspired baked lobster served in a Creole-spiced broth studded with shrimp, andouille sausage, potatoes, corn, and peas outdoes them all.
As with the appetizers, meat and poultry entrees are available, but to eschew seafood at Serẽa would border on sinful. Those in search of it — and a quiet retreat at one of San Diego’s most popular tourist destinations — would do well to drop anchor here. 619.435.6611, sereasandiego.com Brandon Hernández
Culinary Innovation: 3
Food Quality: 4
Wine List: 4
Craft Cocktail Program: 4