Addison: Love, Labor, and Patience

October 27, 2019

The adage that states “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” might best epitomize the tireless diligence of Chef William Bradley. For thirteen successive years, his devotion to the culinary arts has produced some of the finest haute cuisine at Addison, a luxurious fine-dining restaurant in San Diego, California. Along the way, he has garnered a multitude of distinctions for this destination wonder:  Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star rating, AAA Five-Diamond award, and the Wine Spectator Grand Award. Addison has held all three awards for the last eleven consecutive years. The James Beard Foundation nominated Chef William for “Rising Star Chef of the Year” multiple times earlier in his career. The consortium of luxury hotels and restaurants known as Relais & Châteaux designated him a “Grand Chef” in 2010, an honor afforded to only 160 chefs worldwide. Additionally, in 2014, he won the Robb Report’s Culinary Masters Competition while under the mentorship of Thomas Keller. The aforementioned achievements are even more impressive given that San Diego is not exactly the epicenter of fine dining for California, let alone the US.

Despite the numerous accolades, up until this past June, Addison had conspicuously lacked Michelin recognition. The reason, however, was purely technical. Before the establishment of the inaugural California guide this summer, Michelin inspectors simply did not venture beyond the San Francisco Bay area. (A separate LA guide once existed but was discontinued in 2010. LA is now reviewed as part of the new California edition.) When the decision was made to open the entire state to inspection, this prestigious restaurant was awarded—at long last—one Michelin star.

The Restaurant

Upon my arrival at Addison, which is one part of the Fairmont Grand Del Mar resort, I was amazed at the immensity of the place which looked as though it could double as the abode of some fabulously wealthy oil baron. I saw a gentleman standing in front of the restaurant, presumably the valet attendant, who later identified himself as Nicholas. He waved me in his direction and after a very nice chat, took possession of my vehicle. The large doors opened and just inside, Sean McGinness, the affable Maître de Maison, was already waiting for me. In the midst of confirming my reservation for the evening, Chef William came out to greet me. As someone who is quite fond of chefs and restaurant staff, I was very surprised but quite delighted and honored to meet him so soon. (I generally wait until the end of the meal for this kind of exchange with the kitchen staff.) Chef seemed equally pleased to see me which only heightened my anticipation for the forthcoming tasting menu. When he bid adieu so he could return to the kitchen, Sean offered to give me a tour of the restaurant before the commencement of dinner. I gladly accepted.

While the outside of Addison impressed with its stalwart appearance, the décor on the inside was all the more astonishing. Ceilings arched gracefully high overhead, seemingly out of reach of even the tallest ladders. Beautiful marble appeared inlaid everywhere as far as the eyes could see. I saw large stone pillars, embroidered curtains, tall glossy windows, and even spied a rather magnificent fireplace. This is Renaissance architecture at its finest. As Sean led me around, I followed with consummate pleasure, a bit wide-eyed and slack jawed, marveling at the palatial surroundings full of wrought iron, wood beams, intricately carved surfaces, and majestic doorways. With the exception of The Inn at Little Washington, I could not recall the last time a restaurant had such regal or grand furnishings. The level of opulence here was extraordinary. If one has ever read the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and wonder where the grandest parties of the Roaring Twenties were held, full of ladies and gentlemen adorned in the finest clothes and jewelry, with an atmosphere awash in eloquence and deliberate, purposeful gestures, where the words Sir and Ma’am would not be uncommon and in fact, welcomed, Addison would have made the perfect setting.

The Cuisine

Under the direction of Chef William, Addison serves contemporary French cuisine using the best products available, those that are both local and seasonal as well as incorporating luxury flourishes and ingredients found in international cuisines. For my first visit, I chose the ten-course tasting menu to experience the full expression of the kitchen. The “Course Descriptions” section following recounts the details of each dish and my thoughts on each one. This tasting menu was replete in techniques and superb execution with careful attention to seasoning, flavors, textures, and even the temperature at which the food was served, regardless of whether it was bread, vegetables, or proteins. The cooking was so precise and technically astute that I found myself enamored with each course brought to the table and upon finishing, anticipated the next one to come. Suffice to say, this meal was simply the finest contemporary French food I have eaten to date.

My impression of William Bradley is a chef who has gracefully mastered classical cooking but is not constrained by his culinary education. While his food is clearly steeped in French tradition, bearing all the hallmarks of that esteemed culture, it is never the final arbiter but rather, a springboard with which to experiment and embellish and create something altogether his own. He honors the legacy of French cuisine while simultaneously redefines it innovatively for a discerning audience that can be, at times, demanding of a more progressive interpretation.

