With the opening of Sea & Smoke in Del Mar's Flower Hill shopping center, Executive Chef and owner Matt Gordon isn't just expanding his restaurant empire, he's also making a concerted effort to create a different experience than the one diners have at his two other restaurants, Urban Solace in North Park and Moonlight Lounge in Encinitas.
The 7,000 square-foot space designed by Bells & Whistles features several distinct dining areas, including a formal dining room, outdoor patios, and bar that's separated from the main dining area by a few steps. Gordon intends the American-style brassiere to act as an all-day living/dining room for locals—somewhere they can come for breakfast on the patio, a business meeting at the bar, drinks after work, or late-night bites.
Gordon and his team (including chef de cuisine Billy Geiger, sous chefs Michael Welch and Andrew Reyes, and pastry chef Jeff Bonilla) wanted to challenge themselves on the culinary front. Instead of replicating proven winners from the other restaurants like cinnamon rolls or cheddar and chive biscuits, Gordon says creating an entirely new menu was a way for the kitchen to think creatively.
To that end, even though the centerpiece of the kitchen is a wood and gas-fired oven, no pizzas will emerge from it. "We're not doing anything remotely related to pizza—even though it would be easy to and we could probably do it well, it's too obvious," says Gordon. Instead, there's a selection of wood-fired meats and seafood, meant to be paired with sides like sweet corn skillet bread, charred green beans, and sweet and sour heirloom carrots.
"We always try to balance sweet, savory, salty, crunchy, soft, hot, and cold. So with that in mind, each dish can stand on its own, and there are very few flavors that won't intermingle," explains Gordon. "All of [the sides] are balanced dishes in and of themselves."
The only set entrees on the menu are the vegetarian plates. Gordon says he wanted to be as creative as possible with these dishes, instead of taking "the easy route" by suggesting that vegetarians build a meal out of side dishes (even though only one of the 10 options contains meat). "Vegetarians are an under-served market in San Diego...our goal is to have some really thought-out dishes that aren't just grilled vegetables with rice," Gordon says.
Sea & Smoke2690 Via De La Valle, No. D210, Del Mar, CA 92014 (map); 858-925-8212; seaandsmoke.com
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her San Diego food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax