If you haven’t heard his name by now, you’re probably new in town. Patrick Ponsaty has been a culinary staple in San Diego since he arrived in 1997, after working for Michelin-starred restaurants in Monaco and Spain, to assist chef Jean Michel Diot in opening Tapenade (now Bistro du Marche). Since then, he’s led some of the city’s best French kitchens, as you might expect from a man who holds one of only 51 French master chef designations in the country. Watching what Ponsaty will do next has become virtual sport in San Diego, and the chef, who was formalizing his first menu for 1500 Ocean when we visited, divulged a few secrets of the season.
Ponsaty’s new role at Hotel del Coronado signals a kind of liberation for the chef, who has worked for his fair share of restaurant groups. Now, he says, at 1500 Ocean, “[I have] the green light: I can do whatever I like, I can buy the best organic produce, a lot of which is from right here in San Diego.” In fact, he’s culling specialty produce from 50 different favorite producers, as well as the hotel’s own on-site herb garden.
“I had some difficult times,” Ponsaty says of moving to San Diego. “I was doing dishes people [didn’t recognize]—I used to make these baby birds from France; we used to put the head on the plate, cut it in half. People were shocked. It’s very traditional French; I had to adjust.” These days, Ponsaty’s dishes are distinctly Californian, and his way of channeling France (with less cream and butter) is what you can expect at 1500 Ocean. It’s a bit of a theatrical debut for Ponsaty as well, since he’ll be diverting from classic French technique to offer such fanciful creations as oysters served on a bed of ice that servers pour with sparkling wine to create “smoke.” Those who love Ponsaty at his most traditional will love the table butter sourced directly from a third-generation butter artisan and stamped with a “Master Chefs of France” emblem.
If there’s one dish Ponsaty feels represents his new direction best, it is his Egg Surprise. This divine egg is cracked, emptied and stuffed with butter, cucumber and water aspic, and a bit of smoked eel. The yolk is gently cooked, returned to the egg with a cauliflower mousse, topped with a dollop of caviar and a gold leaf and served in a crystal cloche. Other menu additions include a locally sourced lacquered white sea bass with braised artichokes and fingerling potatoes in a basil broth; Pacific opah crudo served with diced cucumber, assorted vegetables and greens; and a domestic rack of lamb, cooked sous vide and sauteed in brown butter, garlic and thyme.
Having worked in multiple kitchens with a total of 15 Michelin stars in his career, Ponsaty is keen on taking 1500 Ocean to the next level, a goal endorsed by its new management, the Curio Collection by Hilton. Has he felt any pressure so far? “No pressure,” he says. “I’m too old for pressure. Plus, the whole team—manager, chefs—are great. Everybody is young and motivated.” Then he adds, “I love change; it’s my life.”
Hotel del Coronado
1500 Orange Ave., Coronado
Tue.-Sat., 5:30-10pm; Sun., Mon., closed