I found Chef William’s cuisine to be highly appealing and delicious. Even coming from a classical foundation, each course carries a dose of modern panache. By his own admission, Chef actually owns a library of over 600 cookbooks which he draws inspiration from, a collection that spans French, Indian, Chinese, and Italian cuisines. The full tasting menu allows one to see and taste, clearly, the myriad global influences that highlight his cooking. At Addison, Chef William has preserved the enduring legacy of French cuisine while allowing for its natural evolution and growth in modern fine dining.

The Courses

Chef Wiliam’s hors d’oeuvre are designed to awaken the palate, whetting the senses for the courses to come. First, a refreshing granité using two fruits, one subtle in flavor and the other imparting a citrusy tang. A delicate yogurt, whipped to an airy elegance, sat on top of the granité and added a pleasing tartness and richness to this bite. A sprinkle of ceremonial green tea completed the look of the course.

For the second amuse-bouche, the Kumamoto oyster’s sweet, tasty flesh was imbued with the briny, though not overwhelming, note of its watery environment. I detected an aftertaste somewhat reminiscent of a fresh melon upon swallowing.

These two small snacks, with nods to Asian cuisines, were remarkably executed and made for delicious opening bites. They constituted a very strong start to the tasting menu.

Petites Saveurs 
A collection of three amazing canapés:  1) a cylinder of feuille de brick stuffed with escabeche with coriander flower and avocado; 2) a tartlet of Kaluga Queen caviar with chive flower and brown butter; and 3) a gougère filled with bacon, aged sherry, and mascarpone. All three snacks were perfectly balanced in seasoning and flavors. These are the kinds of mini courses that make you yearn for one more bite to convince yourself the deliciousness you just consumed was not pure imagination.

Course I:  Translated as “fruits of the earth”, this dish showcased the terrific summer produce available in Southern California. This course featured a medley of wild berries and frozen Champagne grapes submerged in a refreshing consommé concocted from the abundance of flavorful juice of ripe heirloom tomatoes. It was topped with an olive-oil ice cream, creating a balance of rich and acidic flavors as well as contrasting textures.

Fruits De La Terre – olive oil crème glacée

Course II:  This dish used two different types of crab, Alaskan and Peekytoe. Delicately sweet crab meat swam in a coconut curry, coupled with an herbaceous note from the basil, and a slight tinge of tartness from the passion fruit. The course was accompanied by a large and very crispy crab cracker, reminiscent of the best prawn chips sold in ethnic Asian markets that I grew up eating and loving. The surface of this cracker displayed a beautiful porosity that made me salivate just imagining the texture and the taste. If a course can effortlessly incite a flashback to a fond childhood memory, I will keep that dish very close to my heart.

Course III:  A fine-dining rendition of one of America’s most popular party snacks, chips and dip! Long ribbons of potato, flavored with vinegar and Cabernet, were fried to a delicately light and perfect crisp. They were served with a French onion dip with a perfect ratio of sour cream to minced onion and finished with a dusting of fennel pollen.

The late entrepreneur Henry J. Heinz, creator of America’s most popular ketchup, reportedly said, “To do a common thing uncommonly well brings success.” While Addison is clearly known for its upscale cuisine, this course demonstrates that the restaurant can take a highly familiar pairing and elevate it to refined status without losing the qualities that made the original so popular. Chef William created potato crisps that were explosively tasty and addictive! To call this course unexpectedly incredible would not be an overstatement.

Potato Croustillant

Course IV:  Addison’s amazing caviar returned, this time as a quenelle sandwiched between two lobes of Japanese uni. Both luxuries were supported by a bed of ethereally soft custard. That combination alone would have been sufficient at many fine-dining restaurants across the country. But this is Addison after all. For me, the pièce de résistance was the beautiful algae-green spinach tuile perched on top of the bowl which exhibited a stunning mathematical precision, so fractal and fragile in its appearance, while evoking an ephemeral beauty in the same moment. This course was the personification of culinary art, a visual delight for the eyes before it became a sensation for the taste buds.

