Lick the Plate: Evan Cruz freshens things up at Arterra

Lick the Plate: Evan Cruz freshens things up at Arterra
The spectacular grilled octopus at Arterra from new Executive Chef Evan Cruz. Photo by David Boylan

At one point half a dozen years ago Arterra was on the cutting edge of San Diego restaurants. It never went away, but with the explosion in the local culinary scene, it may have been nudged to the back burner a bit.

New Executive Chef Evan Cruz arrived five months ago and has already put his personal touch on Arterra, and it the process has put it back on the San Diego culinary map.

Cruz is a San Diego native with extensive experience in fine dining with some of the best in town. He spent five years as an executive chef and trainer with Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion, two years as chef de cuisine at La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club and a year as executive chef at Pacifica Del Mar. His time at Roy’s is very evident in some of the dishes at Arterra including the Chinese duck steambuns, of which I could have made an entire meal out of.  The crispy duck confit with scallions and black soy sauce is sandwiched between fresh steambuns, a new combination for me and it works on every level.

The steambuns are on the starter portion of the menu along with the Coca Cola glazed Duroc pork ribs with a radish salad, which is another winner. This is more like a world menu as Cruz takes it in a lot of directions but they all work. The Empanada with Barbacoa beef, pollo asado and Chimichurri is a prime example of that.

In between starters and our main courses, we sampled his somewhat deconstructed Caesar salad with romaine, whole anchovy, croutons and Parmesan.  Simple, fresh, and a perfect bridge course to the main event, which I had been looking forward to for some time prior to my meal.

It was like Cruz had my tastes in mind when he designed this as it has a perfect mix of poultry, seafood, meat and pasta, and none of it typical. I am a huge fan of game hens and Cruz does his with heirloom beans, charred leaks, chorizo, and fava and it all works perfectly together and a great value at $18.  We also tried the grilled Spanish Octopus with smoked paprika, calamari, and confit potatoes. Very unique pairing the octopus and calamari (squid) and the octopus was as tender as I’ve had with an amazing grilled flavor. It was my favorite dish of the night by far and I will be back for more. And again, this dish was a very reasonable $17.

Cruz also has a rib eye cap, which was another new cut for me. We all know that rib eyes are the most flavorful premium steak available, while tenderloin is the most tender. Well the rib eye cap has the best of both worlds, all the flavor and juicy fat of a rib eye, with the tenderness of tenderloin. Look it up, it’s worth pursuing and it’s on the menu at Arterra for $20.

Other entrees of note are the Loch Duart Salmon, the Delmonico steak, gnocchi, and the much raved about angnolotti with sweet peas, oxtail and ricotta. It reads like a cold weather dish but the sweet peas lighten it up quite a bit.

Longtime sushi Chef Andrew Hoh is still in-house, making his house specialties that include the Albino, Scrumptious, Rasta and Spicy Albacore rolls. We started the meal with the Albino and it’s crab and avocado inside baked halibut is amazing.

Cruz is also a pastry chef, his creative take on cappuccino — a mini espresso cup is filled with chocolate pot de crème and topped with toasted Bailey’s Irish cream marshmallows made to look like steamed milk foam. On the side is a spoonful of sugar and a raw sugar cube that is actually a crumbly hazelnut praline. It comes with a small Meyer lemon tart topped with fresh blueberries. Wow.

Being a hotel restaurant full of travelers on business accounts, I was surprised at the affordability of the menu given the quality and creativity. They also have one of the more happening happy hours in town along with breakfast and lunch.

Located in the San Diego Marriot Del Mar at 11966 El Camino Real, or call (858) 369-6032.

Lick the Plate can now be heard on KPRi, 102.1 FM Monday – Friday during at 4:10 and 7:10 p.m.  David Boylan is founder of Artichoke Creative and Artichoke Apparel, an Encinitas based marketing firm and clothing line. Reach him at david@artichoke-creative.com or (858) 395-6905.

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