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FOODfare: Flavor For Del Mar

Being out of the kitchen was anything but an easy hang for chef Jason Maitland, who made a name for himself in a big way with his forward-thinking fare at Carmel Valley’s Arterra before unceremoniously picking up stakes and trading the limelight of that dining room for a low-profile hiatus that left his fans wondering where he’d resurface. This summer, those backers were abuzz with rumors that his new restaurant, Flavor Restaurant & Lounge would be opening this November and, later, collectively disheartened to learn that a rash of setbacks would delay the eatery’s November 1 grand opening.

Fortunately, like any hero, Maitland was able to power through a myriad of obstacles to open Flavor, which features a tight assemblage of thoughtfully-composed taste combinations built around seasonal ingredients. Pristine proteins like Pacific Oysters, Carlsbad mussels and Kurobuta pork are dressed up courtesy of farmer’s market fresh produce, luxury edibles (saffron, wild mushrooms and truffles) and cultural accents (Asian, Latin and Southwest Americana) while grilled meats (filet mignon, aged bone-in rib eye, rack of lamb) are available in build-your-own-banquet glory where guests select the meats, sauces and sides that match their personal hunger. That same brand of care and inventiveness extends to the dessert menu and a lounge bill of fare that includes almost as many dishes as the dinner menu.

Flavor, Jason Maitland

Eden's crack pot.

Courtesy photo

Knowing how busy he’d be post-open, I caught up with Maitland before Flavor’s debut to ask him a few questions about the new venture and who he is as a chef.

What are you most excited about with Flavor?

“I’m really just excited to serve my food again. I have a really solid group of core guys and we are all chomping at the bit to get back in the kitchen and cook what we want to cook; what we know people will like. I am, of course, thrilled with the location, but I think I’m more excited to see some familiar faces in the dining room & lounge.”

What is Flavor all about?

“The overall idea is to provide great food, wine, spirits and service without breaking guests’ banks or coming across as too ‘stuffy.’ We will be a refined casual restaurant, as will be reflected in the food, and our goal is to maintain the highest standards of service.”

What’s your approach to being a leader in the kitchen?

“I am definitely of the new school of chefs concerning kitchen management. I am not a huge yeller or thrower of plates and pans and such. I make a concerted effort to always talk to my cooks and make then understand their mistakes so they don’t happen again, rather than just scaring them into not making the same mistake twice.”

What is the favorite part of your job?

“The most fun part of my job is seeing an idea become an actual dish. Many times chefs will conceive an idea for a dish or a technique, but when it comes to the experimenting and figuring out how exactly to make the idea come to fruition, the idea can tend to fizzle or be changed. I love when I come up with something that I have never seen before—doesn’t mean I’m the first to do it, just means we hadn’t crossed paths yet.”

1555 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar, 858-755-3663

A New Beginning

Drink…eat…dance. If the food served by chef Scotty Wagner is anywhere near as good as the fare that earned his Chile Co. Catering high praise, the first two of those three easy-to-follow directives will be enough to inspire the third for visitors at Eden, Hillcrest’s newest nook for nosh-centric nightlife. Having just opened, it’s impossible to report on a menu that’s four-pages long (not counting the extra page devoted to Eden’s mixology menu, which is packed with creative cocktails and an eclectic “Five Elements Martini Bar”), but overall, guests can expect a rogue’s gallery of reimagined “shared temptations” like deconstructed nachos with heirloom tomato salsa and chimayo chile fondue and “off the hook” ceviche laced with passionfruit juice, served with blood orange-basil sorbet and described as “culinary LSD” plus unique entrées including flaky pepper biscuits smothered in Baja lobster gravy, Jamaican jerk chicken with pepperpot caramel and grilled pineapple salsa and garam masala-rubbed pork tenderloin with roasted pepper sofrito, plaintain hash and tomatillo poppers. Wagner’s culinary point of view comes across as frenzied fusion roughly fifteen minutes ahead of the here-and-now. It remains to be seen whether this move will translate to crossover success for the caterer-turned-restaurant chef or merely fifteen minutes in the here-and-now. But fear not fans of off-site, client-specific sustenance, even if he does make it big in the resto industry, Wagner still aims to operate Chile Co. with the same passion that nabbed him Caterer of the Year through several sources in 2009 and 2010. 1202 University Avenue, Hillcrest, 619-269-3336

Burger Lounge Hillcrest

Burger Lounge in Hillcrest.

Courtesy photo

Beefing Up

The news that Burger Lounge recently opened its fifth location—this one in Hillcrest—is likely to elicit a rather passive response from local foodies. And that is a testament to the quiet success of this homegrown hamburger chain and its undoubted entrenchment in San Diego’s dining landscape. Specializing in grass-fed burgers and arguably the best vegetarian burger in the county (a combination of quinoa, brown rice and vegetables that’s packed with just as much, if not more flavor than its carne counterparts), Burger Lounge was one of the first businesses to earn certification through the Green Restaurant Association and a link in the chain of food service establishments to prove to San Diegans that conscious-minded food comes through as admirably on the palate as it does one’s conscience…and doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg!

406 University Avenue, Hillcrest, 619-487-1183

The Same Basic Premise

URBN pizza

URBN pizza.

Courtesy photo

Since rolling up the garage-style doors to its no-frills warehouse-turned-combo bar and pizzeria, BASIC has been packing in locavores and game-going Friar faithful. Their business model is simple—New Haven-style pizza, salads and an uncomplicated yet sating beverage program with reasonable prices across the board. It’s proven so successful that, earlier this month, a new permutation of the franchise touched down in a community perfectly suited for it…San Diego’s epicenter for all things understatedly en vogue, North Park. Dubbed URBN, this sophomore spot is much like its predecessor, but will aim to offer a wider variety of dining options. To that end, it already features a much-expanded beverage list that’s a great deal craftier than BASIC’s beer-wise and also features a plethora of hard alcohol options. But the primary draw (as it should be) is still the pizza. For those whose pizza knowledge cuts off at, I know I really like it, a New Haven-style pie features a crust that’s ultra-thin and crispy thanks to coal-firing at extreme temperatures. This East Coast take on ‘za drew raves from East Villagers and, so far, has been just as well received by mid-city denizens.

3085 University Avenue, North Park, 619-255-7300

That’s Week!

While many a writer might cower and ask for a pass when faced with the prospect of turning in 10 consecutive days’ worth of coverage on something as immense and incredible as San Diego Beer Week, this journalist (and beer aficionado/fanatic) says, “A week off? I don’t need no week off!” So, next week, you can look forward to daily reports on the best of the second annual San Diego Beer Week and a fresh new FOODfare column complete with a review of one of my favorite new restaurants, a tasty educational event calling together a consortium of culinarians and more Thanksgiving menus than you can shake a drumstick at. Sobriety be damned, you’re getting your

weekly food fix!