If you're looking for a nice little getaway, but don't have the time, just head on over to Café del Rey in Marina del Rey and you'll feel like you're on a mini vacation. With its gorgeous views of the yacht-filled marina and its warm, inviting modern décor, Café del Rey offers the perfect setting to dine, making you feel like you've been whisked away to a beautiful resort. The best part is, the atmosphere is elegant without being pretentious, making for a perfectly relaxing experience.
And with Executive Chef Daniel Roberts at the helm, you're in perfect hands. After having written so many reviews, I'm often asked what my favorite restaurant is, and I'm usually hard-pressed for an answer. I think I finally have it. Listening to Chef Daniel speak, you would think he's an artist or scientist, the way in which he meticulously describes the elaborate process that goes into making each dish. It really is no wonder his food truly is amazing. And what's most impressive is he didn't graduate from some prestigious culinary school...no, his talent is au naturel. He attended the school of hard knocks as he likes to call it. But what better way to start learning your way around the kitchen than with your Italian mother and grandmother? We could probably thank grandma for teaching Daniel how to craft the perfect handmade pasta, just one of his many talents.
Boasting 21 years of experience, Chef Daniel got his professional start tossing pizza dough at Sbarro's Pizza in New York's Times Square. From there, he became a dishwasher and prep cook at a seafood restaurant in his native Queens, then moved on to a restaurant in Manhattan, honing his skills and learning something new at each place. After owning a restaurant with his brother in Queens, he decided to venture out to L.A. in search of new culinary opportunities, and we're lucky he did. He worked at Joe's in Venice, then Axe, also on Abbott Kinney, moved on to Dodger Stadium, followed by Staples Center delighting sports fans with his creations. From there, he went on to become Executive Chef at the Mondrian Hotel, including Asia de Cuba, not an easy feat having to please the palates of many celebrities and L.A. visitors. After four years there, he moved on to Portofino in Redondo Beach, finally landing at Café del Rey in October 2010. How's that for an impressive resumé?
It's not just on paper though. Chef Daniel has all the skills to back it up. I was lucky enough to get to experience his fall and winter menus and was equally delighted with both. Lucky for you, some of his fabulous items are on the menu all-year round, like my absolute favorite appetizer from the Raw Bar, the irresistible Wagyu Beef Tartar...wow!! This dish is so exquisitely delicious, it really is beyond words. Made in Chef Daniel's "picadillo style" this exceptional beef tartar is prepared with only the finest Wagyu beef, accompanied by black currants, almonds, olives, shallots, and harissa vinaigrette. It is the most amazing blend of flavors and textures I have ever tasted, combining sweet with savory and spicy, crunchy and soft...your taste buds will no doubt rejoice with this one. Just writing about it again makes me want to head on over for more. It's served with delectable housemade potato guafrette.
Another delectable appetizer from the Raw Bar is the House Cured Salmon. Chef Daniel goes through a painstaking process to create this culinary delight, curing the salmon in cheese cloth for three days. Served atop a small and fluffy wheat blini (thin pancake), the house cured salmon is fresh and exquisite with lemon creme fraiche, caviar and micro greens on top...a definite must for salmon lovers!
Moving on to some of the other starters, the Burrata Salad is absolutely amazing! It is probably one of the freshest salads I've ever enjoyed, tasting as though you were eating it straight out of the garden, with a splendid herb mix, fresh arugula, hot house tomato, blood orange to give it a nice citrus kick and some saba made from sweet grape juice to balance it out. With fresh burrata cheese swirled around the salad and a wonderful crostini beautifully enveloping the salad, this really does look like art, and everything blends together like a masterpiece.
Next, I got a taste of the Agnolotti, ravioli typical of the Piedmont region of Italy, made with small pieces of flattened pasta dough. These are beautifully handcrafted, appearing like fluffy pillows filled with lemon ricotta cheese, garlic sautéed spinach, brown butter and reggiano cheese. If you like lemon, you'll love these. I had to limit myself to make room for the main courses though.
One of the most popular dishes, Basted Salmon, basted in olive oil and butter, laying atop a savory capellini pasta cake with roasted eggplant, dill creme fraiche and garlic chive oil is fantastic, again the combination of textures and flavors marrying beautifully to add an original, heartier twist to a salmon dish, not often seen. We can thank Chef Daniel's creativity again for that one. The great thing is you can find Basted Salmon on the current menu, as well, with some slight variations, such as sautéed mushrooms & haricot vert, jerez vinaigrette and tzatziki, still atop the capellini cake, of course.
The Sea Bass is also a wonderful dish, which you can find on the winter menu, as well. Served with brussel sprouts, green apple, cippolini onion, pancetta, smashed potato and white wine nage, it's the perfect fish dish for a chilly night, as Chef Daniel has taken great care to add some heartier notes that accompany this beautiful, flaky white fish to perfection.
Next, the heavier dish awaited, the Veal Saltimboca, which was absolutely scrumptious, packed with flavor! Prepared with prosciutto, rubbed with sage, mozzarella, sautéed spinach, sage, white wine and shallots, you won't get enough. Served with lemon ricotta gnocchi just puts this dish over the top! You will find a Veal Piccata on the current menu, which is sure to be just as delicious. However, you may be able to find the Veal Saltimboca as a special on a given night.
