There is a show on the Food Network called “Restaurant Makeover” that takes tired or underperforming restaurants and breathes new life into them in quick fashion. Something similar has been happening over the past year or so at St. Germain’s in Encinitas, which has been around since 1976.
First they updated the interior and patio with a fresh, contemporary look, and added a cool outdoor bar and live jazz inside. Then they hosted San Diego’s first pop-up restaurant with Chef Dan Moody about a year ago. That brought the cuisine up to par with San Diego’s finer establishments.
One of the line cooks working for Chef Moody at Relate was Kaitlin Ramos, a talented, 23-year-old whose performance and youthful energy impressed St. Germain’s owner Roy Salameh enough to hire her on as executive chef. Ramos is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and she was hired immediately out of school by Wolfgang Puck’s Springs Café in Las Vegas where she spent two and a-half years in Wolfgang’s kitchen and catering division.
Ramos grew up in Mira Mesa, and has raced motocross since she was 10, so the return to San Diego was a welcome one. Not to mention the fact that it was a great opportunity for Ramos to make her mark on an established restaurant like St. Germain’s. She made a quick impression by launching the innovative Lady Chef series that brings in a different guest female chef each quarter, bringing their influences to the menu.
The recent launch of Chef Ramos French Exotic menu is a very exciting development to the local dining scene. As mentioned, Ramos grew up in Mira Mesa, the epicenter of Asian cuisine in San Diego and she has always been a huge fan of Vietnamese food. It was a natural progression for her to take the St. Germain’s existing French-inspired menu and add an Asian twist to the dishes.
I visited St. Germain’s on a recent Saturday night to give this French exotic thing a taste. I’ll admit that I was running the Carlsbad 5000 the following morning; otherwise I would have tasted much more. But what I did have was worked beautifully as it was all full of flavor yet did not weigh me down.
We started with the shrimp and mango spring rolls with poached shrimp, mango, mint, cilantro, rice paper and peanut sauce. They were light and flavorful. We tried the Korean flank steak crostinis with chili aioli, pickled carrots, and daikon radish. This was another well-executed starter. The carrot-ginger soup was also very nice and rounded out our selection of starters. The potstickers and broiled Thai mussels will be tried on my next visit. All the starters are priced below $9
It was very difficult selecting from nine, very attractive looking entrées. With me trying to be healthy runner guy, I went with the coconut crusted red snapper with passion fruit reduction over a lemongrass scented jasmine rice and a cucumber, carrot and daikon radish salad. I really enjoyed this dish and it accomplished my goal of satisfying my hunger without weighing me down.
My friend had the garden bowl with the same lemongrass rice, steamed rainbow chard, Portobello mushrooms, chili garlic green beans, miso-sesame glazed tofu and Vietnamese chili sauce. This was a very nice veggie option
I will say, I was very tempted to try the Banh Mi burger made with American Kobe beef, pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro and chile aioli and the grilled tamarind lamb chops with a Thai basil-mint sauce, roasted red and purple potatoes and rainbow chard. Entrees range from $11.95 to $22.50 and are great values given the innovative preparation going on here. I should mention that there are also three nice looking salad options.
Finally, we finished this French exotic meal off with strawberry mango shortcake paired with vanilla ice cream. It was delightful and perfect to share. Ramos handles all the pastries as well, which is very impressive. The wine and beer list is just big enough to include an eclectic mix that should satisfy connoisseurs and traditionalists alike.
Chef Kaitlin Ramos, at 23 years of age, has arrived on the San Diego restaurant scene in an impressive manner. I would highly recommend checking her out now, so you can say you experienced this fine talent before she became a culinary star, which she is well on her way to becoming.
Check out St. Germain’s at stgermainscafe.com.
Lick the Plate can now be heard on KPRi, 102.1 FM Monday-Friday during the 7pm hour.
David Boylan is founder of Artichoke Creative and Artichoke Apparel, an Encinitas based marketing firm and clothing line. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (858) 395-6905.