It had been far too long since I last dined at Kitchen 1540, L’Auberge Del Mar’s signature restaurant. Last spring, with his distinct Southern charm and passion for cooking, Executive Chef Brandon Fortune stepped into the kitchen and debuted a new menu here and throughout the luxury hotel. He oversees an impressive twelve menus in total. [Update 1/9/18 – the restaurant has a new executive chef]
I initially met Chef Fortune and his lovely mother, Sheila Fortune, at their prior La Jolla restaurant, Aquamoree. We enjoyed hearing the heartwarming story of how he met his wife there, too, when she stopped in for a drink. Charismatic, approachable and witty… It was nice to catch up with the young chef during a press tour of Del Mar to see what he’s up to now. And, it’s all really good stuff.
The menu at Kitchen 1540 is guided by the principles of sustainability and features Modern American dishes with upscale Southern influences. Not only is Chef Fortune from the Southeast originally, but he was classically trained at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta. He loves his vinegars and won’t totally give up the recipe for his Low ‘N’ Slow Baked Bread Pudding (we tried to nab it, like others before us), which is one of the most divine desserts I’ve eaten in some time.
My goal is to present a simplified, balanced, approachable yet sexy dining experience that doesn’t leave guests confused. The menu should provide just enough of an understanding to entice curiosity on some dishes, and a distinct desire to indulge in others.” – Chef Brandon Fortune
And, indulge we did. Six courses—not one of which I could say was just OK or not to my taste. All six—chosen to represent what Kitchen 1540 is all about—were extraordinary.
Tomato + Tomahto
A perfect starter, this refreshing salad had heirloom tomatoes, basil salad, Haas avocados, 12-year balsamic vinegar, ricotta salata and local melon gazpacho.
Strawberries + Peaches
I adore buratta cheese and this was accompanied by watercress, arugula, pistachio pesto, Noble tonic vinegar (dabbed along the side of the plate), pink salt and peppercorns.
That Noble tonic vinegar is Bourbon based and very, pricey stuff. But it adds a new depth of sort of smokey flavor to the salad. Truth be told, on a normal night when six courses is just much too much, I’d order this salad—maybe even the Tomato + Tomahto salad, t00—and the bread pudding and call it a day.
But, alas, more protein awaited.
Still Smoking Scallops… Literally
Talk about presentation! A glass dome full of smoke released a giant plume as the gorgeous scallop with coriander dust, wild chanterelles and smoked almonds sitting in a light layer of asparagus soup was unveiled.
Chicken ‘N’ Dumplings
These were bonkers good. A twist on a comfort food favorite, these chicken and dumplings kick it up a notch with confit thigh, puffed biscuit dough, cracklin’ (crispy pig skin), carrots ‘n’ celery and coconut-curry gravy.
Perfectly-cooked king salmon with black-eyed pea hummus, kale two ways, smoked ham hock summer succotash, Kitchen 1540 mustard and preserved lemon was far superior than your average fish entree.
Low ‘N’ Slow Baked Bread Pudding
Don’t let the photo fool you (it was getting dark out on the patio). We’re talking bourbon-toffee caramel, candied pecan crumble and “creamsicle” ice cream. Baked bread pudding is the number one best-selling menu item at the hotel for a very, very good reason. Just order it and you’ll see why.
Kitchen 1540 Details
While these items are likely suspects on the seasonal (and subject to change) menu, fall will bring the addition of game to the menu. I’m positive it will be outstanding.
We quite enjoyed al fresco dining on the patio which, though kid-friendly, is a perfect spot for date night. Kitchen 1540 can also accommodate private parties of up to 100 and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Are you hungry yet? If you have a favorite Kitchen 1540 menu item, please share it!
1540 Camino Del Mar
Del Mar, CA 92014