Moving on to the winter menu, which you will currently find at Café del Rey, the Carrot Ginger Soup is probably one of the best I've ever had. With a bisque-like texture, topped with corriander creme fraiche and basil oil, it truly is the perfect winter soup...highly recommended! And the Eggplant Panzanella salad with pickled onion, bocconcini mozarella, prosciutto, grape tomato and toasted focaccia is the perfect winter salad. Offering an irresistible blend of fresh, savory ingredients with the crunchy toasted focaccia bread, you won't leave any on the plate. It's a brilliant way to winterize a salad.
On the winter starters menu you'll find housemade Agnolotti again, but this time of mushroom & truffle. You really can't get any better than sautéed mushrooms, brown butter, grana parmesan and truffle, which as you know, just makes everything better. Or how about some Steamed Mussels to start your meal? Served in a sauce made with prosciutto, white wine, shallot, garlic, basil, tomato, it's so delicious you'll want to drink it after you're done with the mussels, so you'll be grateful for the grilled baguette to dip in the sauce. Or as Chef Daniel says, just use the mussel shells to scoop up the sauce, the way it's meant to be enjoyed.
Moving onto the main courses, all I can say is wow! They were all amazing. Starting with the Dover Sole, served as two deliciously fresh fillets perfectly coiled up in a beautiful presentation, atop the most delectable lemon and mint scented Israeli cous cous, with a blood orange and watercress salad for some extra zest, this really is a stellar dish.
I would have to say the dish that most blew me away was the Braised Pork Tagine. Moroccan-inspired, it's a bastion of exotic flavors, with quinoa, medjool dates, pancetta, yam, baby zucchini, cippolini, and corriander creme. The pork is braised so perfectly, it's exquisitely tender and just melts in your mouth. I really can't put into more words how delicious this dish is...you really have to just try it for yourself.
The Hand Cut Black Linguini with lobster doesn't fall too far behind, however. The linguini is made with squid ink to give it a rich, unique flavor, and the fresh Maine lobster is fantastic. Chef Daniel prepares this dish the classic Italian way, using the lobster shell to prepare the lobster white wine cream sauce, adding more of the rich lobster flavor. Blending caramelized fennel, tarragon and white wine, with a pinch of chili flake for some kick, Chef Daniel's lobster white wine cream sauce is superb, making for an incomparable dish.
If you're in the mood for some duck, Chef Daniel's Duck Confit is also a wonderful option, with roasted acorn squash, sautéed faro, black currants, and marcona almonds in a port wine reduction. Performing his magic yet again, Chef Daniel manages to marry a combination of flavors and textures to create the perfect dish. That's really his forté, which is why you can be confident with whatever dish you choose.
Oh, and I can't forget Chef Daniel was kind enough to give us a taste of one of his specialties that will surely get any mouth watering, the Rosemary Brown Sugar Braised Bacon...yes, you read correctly. And it does taste as good as it sounds. If that's not enough bacon for you, how about some Bacon Ice Cream? Made in house, of course, as everything is at Café del Rey, with bacon fat drippings, it is ridiculous! (in the best sense of the word, of course) ;)
There are other great desserts to choose from, if you have any room after all the amazing food. I tried the Chocolate Tower, a decadent chocolate cake made with chocolate hazelnut nutella mousse, chocolate glaze, bing cherry port wine reduction, perfect for any chocolate lover. I also tried the Creme de Casis creme brulée, which offers a nice twist to the classic, with a touch of black currant liqueur, vanilla chantilly creme and a black currant biscotti to top it off.
If you want some coffee with dessert, how about a coffee with some kick, like the Front Row Cappuccino with grand marnier, creme de cacao, espresso and chocolate? It's delicious! Or if you're feeling really bold, go for the Hot Gabriela with Bailey's, Kahlua, Chivas, creme de cacao and cinnamon. It's sure to wake you up!
Café del Rey is currently participating in Dine LA, so take advantage now if you want to enjoy a three-course lunch for just $25 or a three-course dinner for only $45. You really can't beat that. It goes on until February 1st, so don't delay! Café del Rey will also be having a Bourbon pairing dinner from Heaven Hill distilleries for $75 a person on February 7. And if you're looking for somewhere to take your Valentine, there really is no better place. They will be offering a three course prix fixe menu, including a glass of rosé champagne for $75 per person. You can also help out a good cause and make your taste buds happy the entire month of February, when Café del Rey will be offering its "Confections from the Heart" promotion in honor of National Heart Month. Guests can enjoy two heart-happy items, and a percentage of proceeds will benefit the Los Angeles American Heart Association chapter. For $4, guests will enjoy a Truffle Duo package (to take-home or enjoy in-house), and for $12 a glass of the featured red wine and the Truffle Duo.
Café del Rey is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30am-2:30 pm, dinner Monday through Thursday 5:30-10:00 pm, Friday & Saturday 5:30-10:30 pm, and Sunday 5:00-9:30 pm. They offer Happy Hour daily from 4-7 pm and 9 pm to closing, and brunch Saturdays from 11:30am-2:30 pm and Sundays from 10:30am-2:30 pm. Café del Rey is located at 4451 Admiralty Way in Marina del Rey. For reservations call 310-823-6395, and for more information visit their website at www.cafedelreymarina.com or visit their facebook page. Enjoy!