TBL3 at Georges California Modern - La Jolla, CA

Dinner - Tuesday, August 9, 2011

After reading some recent posts from ChuckEats and the ulterior epicure, we realized that we had written off Georges at the Cove prematurely. While the triple-level restaurant's regular menu is relatively staid (albeit solidly executed), one can (with suitable advance notice) enjoy the full extent of the kitchen's talents - an arrangement that stemmed from ChuckEats' correspondence with Executive Chef Trey Foshee. Recently, we had the pleasure of being the first official guests to partake in this new experience, christened TBL3.

The TBL3 experience is named, aptly enough, after Table 3 - one of California Modern's prime window-side four-tops overlooking a stunning vista of the Pacific Ocean. The view over the water as the distant sun sets is breathtaking, matched only by the food directly in front of you.

Amuse - Oyster, grilled fava bean, watermelon salad 
We started with a trio of small bites. The Miyagi oyster was served raw in it's shell, atop a bed of kelp that was redolent of the ocean. The mollusc itself was topped with a ham hock gelee, some Meyer lemon, and a sliver of watermelon radish. It was a beautiful combination - the essence of what an amuse bouche should be. Next, grilled fava beans encased in a "raviolo" of lardo - rich and salty. Finally, to reset the tastebuds, a simple Chino Farms watermelon salad, topped with dehydrated black olives and mint. Bright and fresh - Summer in a spoon.

Seaweed toast
Ricotta, Chino Farms crudité
Unexpectedly, this blew me away. The seaweed bread was full of umami, and served as the perfect base for the creamy ricotta. A veritable vegetable garden (featuring ingredients both fresh and pickled) burst with flavour in my mouth.

Local spot prawn, vegetables "à la Grecque", salted kumquat
The spot prawn presented a gradient of textures from cooked to raw - it had been held by its tail as its head was poached in water. The prawn's sweet flesh was transformed as we sampled it at varying degrees of doneness, and its brain was a supremely delectable finish. The cooking method betrayed the chef de cuisine's Japanese background - or perhaps it was a tribute to the boiled prawn course at elBulli. Vegetables "à la Grecque", typically cooked in acid and olive oil, were instead pickled with kumquats. Their textures were a lovely foil for the creaminess of the spot prawn.

Ginger-cured tomato, aonori, burrata
The sweet tomatoes, kissed with ginger, were served atop a base of blended burrata - think of the creamiest cheese sauce you've ever had, then go one step further. The combination was fascinating - both parts melding together, neither component overpowering the other. For balance, sprinkles of aonori and akajiso leaves (赤紫蘇, or red shiso) added notes of salinity and pepperiness.

Sardine, fig, wild fennel
Two strong flavours battled each other here - the oily fishiness of the sardine, and the heady anise notes from the wild fennel. In between, a sweet fig, perfect in every way (it practically screamed, "This is California!"). It tamed and tempered its companions, tying them together beautifully.

Uni, egg, corn, huitlacoche
The "omelette" (calling it thus seems like a disservice) was fantastic - a soft pillow of egg enveloping super-sweet yellow kernels (nearing the heights of Mirai corn, but with better texture) and briny uni. Still, the true star for me was the corn smut toast. The huitlacoche spread was sweet and intensely earthy, with aromatics superior to summer truffles.

Zucchini, parmesan, basil, hazelnuts
Smoked foie gras torchon
Roasted nectarine, hazelnuts, honey gel, black peppercorn creme fraiche
The beverage paired with this course was bold - Makers Mark served over a St. Germain rock. It worked remarkably well, picking up complementary notes from the nectarine and honey, while balancing the unctuous torchon. Certainly a refreshing change from the usual wine pairing, and one I'd very much like to try again.

Striped bass
Leeks, chanterelles, squid, sake broth
Dry-aged roasted carrots, yogurt, parsley
The first part of a duo entitled "Beef and Carrots in Variation", the carrots had been slow-roasted with the essence of beef. They were earthy and rich, but not salty or heavy - the best of both worlds. Yogurt and parsley were full partners to the carrots, which would have been impossible with the dominance of real meat. Satisfying. Brilliant.

Imperial wagyu à la ficelle
Carrot broth, bone marrow persillade
Next, the roles were reversed as the kitchen presented beef cooked à la ficelle in carrot broth. The wagyu was expectedly tender, but the real wonder here was how the flesh had been completely perfused by the flavour of carrots. On the meat, segments of gelatinous bone marrow were seasoned with persillade - delicious but almost unnecessary, so enjoyable was the beef. This was one of the best pure meat courses we've eaten (is it rather ironic that it tasted of vegetables?)

Yarrow-macerated Chino Farms strawberry
The yarrow-saturated strawberry was served on top of a sweet strawberry sorbet, another example of our region's amazing produce. The herb itself, in use for millennia, is practically considered a cure-all by cultures across the globe (a piece of trivia - yarrow's scientific name, Achillea millefolium, is supposedly derived from the mythology of Achilles, who is said to have carried it with his army to treat battle wounds). Here, its complex bitter notes were put to good use, lending a pleasant medicinal quality to the dish - perhaps to aid in digestion of all the food already consumed.

Chino Farms melon soup, lavender yogurt, caraway
Continuing the theme of restorative plants, we were served a soup of various melons (in multiple textures) accented with lavender and caraway. Both were used with restraint, just enough to modulate the natural sweetness of the melons. The milkiness of the yogurt added another layer to the soup as it melted and melded. Simple, but extremely well balanced.

Apricot, olive oil ganache, pistachio cake
Mignardises - Salted caramel, truffles, corn honeycomb
A trio of excellent treats arrived with the check - the truffles and corn honeycomb were particularly notable. Each truffle contained a tea-flavoured ganache center, which was strongly scented but a perfect meal-ender. The honeycomb reminded me strongly of a Cadbury Crunchie, perhaps the only candy bar I actually crave (a very guilty pleasure indeed).

This was one of our most minimalist meals in recent memory - a serious focus on the superb ingredients, each dish featuring fewer components and manipulation than many other restaurants in this class. It serves them well here. Trey Foshee and his team have defined San Diego's culture with TBL3, drawing in Hispanic and East Asian influences into their progression. I really enjoyed the ebb and flow of flavours through the course of our dinner, and TBL3 has proven to be one of the most thoughtful and purposeful menus we've enjoyed.

Georges California Modern
1250 Prospect St.
La Jolla, CA 92037
Phone: (858) 454-4244