There comes a tipping point when an area has enough high-quality, non-chain restaurants to qualify, in my mind at least, as a culinary destination. Oceanside has reached that point and Carte Blanche has sealed the deal.
First off, a bit about the family of restaurateurs that is behind Carte Blanche, which is located in the SALT Complex in downtown Oceanside by the pier. The French-inspired Mexican bistro is now open from prominent restaurateur Chuck Ross and his family. His sons Ryan and Brandon Ross, the brothers who I interviewed for Lick the Plate on 101.5 KGB (our new station), come from a restaurant family as their dad was named Restaurateur of the Year by the California Restaurant Association’s San Diego Chapter and has quite a track record of successful hospitality endeavors.
Brandon and Ryan followed in his footsteps after careers in the business world as their dad emphasized early on that they should establish their own paths, so they didn’t take the direct route into restaurant ownership, but it remained a deep-seated passion. Oceanside made perfect sense as their inaugural location given the vibrant development happening. Both Ryan and Brandon are married and their wives are active in both with Carte Blanche and Chuck Ross’ businesses in Old Town that include Fiesta de Reyes, Barra Barra Saloon and the Cosmopolitan Hotel.
As far as the menu goes they made a smart move in luring Executive Chef Alex Carballo away from his consulting business to head up the kitchen full time. Needing someone who could merge the tastes of two cultures and unify families over a shared meal, one name came to mind and that was Chef Carballo. I’ve followed Alex over the past nine years, interviewed him several times, and have always enjoyed the food coming out of his kitchen. Most notably was a recent stop at Valentina in Leucadia.
Carte Blanche means blank page in French and is exactly that for Chef Alex Carballo, who was sold on the concept enough to head up the Ross family’s new venture. Besides Valentina, Alex has run kitchens at Indigo Grill, The Brigantine and Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, to name a few.
Carte Blanche’s menu boasts French-inspired Mexican food, with dishes including Carne Asada Tartare: onion, garlic, capers, micro greens, chili lime aioli, quail egg, plantains; Duck Mole Tacos: corn tortillas, mole negro, pickled onions, smoked cotija, duck skin chicharrones; Chile Verde Moules Frites; Mushroom Raclette: portabella, raclette fondue with or without chorizo and a special served with tortillas. The dishes revolve around a shared plate concept to promote family-style dining.
Modern Mexican cuisine is influenced in part of French colonialism, so incorporating strikingly French ingredients into Mexican was a natural fit. I will admit, my culinary history was lacking on this French and Mexican culinary connection so I had to do some research. Culinary historians consider modern Mexican cooking to be a fusion of three cuisines: Native American, Spanish and, surprising to many (including me) who don’t know the details of Mexican history, French. Napoleon III, seeing more bounty in the New World, installed his brother Maximilian, archduke of Austria, as emperor of Mexico. Maximilian’s wife Carlota introduced the Mexican aristocracy to French chefs and well, they liked what they tasted. Native ingredients and French culinary methods worked well together.
Mexican foods like avocados, squash blossoms, tomatoes and chocolate produced scrumptious pairings. As a result were delicious sauces and cooking techniques that helped create one of the world’s great cuisines. South-of-the-border wouldn’t have flan, pescado Vera Cruz or chiles en nogado without the French. And according to chef Carballo, “that combination produces endless flavor profiles.”
One menu item that I would like to make note of is the use of Raclette, one of my favorite types of cheese anywhere and one that I hope starts to trend as it is so fabulous. Besides that we sampled the Caesar Salad with smoked cojita, fried capers and a chili arbol Caesar dressing. The Hamachi with sashimi, sour apple agua chili and avocado apple relish was melt in my mouth amazing.
Quail Knots are a chef Carballo thing for sure as I’ve seen them before and they are one of my favorite things to eat. His Carte Blanche version is harrisa fried with a green apple slaw and cilantro onion buttermilk. For those unfamiliar, Quail Knots are basically a semi-boneless quail with the wing removed and drumstick pulled through the boneless breast, skin on and boneless except for the drumstick. I could eat a couple dozen easy.
The Black Cod with crispy skin, braised leeks, roasted beets, herb chimichurri and chili oil was spectacular … and I don’t use that word loosely.
Dessert was another first with the 28 Layer Crepe Cake with Mexican chocolate, hazelnut, crepe and berry reduction. It really is 28 layers and wow, besides being visually impressive, it was a delight to consume.
There is a nice long bar with crafty cocktails and beer and a wine list that did not overwhelm. I enjoyed every aspect of Carte Blanche and it is going to go on my go-back list for sure.
Carte Blanche is located at 339 N. Cleveland Street in Oceanside, in the SALT Complex, across from the Oceanside Pier. For more information, visit eatcarteblanche.com.