Every bite is filled with wonder, but perhaps best of all is the morsel dubbed “nigiri,” which looks like a French macaron but is actually a nickel-sized shaving of raw salmon layered onto the most ethereal rice cracker and topped with a cutout of shisho leaf and a thimble of wasabi. It is one of the most extraordinary things I’ve eaten in years, perhaps decades.
It is always risky returning to a restaurant that I previously thought of as superb. The chances are high that it won’t live up to the memory that I’ve nurtured for years. Once that initial element of surprise is gone, expectations can be extremely difficult to satisfy. Memories have a way of evolving and morphing over time.
Nine years had lapsed since my last meal at Addison in San Diego, and I’d grown perfectly content with my tucked-away memories. From those earlier visits, I fondly remembered chef William Bradley as an absolute master of French haute cuisine. But I hadn’t thought much about the restaurant lately, that is until the recent announcement that Addison had earned a second Michelin star, making this the prestigious guide’s highest-rated restaurant south of Los Angeles.
So I returned to Addison last month — my fourth time to dine here since the restaurant opened in 2006 — with very high expectations.
I anticipated that Addison would prove superb yet again. It has always been that. What I didn’t realize, however, is that since my last visit the chef has aggressively pushed this kitchen toward a more global, modern ethos, a striking evolution for which he is quick to share credit with chef de cuisine (and long-time protégé) Stefani De Palma.
Spoiler: This visit isn’t merely superb. Every detail from start to finish is exquisite. I am blown away — and that’s not something I say often.
But let’s back up for a second. For anyone not familiar, Addison sits within the gated confines of the Fairmont Grand Del Mar resort in north San Diego County, midway between Oceanside and downtown, a few miles inland from Torrey Pines. Guests staying at the property as I am on this visit (updated hotel review here), are shuttled to and from the restaurant (which is really just a short walk up the hill) in one of the Fairmont’s many luxury SUVs.
Upon entering Addison for the first time in years, the first thing I notice is evidence of a nip/tuck: a softer color palette and rejiggering of the foyer and lounge. Most striking is how few tables there are. Although indoor capacity has always been limited, either a fresh layout or new social distancing appears to have reduced capacity even more. Tables are lavishly spaced, most at least 10 feet apart. The atmosphere feels not only safe for the pandemic era but also luxuriously exclusive. When every seat eventually fills up, I count no more than 50 guests in total.
The opening spectacle of hors d’oeuvre is a difficult act to follow, but the crescendo keeps building. For the next two hours I keep waiting for that one dish that isn’t spectacular, something merely delicious but not stunning. Such a dish never materializes.
With chopsticks, I eat kampachi sashimi with salted kiwi and pickled pear — it is as delicious as it is mysterious. I dip a wooden spoon into a quivering shellfish chawanmushi (Japanese steamed egg custard) glazed with broccoli, bok choy, daikon and uni, not wanting it to end. I marvel at the creaminess of Regiis Ova caviar heaped atop a silken pudding of smoked sabayon and warm sushi rice.
Service all night is masterful. I glance up and see a server waltzing toward me with a dish of something I cannot discern. But where is he going? It’s just him, carrying food for one, so I conclude it’s not meant for me because I’m dining with my partner. Just as he’s about to pass, another waiter arrives in perfect sync from the opposite direction to serve my partner.
Too many times over the years I have referred to service in fine dining as a ballet, but never has that analogy been more apt than it is here. The choreography and grace are breathtaking.
We drink riesling from South Australia, chardonnay from Meursault and burgundy from Côte Chalonnaise. Midway through dinner, the world’s longest potato chip arrives (which I won’t show because I don’t want to completely spoil the surprise), followed by caramelized cod, baked-to-order sourdough bread with goat’s milk butter, a gloriously uncomplicated egg with an embarrassment of white truffles, A5 wagyu with maitake mushrooms…
Everything winds to a close much the way it began, with a blast of tiny treats landing like a meteor shower: a candy bar of praline and chocolate with toasted marshmallow, yuzu and green-tea custard, tarts the size of walnuts that taste of beetroot and berries, and tiny wafer cones made from figs that are filled with peanut butter caramel and topped with shaved white truffles.
Well done, Addison. This visit absolutely ranks on par with my experiences at Saison in San Francisco, Le Meurice in Paris or Twist by Pierre Gagnaire in Las Vegas. Yet, refreshingly, it feels more contemporary than any of those did. A third Michelin star is surely, easily within reach. And maybe even overdue.
By reservation only. From $295 per person; 5200 Grand Del Mar Way, San Diego, California, 858-314-1900, addisondelmar.com