For many years, when we flew into San Diego from Wisconsin, our first stop was the landmark restaurant, Top of the Market, right on San Diego Bay. It was always the place to convince us that we had really left the chilly climes of the great white north behind and arrived in the warm, welcoming arms of California on the shimmering Pacific. We usually found a table on the second-floor deck overlooking the harbor and relished exquisite California seafood along with the spectacular views from Point Loma to the Coronado Bridge. We were so entranced with Southern California that now we live here and are still in awe of the many bounties of the area, including Top of the Market.
So on a recent Sunday night we were eagerly anticipating a tasting of Executive Chef Ivan Flowers’ new tasting menu. Joining my husband, Todd, and me were wine connoisseur and culinary writer, Linda Kissam, world traveler and novelist, Alan Kissam, and radio celebrity, Andrew Harris, well known for his “SoCal Restaurant Show” on AM 830 KLAA. You might expect this to be a hard group to impress, but we were all tremendously impressed with the Chef’s innovative and delicious dishes.
The interior of the restaurant is welcoming and upscale with warm teak paneling. We were seated at a lovely round table with beautiful views of the USS Midway Museum, Coronado and downtown. It’s no surprise that Top of the Market was recently named by the San Diego Union-Tribune as one of the city’s top 25 scenic restaurants.
Chef Flowers came to Top of the Market last May after an already stellar 25-year culinary career. High points of his background include owning award-winning Fournos restaurant in Sedona, Arizona, and being Executive Chef at the four-star L’Auberge de Sedona. He also created wonderful cuisine in Scottsdale at T. Cooks at the Royal Palms and the Phoenician’s Mary Elaine’s. He received his degree in culinary arts and restaurant management from Le Cordon Bleu SCI Culinary Institute.
Along with his extensive experience, Chef Flowers brings his passion and culinary philosophy to Top of the Market. While savoring his food, we had a chance to talk with the Chef who emphasized his approach of flavor dictating plating. When creating a dish, he says he always asks himself: “How can I make this dish the most delicious for guests?” He compared preparing food to being an artist for the palette. His passion for his cooking came through when he described serving guests as “putting your soul on the plate.”
Our seven-course menu was a sampling of a new tasting menu to be available soon at Top of the Market. Each course was accompanied by a nicely paired wine chosen and presented by the restaurant’s knowledgeable and personable sommelier, Anne Estrada. After sampling warm bread dipped in spinach puree, we enjoyed the following delectable and beautifully presented dishes:
Lobster Bisque Espresso with Porcini Infusion: As the chef instructed, our first step was to shoot the tasty, briny Beausoleil oyster and then drink the smooth, flavorful soup out of a shot glass. This special treat whetted our appetites and was the perfect introduction to the fabulous feast to come. The accompanying wine was a 2009 Gramona “Gran Cava” from Barcelona. Our sparkling sips of this crispy, fruity Cava enhanced both the oyster and the soup.
Trilogy Petite: This attractive appetizer trio featured melt-in-your-mouth Hamachi with jalapeno jam and limoncello vinegar; Faux Calamari, which was actually a unique, specially prepared trumpet mushroom dish accented with lemon, garlic and parmigiano; and tender, mellow Yellowfin subtly flavored with mango and drops of wasabi. This dish was paired with one of our favorite wines of the evening, a floral, elegant Curran Grenache Blanc, a Spanish varietal from the Santa Ynez Valley.
Fresh Black Ink Linguine: Mixed with this dark, rich linguine were Mazatlan prawns, scallops, calamari and baby potatoes topped by a Ximenez vinegar scampi sauce. This rich mix of flavors and textures was luscious and was enriched even more by a fruity 2010 Margerum (M5), a complex bold blend from Santa Barbara.
Crispy Skin Whitefish with Black Truffle Caviar: The savory whitefish dish was served with smoky Pequillo peppers, cider-glazed cipollini onions and pancetta with baby spinach in an herbed lobster Rose sauce. An ideal match was Temecula Valley’s Hart Winery’s 2009 Driveway Red, a limited release Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet.
We then took a short break in our ongoing feast with a refreshing Intermezzo of Cabernet sorbet with lime.
Roasted Rack of Lamb with Garlic Basil Persillade: This rich Australian lamb was full of flavor accented by a confit of tomatoes, garlicky trumpet mushrooms, and baby artichokes with a peppercorn demi glace. With this dish we really enjoyed Ehret Family Winery’s 2007 “Bella’s Blend” from the Knights Valley in Sonoma. This blend of Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, which was full of dark berry and chocolate tastes, was the biggest wine of the night and perfect with our most intensely flavored dish.
Our special dessert was a Valrhona Apple Strudel drizzled with a chocolate and caramel sauce. It was perfectly paired with a scrumptious 1982 Graham’s Porto that deepened the sweet tastes of the dessert.
Needless to say, we were happily satiated after this wonderful sampling of such delicious dishes. The good news is that a similar tasting menu will be available for Top of the Market guests in mid March at reasonable prices—$85 for six courses or $125 for six courses with four wine pairings. There is something special about letting the chef choose and prepare a variety of dishes that work well together along with nicely matched wines.
On the lower level below Top of the Market is the Fish Market, a more casual seafood restaurant with an oyster bar as well as a first-rate sushi bar and a retail fish market. Both restaurants obtain a significant portion of their famously fresh seafood from their own federally-inspected and certified seafood facility, Farallon Fisheries, located in San Francisco. We noted that a special Valentine’s Day menu will be available. It’s hard to imagine a more romantic setting for this special day.
The Top of the Market and the Fish Market are open seven days a week for both lunch and dinner and are located at 750 N. Harbor Drive. Phone: 619-232-3474 for reservations at Top of the Market.