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(Left to Right) Polo Steakhouse sous chef Vaz Bagdasavov, general manager/sommelier Feliciano Perez, owner Mayur Pavagahdi, and executive chef Judd Canepari. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Pictured left to right: Polo Steakhouse sous chef Vaz Bagdasavov, general manager/sommelier Feliciano Perez, owner Mayur Pavagahdi, and executive chef Judd Canepari. Photo by Rico Cassoni
ColumnsFood & WineTaste of Wine

Polo Steakhouse: Carlsbad’s New Masterpiece 

When West Steakhouse shuttered due to COVID-19, North County San Diego lost a premier restaurant and one of a few old school, windowless, classic steakhouses where you can completely immerse yourself in a great dinner and conversation.

And it was no accident when the owners approached Mayur Pavagahdi to purchase the property. Mayur owns four other restaurants in Carlsbad including Paon Restaurant & Wine Bar (a Wine Spectator Excellence awardee), Witch Creek Winery, Barrio Eat Mexican and Sleeping Tiger Coffees.

When Mayur reached out to Frank and me to learn more about Polo Steakhouse and meet his new team, we happily accepted his invitation.

“I always loved West Steakhouse. It was the who’s who of fine dining in Carlsbad,” Mayur told Taste of Wine. “I want Polo to be an institution of fine wine and food for North County and be a venue for charitable events.”

With the bones in place, Mayur intends to add sizzle above and beyond West. To do this, he assembled a dream team that includes executive chef Judd Canepari, sous chef Vaz Bagdasavov, general manager/sommelier Feliciano Perez, sommelier Michael Pickering, and lead bartender Blake Byram.

Mayur is looking to take a page from Paon’s playbook and increase the already robust 650 label wine list to over 1,000 labels. When walking into Polo, guests see a floor to ceiling wine cellar to the left filled with wines.

Mayur is in the process of installing a matching cellar on the right side of the foyer to achieve his 1,000-label goal with a diversity of familiar wines along with unknown small batch gems that Feliciano and Michael select. It is also no surprise that Polo has a robust by the glass selection and a Coravin program to offer guests high-end reds by the glass such as Shafer, Silver Oak, and Groth Reserve. I see another Wine Spectator Excellence award coming Mayur’s way.

16oz. Prime Bone-in Ribeye, Spinach Rockefeller, Sweet Corn, Bearnaise Sauce, and Petite Filet Mignon. Photo by Rico Cassoni
16oz. Prime Bone-in Ribeye, Spinach Rockefeller, Sweet Corn, Bearnaise Sauce, and Petite Filet Mignon. Photo by Rico Cassoni

The interior was refreshed with reupholstered booths including new cushions and leather that extends to the walls, making Polo quieter and more intimate compared to West. Mayur also plans to create an 80-seat patio on the opposite side of the bar to provide guests with an al fresco dining option.

I can hear the sizzle, can you?

Chef Judd took us through a journey of culinary excellence. In talking with Chef, I imagine it was an easy decision when Mayur hired him on the spot at the end of their interview. Chef Judd radiates confidence and creativity. Growing up as an East Coast Italian, his family was obsessed with food excellence.

Combining his upbringing with 30 years of culinary experience that includes Executive Chef positions at La Valencia and Rancho Bernardo Inn and personal chef for comedian Jerry Seinfeld, he has the lofty goal of earning a Michelin star with above and beyond food quality, consistency, and artistry. It was impressive when Chef showed us his concept sketches of food that he brought to life with dishes served at Polo.

Dishes include escargot encased in house demi baguette, bone marrow herb butter created on site and micro green garnish to look like a pea pod, caviar served in dishes looking like crabs, and repurposing the steak serving boards from West as bread boards after he applied high voltage electricity to them from a microwave inverter to create tree like patterns.

Our journey started with bread service that included a variety of house breads and house cultured butter followed by prime angus tartare served in a bone with beef carpaccio alongside a goldleaf dusted custard egg and house sourdough.

Next up was shrimp cocktail with jumbo, at least six inch long, tiger prawns and fermented cocktail sauce. The food voyage continued with the previously described “pea pod” Escargot os de Boeuf. Chef Judd insisted that we try the Polo Puplo, Spanish octopus with chorizo-paprika oil and fingerling potatoes.

Being in the Navy for 23 years, I’ve eaten both good and no so good octopus. Polo’s octopus was hands down the best ever. No competition!

Of course, we also had to have steak at Polo. Frank and I shared the Black Angus petite filet and 16-ounce  bone in ribeye. Mouth watering does not even come close to describing how good these were especially with the Spinach Rockefeller, sweet corn shaved off the cob with house made butter, and lighter than air foamed Béarnaise sauce.

After dinner, sous chef Vaz shared that Polo makes its own flour, only purchases fish harvested with Japanese Ike Jime and Shinka techniques to ensure it is expressed and tastes as pure as possible and makes all butter and sauces in house. You will not find a can opener at Polo, I promise.

We concluded dinner with Chef Judd’s New Haven Cheesecake, his grandma’s recipe topped with seasonal fruit, dedicated to his Connecticut roots.

Polo pegs the scale on fine dining restaurants and puts a twist on traditional steakhouse cuisine with Chef Judd’s creativity. I cannot recommend Polo enough, especially for special events. I know that I will be there this week for my 25-year wedding anniversary.

Perhaps after reading this column, some will check out Polo’s Valentine’s Day special with optional add-ons. Cost is $150 Prix Fixe per person. I see a Michelin star. Do you? See more at polocarlsbad.com.

— Story by Rico Cassoni

Wine Bytes

The Winery is hosting its inaugural 2023 Winemaker Dinner with Daou Vineyards and special guest Georges Daou in attendance. This exclusive dinner will be at 7 p.m. on Feb. 9 at The Winery Restaurant in San Diego at Westfield UTC. Executive chef and partner Yvon Goetz and his culinary team will curate a five-course meal to complement Daou varietals being served. Space is limited. Cost for the dinner is $145++ per guest. RSVP by calling 858-230-7404.

The Waverly located in Cardiff by the Sea has created a five-course Valentine’s Day menu from award-winning chef Brian Redzikowkski with optional wine pairings. The main course features Prime Tenderloin with potato puree, Brussels, and Raclette fondue. The five-course dinner is $105-plus per guest with optional perfect wine pairings for an additional $50. RSVP at 760-230-1682.