Since 2014, Alcocer has operated a highly acclaimed restaurant named Malva in Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe. But whereas Malva has always been intensely rustic, housed entirely outdoors beneath a large palapa on the edge of a vineyard, Oceanside’s Valle is inversely urbane. Perched on the prime corner of Pacific Street and Pier View Way overlooking the beach, this swanky multimillion-dollar dining room serves as the anchor restaurant of the new Mission Pacific Hotel. (Hotel review here.)
As the name suggests, Valle draws inspiration from the Guadalupe Valley, and not just for the menu. Much of the restaurant’s building materials and most of the furniture, art and serving wares were curated from Ensenada and the northern Baja wine country. Although vastly different from Malva, Valle does have its own outdoor dining space, a sprawling see-and-be-seen patio/lounge that wraps around the corner of the restaurant, where a thick sea mist hangs in the air at night and vintage lampposts faintly illuminate the Oceanside Pier as it disappears into the Pacific.
The onion tart is easily one of the most beautiful things I’ve eaten this year. It is also uncommonly delicious. Listed on the menu as simply “tarta,” it is composed of little more than a fat slice of white onion snuggled into a crispy masa shell, the whole of which gets shellacked with demi-glace and squid ink and roasted in a charcoal-fired oven until it looks like a piece of charcoal itself (although it really isn’t burned). It is then topped with a generous quenelle of Siberian sturgeon caviar that glistens like a clutch of miniature black pearls.
The charred illusion of the tart is a wink and nod to Alcocer’s charcoal oven, a contraption of the chef’s own invention that he now sells commercially. His fuel of choice, naturally, is mesquite.
The caviar on that tart is one of the few items in the pantry here that doesn’t come from a nearby farm in San Diego County or from Ensenada or the Guadalupe Valley. This is, by design, intensely farm-to-table cooking.
The beets come from one of those nearby farms. This is another dish presented with a specter of illusion. The first beet to arrive at the table — straight from that charcoal oven — appears completely burnt and shriveled. But that carbonized exterior is merely a shell made from corn masa (colored with beet juice), which is cracked open table-side to reveal a whole, perfectly soft beet inside. A waiter removes the shell, slices the beat and places it into a stark-white dish containing other beets, some pickled, some dehydrated and fried, along with creamy, acid-set queso blanco, teeny-weeny chicharrones and a sauce of cultured beet juice. It’s hard for me to decide whether this dish is more distinctly Mexican or Californian. Either answer would be appropriate. Beets don’t get much better than this.
The slight-of-hand continues with yellowtail crudo. What arrives at the table appears to be an unpeeled avocado merely sliced in half. But poke it with a fork, and the avocado easily collapses, for it is not an unpeeled avocado but rather an avocado puree, akin to guacamole, pressed into the shape of the original fruit, then painted with more squid ink. Breach the surface and you’ll find a pudding-like ceviche of fresh, raw yellowtail from Ensenada tossed with spicy, bright-orange gochujang made from chiles grown in Mexico.
I won’t reveal all the secrets to the kitchen’s many magic tricks. I’ll just say that a potato nestled in dirt is never just a potato nestled in dirt. It might be a sly reference to lamb barbacoa.
Meanwhile the carne asada is one of the most straightforward, fine-dining dishes on the menu: a few slices of incredible wagyu paired with housemade blue-corn tortillas, charcoal-roasted pearl onions and a dollop of burnt guacamole, which really is just burnt, mashed avocado. No illusion this time. And purely delicious.
Admittedly, with just one visit I have barely scratched the surface. There are still a dozen other dishes I want to try, namely the quesadillas from the bar menu, which I didn’t even realize existed until after I had already finished my last bite of spiced chocolate ganache served in the guise of one of those classic, pie-shaped discs of Mexican chocolate. But it’s official now. Destination dining in Oceanside has arrived.
Valle, 222 N. Pacific St., Oceanside, 866-723-8906, valleoceanside.com