By J.C. Thomas
Upon its grand opening in 1926, the oceanfront La Valencia Hotel and Spa became an instant icon of La Jolla, the upscale neighborhood 12 miles north of downtown San Diego. With its rosy-hued, Mediterranean-inspired architecture, the property known as “The Pink Lady of La Jolla” continues to exude a timeless elegance and aura of romance. You need not be an overnight guest to appreciate the AAA Four-Diamond hotel’s charms. Instead, join locals and in-the-know visitors at one of its three on-site restaurants: Café La Rue, modeled after a French village brasserie, the Spanish-style lobby bar La Sala Lounge, and The Med with a spectacular ocean-view terrace.
On a recent San Diego jaunt, my family stopped in at La Valencia Hotel for an early evening meal and briefly poked around the tile-lined lobby, which has the inviting feel of a shady, hidden courtyard. We opted for a corner table at Café La Rue, its casual atmosphere seeming most suitable for our small, child-inclusive party. Most appealing though, was the menu created by Chef de Cuisine Sara Restivo. It features a range of temptingly shareable options (all the starters, plus toasts, salads, flatbreads, sandwiches and wraps are fit for versatile small-plate-style combinations) plus several satisfying-sounding features served after 5 p.m. for full-sized appetites.
The menu rotates seasonally to showcase sustainable ingredients from mostly local providers. For our small son, the avocado on eight-grain toast with radish, sea salt and cold-pressed olive oil was far preferable to any typical kids’ fare, especially for the adults who would help him finish it. Other “on toast” options included cold-smoked salmon on sourdough with aerated cream cheese, cucumber, dill and everything spice, and the flatbreads could be topped with burrata, achiote pork or a creative medley of crispy Brussels sprouts with béchamel, pea vines, mushrooms and balsamic reduction. While elevated by some unexpected accents, such as the jalapeno tartar alongside fish and salt-and-vinegar seasoned chips (my choice), or a decadent goat cheese bread pudding aside a roasted half-chicken, the foundations of Café La Rue’s menu are U.S.A.-meets-old-Europe comfort food. My husband happens to be one of the world’s foremost cheeseburger appreciators, so he readily accepted Chef Restivo’s suggestion to try a La Rue Burger, which comes dressed with white cheddar, lettuce and pickled vegetable aioli, and French fries or a market salad. The verdict: It’s absolutely up there with the greats. A practically perfect cheeseburger is the humble star of this bistro’s menu.
Café La Rue in the evening was busy but not crowded by the time we left, us earlier diners making way for a cooler crowd leisurely sipping drinks around the central marble bar, or chatting over bites while people-watching on the narrow street-side terrace. The bar is open until 2 a.m. every night, with food served until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 9 p.m. on other nights. The beer and wine lists strongly feature California labels, with Mother Earth Brew Co., Belching Beaver and other San Diego craft breweries represented alongside a tidy collection of Napa, Sonoma and Santa Barbara County’s whites, reds and rosés. There’s a daily happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m., plus weekly specials such as Paella Mondays and Shucks + Champs Wednesdays, which offers a half-dozen oysters for $9 and $10 glasses of Veuve Clicquot. How splendidly La Jolla is that?
La Valencia Hotel and Spa is located at 1132 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037. Visit www.lavalencia.com.
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