Zach Hunter at Delicias - Rancho Santa Fe, CA

Dinner - Sunday, August 4, 2013

Rancho Santa Fe is one of San Diego county's conservative strongholds - predominantly older (the median age is 51), rich and white. The restaurants in the area strongly reflect its demographics - an unlikely place for a pop-up by an alum of Mugaritz and Atera. Yet, this is where we found ourselves when Delicias announced a one-night guest dinner with Zach Hunter (most recently a sous chef under Matt Lightner), who is about to open his first restaurant in Austin.

The meal was a nine-course tasting menu that began with a series of snacks. The accompanying wine pairing was mediocre at best, but the meal made up for it.

Albacore, pickled watermelon, icicle lettuce
Puffed chicken skin, smoky romesco, dried corn
Fermented corn on the cob, fish aioli, dried shrimp, panko
The last snack (not pictured) was presented in a mini cocotte - inside, a crostini of smoked chicken rillettes, mole negro and peach butter over a lightly charred baguette. The peach and mole were a surprising, synergistic combination.

Uni, crispy grains and seeds, dashi gelée, powdered yogurt
Two plump tongues of local uni were buried underneath a forest of toasted bits - hidden treasures. Explosive flavour. The tang of the yogurt and the umami dashi gelée were in harmony. A great dish.

Tuna and char roe tartare
Lettuce, tuna emulsion, roasted chicken gel
Salt-roasted Peewee potatoes
Egg yolk vinaigrette, dried squid chips, baby celery
Poached lobster, shaved Chinese sausage, charred lemon-ginger emulsion
Spot prawns
Aged summer squash, marrow fat, wheatgrass
Our consensus dish of the night - perfectly cooked local spot prawns paired with squash that had an alluring hint of funk. The rich marrow fat (in solid and liquid forms) juxtaposed the vegetal wheatgrass sauce. Every bite revealed new dimensions - very impressive.

Fermented long beans, aged lamb
Meyer lemon-lamb fat aioli, sorrel
Roasted venison, charred onion, tomato dried in beef fat
Tartare of beet and sour cherry
Coconut tapioca, verbena
A rather peculiar dessert - all the components were served close to room temperature, and there was surprisingly little textural contrast between the tartare and the tapioca pudding. I didn't get it. 

Candied carrot and kumquat
Fermented carrot ganache, chocolate stout ice cream
Two words: "fermented carrot". Absolutely fantastic, like some strangely sweet kissing cousin of miso. It was tempered by an ice cream that exuded the unmistakable aroma of roasted barley. An excellent end to the meal.

We had not visited Delicias prior to this dinner, but if we assume that recently minted executive chef Steve Molina was responsible for half of our menu tonight, we will have to return post-haste. There is potential here, and I hope Hunter infuses his ambition into the menu at his new venture. We will keep our ears to the ground.

6106 Paseo Delicias
Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067
Phone: (858) 756-8000