Hotel dining redefined at Kitchen 1540 at L’Auberge

This was a homecoming of sorts for me; revisiting the site of my first food column years ago to cover the launch of J. Taylor’s — which at the time was the new signature restaurant at L’Auberge Resort & Spa in Del Mar. This time around, it was a completely different experience as the entire hotel and restaurant has been transformed by a seven-month, $26 million renovation that included a complete overhaul of the somewhat stuffy and pretentious J. Taylor’s into the fresh, hip, and inviting Kitchen 1540, named after the hotel address in Del Mar.
The new look is crisp and clean and evokes a more inclusive feel with the open kitchen, clean lines, light woods, and staff dressed in stylish Kitchen 1540 apparel. The indoor/outdoor feel is still present, and the addition of private cabanas that can be rented for dining is an elegant touch. There is still the upscale vibe that comes with a high-end resort and spa, but if anything, Kitchen 1540 balances that out with its approachable, fun atmosphere.
Our evening started with some of 1540’s signature cocktails from their illuminated bar that was bustling with activity and employees including a regarded mixologist (bartender) in Christopher Simmons.
We started with the soft shell crab with uni, compressed canary melon and pickled cucumber. Green asparagus soup with early tomatoes rounded out our first course. A solid first round. Starters range from $8 to $15.
The raw plate selection had such a nice mix of seafood, meat and salads that it was tough making a decision. On the advice of our very well-versed server, we went with the hiramasa crudo with compressed fennel, duck cracklings and steelhead roe. Let me describe this one a bit as it was quite spectacular. Hiramasa is a melt-in-your-mouth yellowtail amberjack tuna and a crudo is the preparation — raw fish dressed with olive oil, sea salt and a citrus juice. The topping of duck cracklings was a perfect contrast to the hiramasa. Another standout from the raw plate selection was the bison tartare with smoked bacon sabayon, brioche and chives. A sabayon is made by beating egg yolks with a liquid over simmering water until thickened. The liquid can be water, but champagne or wine is often used for a savory sabayon. I am a huge fan of “tatonka,” and this bison tartare was incredibly tender and flavorful. Raw plates go for $9 to $14.
Chef Paul McCabe’s entrée selection was tempting us from many angles yet we finally decided on the Alaskan halibut with fava beans, artichokes, mussels and preserved Meyer lemon. Any dish with fava beans and artichokes works for me and this was no exception. The halibut was perfectly cooked and at $28, this dish was a great value. The Colorado lamb loin and braised leg with farro, spring peas, fiddle heads and spiced pepper jam was amazing even slightly undercooked. That came in at $32.
So where do I start with dessert? Simply put, our dessert was everything I look for to finish a meal. Innovative, fun, retro, and most of all delicious! I had the root beer trio which consisted of mousse cake, a root beer float, and brittle — all of which were infused with root beer flavor. Our second choice was the chocolate brownie ice cream sandwich with salted peanuts and a valrhona chocolate sauce. It was a perfect end to the evening.
Chef Paul McCabe has brilliantly transformed the conservative J. Taylor’s menu into what he likes to describe as a mix of the classic and the unexpected. I like that mix and as I mentioned, his supporting team executes his vision flawlessly. The servers are as educated and friendly as I’ve encountered in North County and it seems as though the entire hotel is very eager to please. Kitchen 1540 works on many levels and is worth checking out.
Kitchen 1540 is open nightly from 6 to 10 p.m. and daily for lunch. Call (858) 793-6460 to make a reservation.

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