RESTAURANT REVIEW: Blue Point Coastal Cuisine
By now, the term molecular gastronomy has become widespread enough to merit induction into Webster’s vocabluarian volumes. Many chefs around the world are dabbling to varying degrees in this culinary style, which utilizes new-wave cooking techniques such as sous vide and flash freezing plus an assortment of alginates, chemicals and stabilizers to create food that juts off course from traditional restaurant offerings.
A local chef who has embraced this medium is Daniel Barron, a toque newly imported from Costa Mesa by the Cohn Restaurant Group to breathe new life into one of their highest profile downtown spots, Blue Point Coastal Cuisine. A restaurant with a history that’s lengthy by San Diego standards, Blue Point built its reputation off seafood-driven cuisine in a once-modern steakhouse environment behind a clientele consisting largely of tourists and conventioneers. With the influx of steadily bettering competition that’s touched down in the Gaslamp over recent years, it became clear an update would be necessary to keep up with the Diegans. In this case, that meant bringing in a guy to stand the menu on its head and, for better or for worse, that’s exactly what chef Barron has done.
Blue Point’s menu is still built around fish, shellfish and a highly-red selection of meats, but every dish features Barron’s uniquely imaginative touches. There’s no denying the fact that he is extremely imaginative, but after recently sampling an assortment of his dishes, it seems his creativity is almost as much a liability as it is an asset. Most of his flavor combos are sound and most of his ideas make sense on a conceptual level, but few of his dishes come through as well as one would hope or expect.
An exemplary case in point is his banana cream pie desert. You hear Barron talk about how his grandma used to make hers with peanut butter sauce. He describes her cooking it on the stove top and you can envision a thick ribbony stream of nutty decadence being poured over a thick wedge of creamy custard topped with heavenly clouds of freshly-whipped cream. Your mouth begins to water and you start antsily grabbing at your fork and knife in anticipation. Then the dish arrives and you’re treated to a tan up-ended rectangle of gelatinized confited banana faux custard struggling to hold up two bruléed banana slices (mine fell over) and your tasty food memories dissipate into thoughts of what could—or should—have been.
The jiggly plank is crustless. A smallish mound of pulverized vanilla wafers fills in less than amply while an identically sized anthill of chemically powdered peanut butter plays second banana to granny’s saucy stuff-of-dreams confection. The powder, once placed on the tongue, instantly reverts to the flavor and texture of peanut butter, which is a nice surprise, and the dish itself tastes pretty good, but also raises the question that so often accompanies tasting forays into this new and mostly uncharted dining trend—what’s the point?
Innovation is a wonderful thing. It’s what humankinds’ greatest triumphs are built on, but culinarily, innovation for the sake of being innovative creates victories that are more personal for the chef and lost on the diner. If a futuristically reimagined dish comes across just the way the chef envisioned (as Barron’s does), but leaves one longing for the classic dish it’s based on, how much of a success is that, really? Not much of one and certainly not one worthy of one’s hard-earned money. And what about instances where the dish is not a success or, worse yet, is an all-out failure? Then it’s just bad food and everybody knows what that’s good for…nothing. Sadly, more dishes came across as subpar, some because of cooking 101-style mistakes and other because the dish itself was just a terrible idea.
An appetizer of lobster lollipops (lobster meat puréed then chemically “glued” back together, rolled, put on a stick, fried and coated in crushed corn nuts) had a nice sweetness but left a lasting salty burn in the back of mine and my guest’s throats. We assumed over-salted corn nuts were too blame, but when a fish entrée came garnished with whole corn nuts, they were under-seasoned to the point of blandness. Speaking of that dish, it featured a slab of pork belly which had been sous vide for 20 hours. Such a preparation figures to make for a fork-tender end result, but we could barely get our knives through a lacquered top layer and the meat underneath was overdone. Fortunately, a second appearance of pork belly, this time in an omelet encapsulated within a buttery pot-pie style crust came across better…but still a bit over. That appetizer was actually quite delicious, exhibiting a great balance of nice flavors and textures as well as a guajillo chile sauce that was rich and pleasantly spicy. In the saddest shortfall of the evening, the dish was served on a cold plate that rendered the lovely sauce chilly by the time it got to us.
Then there was the most perplexing offering of the night, yay, the year—a wooden two-by-four fitted with a metal clip holding a piece of hiramasa rendered invisible under a bush of root beer-flavored cotton candy served with a small plastic syringe of lemon juice. Directions for this dish stated both items were to be consumed in immediate succession, but even following that decree to the letter made for a dish that tastes like candy on the palate and nothing else. The fish is neutralized by sugar and that’s just bad form.
But it wasn’t all bad. Service is solid, the cocktail list exhibits shine and flare and simply cooked dishes come across nicely. A short rib that had been sous vide for 60 hours until it reached medium rare tender perfection surrendered to my silverware and my thankful appetite. The nicely-cooked meat was made even better by an avocado purée that brought a tart counterpoint to the beefy, potato- and demi-accompanied dish. It’s no coincidence that this, the best dish I’ve come across at Blue Point, features the least number of Cooking Force 3000 touches and, in the end, goes to show every bit as much as the night’s low points, why, where this restaurant is concerned, mo’ (as in molecular gastronomy) makes for less.
- City: San Diego
- Phone: (619) 233-6623
- Name: Blue Point Coastal Cuisine
- Address: 565 5th Avenue