TBL3 at Georges California Modern - La Jolla, CA

Dinner - Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I'll say it first - there's no better place to enjoy a birthday meal in San Diego than Trey Foshee's dining room. As it turns out, the third time was the charm for TBL3. Not to say that our last two meals were sub-par - far from it. In fact, those meals were already heads and shoulders above anything in the area, but our dinner this evening reflected his team's continuing maturation through the process of conceptualizing these lengthy menus.

We made reservations for a 7 pm seating - in time to catch the sunset, and it was a glorious evening. Of course, April Johnson was constantly at hand to ensure everything ran smoothly, and her team (particularly Dan, our server) paced us nicely.

One logistical change since our last meal in December is that they no longer present the menu at the start of the meal. Instead, a card with the course description is brought to the table before each dish is presented. It works perfectly in the context of the California Modern dining room because they do one TBL3 tasting per night - at other restaurants, this would be pointless because it's far too easy to overhear the descriptions from neighbouring tables. I liked it - Trey successfully maintains a sense of suspense and anticipation, while avoiding comparisons to the Romera fiasco.

Chino Farms crudité
We began with a showcase of Chino Farms' seasonal bounty. Presented in their raw form, each vegetable was the epitome of its kind - romanesco, radicchio, choy sum, turnips, celery, purple broccoli, radish, purple carrots and pattypan squash. Excellent when paired with the umami-rich black truffle and nori bagna cauda served on the side.

Local spot prawns
Avocado, lime blossom, cucumber
Smoked and poached Kumamoto oysters
Whey snow, dill, smoked sunchoke, sorrel
We were both enamored with the whey snow - it was intensely milky and had a pleasing tartness that paired very well with the smoky brininess of the oysters (all reinforced by a gelée of the oyster liquor). Balancing out the dish was the vegetal sorrel and dill, as well as the earthy sunchokes. This was a dish in tension, with each component fighting for dominance but unable to top the others - nicely done.

Local percebes, mussel aioli
Trey had mentioned finding wild percebes (goose barnacles) in San Diego some time ago, so I was expecting this (indeed, I would've been disappointed to miss out on them). Six little fellows were served "in their environment", with a fantastic dipping sauce of mussel aioli. It was a delight to see them on a plate outside Spain.

Foie gras, strawberries
Hazelnut, beets, quince vinegar
Very strong. The torchon was sandwiched between a hazelnut cake at its base, and a quince vinegar gelée above - eaten together, it was a perfect marriage. A red beet paste and discs of yellow beets were pleasingly bittersweet, and the acidity of the green strawberries played nicely against the rich foie. Rounding things out, lovely ripe strawberries and some intense buds of rose geranium (which might now be my favourite pairing with cold foie gras).

Rabbit loin
New potatoes, fava beans, radish, uni-mustard vinaigrette
The sweet funkiness of the uni tempered the mustard surprisingly well, whilst simultaneously making the sauce extremely creamy. The sous-vide rabbit was more of a subdued accompaniment to the fantastic potatoes and fava beans. Topping off the plate were some punchy radish blossoms, concentrated with aroma.

"A Wild Salad"
New York may have Matt Lightner and San Francisco may have Joshua Skenes, but we have Trey Foshee, forager extraordinaire! Presented on the plate were plants picked by Trey close to his home - wild spinach, pine nuts, nasturtium, wood sorrel, cattail heart, natal plum, mustard flowers and radish flowers. My camera did not do justice to the vibrance of colours, and I can't describe how good those pine nuts were - perhaps the best I've ever had. Still, the flavours of all the vegetables together were jarring, with sharp vegetal notes at the fore. The dish needed something to temper and tame.

Asparagus, morels, smoked quail egg yolk, Parmigiano  
Black cod
Peas, clams, carrot dashi, seaweed
A study in elegance, presented in a pearlescent bowl. Perfectly cooked black cod, in a delightfully light carrot dashi. The fish was accompanied by peas with their tendrils (I love good peas), and mounted atop the protein was a seaweed salsa verde with parsley and lemon. This was all about clean and strong flavours - a stunner.

Squab, cauliflower, lemon-glazed dates
I can never get enough squab. Here, its gaminess was met with sweet and sour notes from the lemon-glazed dates - excellent pairing. Grounding the dish, the kitchen presented cauliflower in four ways - roasted, raw, braised, and as a purée. I found the raw brassica shavings rather dissonant, but enjoyed the other three presentations immensely.

Spring lamb
Provencal vegetables, socca, verbena oil
Three gorgeous cuts of lamb (loin, tenderloin and neck) highlighted why I love this animal so much. Each emphasized a different texture and flavour profile, from the delicate tenderloin to the rich neck. The single clove of roasted garlic was magic - just enough to accentuate without overwhelming. In homage to the Ligurian coast, the meat was paired with socca (that ever-tasty chickpea pancake) and a mix of classic Provencal vegetables.

Goat cheese espuma, vanilla bavarois, grapefruit, fennel
Lemon semifreddo
Cashew, molasses, soy, ginger
Like the oyster course so early on, this dish seemed to hinge on tension. The intensity of each component was nearly overwhelming, especially the molasses and ginger cookie. Still, a delicate balance was somehow achieved, mediated by the soothing lemon notes from the semifreddo and the herbacious lemon thyme flowers. Thoughtful and well-crafted.

Grilled strawberries, coeur de guanaja, mint
This dish is completely enabled by the superlative quality of Chino Farms strawberries - I dare say they are the best strawberries in California. The grilling only heightened their floral sweetness, both in the fruit and in the sticky, indulgent sorbet. The strawberries were played against mint, as well as some of Varlhona's couer de guanaja 80% dark chocolate. Simpler than the desserts preceding it, but the products made it stunning.

Mignardises - Chocolate-wrapped Earl Grey honeycomb
As at our first meal, we felt an ebb and flow to the progression of flavours, peaking and then gently falling back building to a crescendo once more. This menu had inspiration written all over it, and as I said at the beginning, is our strongest TBL3 experience yet. The food is San Diego, painfully so, and I think (and hope) more locals are starting to come around to it. The only question for us is, when can we make it back?

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