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Mary’s Crispy Chicken, inspired by chef James Augustine's mother, served potato purée, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms and chicken jus at J at SkyDeck in Del Mar. Photo via Facebook/J at SkyDeck
Mary’s Crispy Chicken, inspired by chef James Augustine's mother, served with potato purée, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms and chicken jus at J at SkyDeck in Del Mar. Photo via Facebook/J at SkyDeck
Columns Food & Wine Taste of Wine

Taste of Wine: James Augustine’s passion, maturity shines at J at SkyDeck

Every once in a while, there are people so profound, they change the world. People that fit in this category are the likes of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

I have a new one to add to my list, James Augustine Arabatzis, who goes by James Augustine.

Augustine, 21, is the owner and executive chef at J at SkyDeck and Zizikis Street Food in Del Mar. Senior Editor Frank Mangio and I dined at his newly opened J at SkyDeck eatery a few weeks ago. Despite his age, Augustine has the maturity and wisdom of seasoned chefs and proprietors with decades more experience.

In 2018, Augustine pursued his passion for the family business, Beeside Balcony in Del Mar, dropping out of his senior year of high school to become co-owner and executive chef. At the same time, he launched his YouTube Channel where he documents his life as an owner and executive chef.

Most impressive is that while Augustine grew up in the industry, he has not had any formal training as either a chef or restaurant proprietor.

During our interview, Augustine stated, “I figured it out” and further shared, “I wanted to create J (at SkyDeck) as a place for people to create connections for special occasions and events with the goal of uplifting guests’ interpersonal being in a comfortable ‘modern new Americana’ venue.”

The team at J at SkyDeck and Zizikis is anchored by Alyssa Gosselin, left, James Augustine, center, and Mary Arabatzis. Photo by Rico Cassoni
The team at J at SkyDeck and Zizikis is anchored by Alyssa Gosselin, left, James Augustine, center, and Mary Arabatzis. Photo by Rico Cassoni

Augustine designed J at SkyDeck with perfect symmetry so that guests feel balanced while dining and insisted on large windows displaying the kitchen staff at work with future plans for a chef’s table in the kitchen.

Supporting Augustine is Alyssa Gosselin, operations manager at both J at SkyDeck and Zizikis (whom he met at Beeside Balcony), and his mother Mary Arabatzis, beverage manager and sommelier for J at SkyDeck.

When asked why two different restaurants, Augustine said his goal for Zizikis is a franchising platform.  With the closing of Daphne’s fast-casual Greek food, there is clearly room for Zizikis restaurants across SoCal.  He shared, “J (at SkyDeck) is my personal project for the management team and myself to constantly push boundaries and create interactive experiences for our customers.”

J at SkyDeck was serving dishes from its soft-opening menu and was in the process of expanding its menu. With five entrees on the menu that included pan-seared salmon, Mary’s crispy chicken (an entirely gluten-free entrée), center-cut filet, baked bucatini, and sous vide lamb chops, there was something for everyone.

To come up with these dishes, Augustine did an extensive data analysis search to capture favorite and popular entrees from 50 top restaurants across the world and then reduced his extensive list to these 5 dishes.

I especially loved the bucatini with grass-fed lamb, San Marzano tomatoes, bechamel, and fontina cheese. It was an irresistible fusion combining Italian ingredients with Moroccan cinnamon and nutmeg flavors. There are also a handful of starters. I recommend the lamb meatball in a San Marzano tomato sauce and feta cheese served with a baguette.

Mary Arabatzis, who helped create the gluten-free chicken entrée after a year of trial and error, has assembled an extensive wine list with 50+ wines and many by-the-glass options.

She leveraged her previous experience at the family’s Zizikis restaurants in Dallas, Texas, that consistently received Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence each year from 1994 to 2015 when they moved to San Diego. Make sure to leave room for dessert. The M(ary)/C(osta)’s Butter Cake is a perfect choice to conclude your J experience and honors Augustine’s mom and dad.

Bottom line, J at SkyDeck is one of the most exciting new restaurants in the San Diego area. J at SkyDeck is open 7 days a week, Sun to Thu, 5 to 9 p.m. and Fri/Sat, 5 to 10 p.m. The food, atmosphere, and experience there will change you. See jskydeck.com and zizikis.co.

— Story by Rico Cassoni

Tavola Nostra’s Silvio Oliveri, left, owner Jeff Oliveri, and Michelle at the 18th Annual Harvest for Hope at Coasterra restaurant. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Tavola Nostra’s Silvio Oliveri, left, owner Jeff Oliveri, and Michelle at the 18th Annual Harvest for Hope at Coasterra restaurant. Photo by Rico Cassoni

18th Annual Harvest for Hope Recap

Diane and Richard Nares had much to celebrate at the 18th Annual Harvest for Hope. The Emilio Nares Foundation, named after the Nares’ son who died of cancer at almost 6 years old, has assisted 4,000 children with over 1,000,000 miles driven to get to cancer appointments.

The event was held at Harbor Island’s Coasterra venue. Guests enjoyed food items from 13 eateries and 9 wineries. Eateries included Solare Ristorante, Tavola Nostra and Coasterra. Some wineries featured were DAOU Family Estates and Niner Winery, both from Paso Robles, along with Kendall.

Jackson and Torrey Wines. While Harvest for Hope raised $225K, it was short of the foundation’s $300K goal, predominately due to the pandemic. Donations are still being accepted for this heartwarming cause at classy.org/give/333823. Also, save the date for the 19th Annual Harvest for Hope, September 2022, date to be determined. See enfhope.org.

Wine Bytes

West End Bar & Kitchen presents Daou Family Estates for three unique dinner evenings with this magnificent vineyard and winery from Paso Robles, at 6 p.m from Sept. 23 thru Sept. 25. Just a few seats remain for these eventful evenings. Daou wines have a reputation for absolute purity in flavor from their proprietary winemaking techniques and continuous exploration of Daou Mountain’s unique terroir. The cost is $75 per person plus tax and gratuity. Call now at 858-259-5878.

— BK Cellars Urban Winery is restoring business hours and will be open this week Wednesday thru Sunday. On Sunday, Sept. 26, Michele Lundeen and Jimmy Woodward, awarded “Best Blues” at the San Diego Music Awards, will be playing live at BK Cellars from 3 to 5 p.m. For info and hours, visit bkcellars.com.

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