From the sea-kissed environs of La Jolla’s Marine Room to the cloud-adjacent penthouse-esque Bertrand at Mister A’s in Bankers Hill and every beachside eatery in between, there are plenty of restaurants that get a ton of much-deserved play for their stunning views. This is one of the country’s most beautiful coastal cities after all.
But here’s the catch—almost every one of those views looks out onto the ocean. The Pacific is lovely, but in my humble, native San Diegan opinion, the prettiest thing to fix one’s gaze on is San Diego itself. This is the view that serves as a fine backdrop and accoutrement all its own at Mistral, the fine dining restaurant at Loews Coronado Bay Resort. While it's worth the trip in its own right, the intricate and creative farm-to-table cuisine of chef Patrick Ponsaty is still the star of the show.
A French chef with style reminiscent of his homeland and local roots stretching back to Bernard O’s and El Bizcocho in its heyday, Ponsaty has been working the local, sustainable angle since before these adjectives were buzzwords. As such, he is ahead of the curve and his peers when it comes to crafting top level cuisine out of our indigenous bounty.
That much is proven in stunning fashion by an appetizer on the new spring menu that spotlights a singular vegetable uprooted from nearby Suzie’s Organic Farm in Imperial Beach—a tree trunk-thick white asparagus served with a duo of smoked fish and a lavish sauce rife with more sevruga caviar than should be legal. This dish, with its exquisite range of flavors—earthen, salt, smoke, sea—and the perfectly-leveled interplay Ponsaty achieved between them, was one of the top ten dishes I’ve tasted in San Diego. It’s a must-have for diners looking to get a bite of some of the best gourmet cuisine in our coastal berg.
The rest of the menu, by and large, follows the upscale model without yielding to the classic comfort trend that’s taken over our dining scene in light of the tight economy. This is refreshing, even if the prices aren’t.
They, too, are largely intact (though lower than they would have been in the free-spending mid-2000s), but the food is worth the splurge. Mind you, that’s straight from the mouth of one of the world’s biggest cheapskates.
Among the starters that proved particularly memorable for said cheapskate was a one-by-three-inch Lego-like brick smoked eel and foie gras mousse topped with thinly sliced apples that had been torched brûlée-style. Though petite, it was rich and featured three distinctly different textures in one layered bite. Throw on the vegetal pepperiness of accompanying arugula leaves and, much like the asparagus, you have a unique symphony of flavors.
As you’d expect from an oceanside eatery, there is a great deal of seafood on the menu, and it's lovely, but I found myself most enamored with Ponsaty’s inventive accompaniments. For instance, a Santa Barbara blue prawn is split in half and steamed (major props for such a nice lobster-like presentation), but I couldn’t get enough of the tender house-made cannelloni stuffed with smooth, flavorsome black truffle ricotta. Scallops and clams are beautifully cooked and paired with nicely melted leeks and baby fennel in one entrée, but it was chef’s Meyer lemon foam that stuck with me as a differentiator.
As far as other mains go, the duck breast is cooked to a perfect crimson color and an elk rib chop finds fine and multiple levels of sweet harmony with Port wine-poached pears and a chocolate poivrade sauce that is incredibly well suited for this gamey offering. But there’s more deliciousness waiting beyond the savory curtain.
It’s important to note that Ponsaty is also a French-trained pastry chef who’s been making his own desserts for some time. And he’s damn good at it and putting together really special treats. A scan of the dessert menu is enough to bring on a state of indecision akin to mental paralysis. There’s so much to choose from and everything sounds good. I’m happy to report that you really can’t go wrong.
A finisher called Milk Chocolate Velvet delivers on the texture its name implies, courtesy of an Earl Grey tea-flavored mousse. A salted caramel ice cream sings with sinful sweetness as it cuts the tartness and warmth of the plumped up golden apple tarte tartin. But if it’s chocolate you came for, it’s chocolate you’ll get with Bisou au Chocolat. Billed as a “French Kiss from Chef Patrick,” this decadent offering is about doubling the pleasure for chocoholics with a round enrobed in bitter chocolate ganache and a rich chocolate sorbet served in a praline cup. It’s over the top and the type of endnote you’ll want/need to save room for if you plan on downing the whole thing. A worthy pursuit, indeed.
If there were missteps I came across at Mistral, they were minimal, like the elk chop being a bit dry (alas, ‘tis the nature of elk and other lean game meats) or one sauce, an orange blossom mousse, that, tasting and feeling almost exactly like the namesake drink at Orange Julius, had no place on any plate anywhere (unless maybe it was paired with something vanilla—gelato or panna cotta—on the dessert menu). But with so much spot-on prep and execution, well over 95 percent of the meal was aces.
While the food is worth the price, there’s nothing wrong with getting a break. Mistral offers a three-course price-fixed menu for two featuring dishes both on and off the menu for $58. Tax and tip is not included in that, but luckily, the stunning views (of the city and Ponsaty’s pretty plates) are available gratis.
- City: Coronado
- Phone: (619) 424-4000
- Address: 4000 Coronado Bay Road