Horseradish Pot de Crème

Course V:  Delicious Parker rolls served with three flavors of mouth-watering butter:  clover honey, fines herbes, and beurre salé. For a high-end tasting menu, some diners may consider bread and butter a mere afterthought. But for me, restaurants that make and serve terrific bread and butter are often the most memorable ones. While it is generally not a course one comes to a fine-dining establishment for, the quality of a restaurant’s bread and butter is unquestionably important. Arguably, it is the very thing that separates great restaurants from the merely good ones. The bread and butter at Addison is some of the very best anywhere.

Bread and Butter

Course VI:  The kitchen was testing out this new course for the night, so I was very fortunate to get a taste. The flesh of this cold-water fish was cooked to peak perfection, allowing for easy flaking of the tender meat. It was served with a cream sauce made with vin jaune and supported by a cast of lovely chanterelle mushrooms, roe, and Hakurei turnips.

Wild Arctic Char

Course VII:  Succulent and delicious squab accompanied by caramelized shallots and a sauce made from a reduction of cherry and cabbage puree. The dollop of pickled mustard on the plate was an unexpected but welcome surprise. I loved the piquant characteristic it added to the barbecued pigeon.

Barbecued Pigeon – cabbage, cherries, pickled mustard

Look at these beauties! One of my servers brought a table-side presentation of Australian black truffles that was used for the next course. Seeing ingredients in their whole form is always a pleasure for me.

Course VIII:  An Addison signature dish featuring 36-month-aged Comté cheese. This course hearkened back to the earlier days of the restaurant when sweetbreads were more novel and considered a delicacy at the time. I so loved tasting a bit of Addison history. This sweetbread was tender, moist, and delicious!

Ris De Veau Glaçage – smoked potato purée,
jamón ibérico, black truffles

Course IX:  Often praised by gourmands as the most luxurious beef, this steak with impeccable marbling was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, allowing the intramuscular fat to melt and seep and flavor everything it touched. It was served with an eggplant puree topped with miso and a sauce made from vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar. This course, without the need for false hyperbole, was one of the best preparations of A5 Wagyu I have eaten to date. Meticulous execution here! It arrived accompanied by a bowl of maitake mushrooms immersed in a savory beef broth supplemented by its own earthy juices. Delectable!

Course X: One of my delightful servers named Stepháne, a most charming French gentleman, wheeled out a trolley carrying at least ten different cheeses composed of many beautiful shapes, textures, and shades. “A day without cheese is like a day without sunshine,” he remarked, regaling me of a common sentiment from his youth, courtesy of his Alsatian upbringing. (I am going to assume Stepháne had a rather delicious childhood.) Being a dairy lover, I wholeheartedly agreed. I requested a selection of soft cheeses and Stepháne presented the following: 1) Monte Enebro (a Spanish goat cheese with lemony notes bearing an ash rind); 2) Capricho de Cabra (an herb-crusted, soft goat cheese from Spain); 3) Brebirousse D’Argental (a creamy sheep’s milk cheese from Lyon, France whose orange rind, colored by annatto seeds, provided a hint of sweetness); 4) La Tur (a buttery cheese with the texture of soft-served ice cream from Piedmont, Italy); 5) Reblochon (a pungent yet fruity cheese from the French Alps); and 6) a triple crème (a pungent cheese from Southern California). The choices were simply stunning! Stepháne, whom I will refer to as “the cheese whisperer” from now on, picked out the best fromage platter I have ever been served in a fine-dining restaurant.

Selection of Artisan Cheeses

Course XI:  A two-part course. First, a spoon holding a spherical ball made of lemon, lavender, and honey. This fragile dessert was a single bite that exploded with sweet and sour flavors followed by a subtle aromatic note from the lavender.

Second, a classic, English dessert made from sugar, cream, and citrus with a divinely smooth texture reminiscent of a very soft pudding. It was topped with crystallized ginger. Notice the simple ingredients used. But in talented hands, these components transformed into a silken and utterly beguiling dessert!

Posset – lemon, lavender, ginger

Course XII:  To complete the tasting menu, I was served a chocolate ganache with toasted coffee ice cream and a warm cassis. A very pure and intense chocolate flavor permeated my taste buds with every bite and left me longing for more.

Crème De Café – cassis, cacao, salted caramel

Gourmandises:  Petit fours to finish. Toasted coconut macarons, strawberry pâte de fruit, and chocolate-mint tarts. Simply put, these were spectacular sweet bites to end a wonderful meal. I loved them all!

To-Go Gift:  A copy of the menu and a box of treats presented on a sparkling tray. Addison retains it elegance to the very end.

Non-Alcoholic Beverages

1) Jörg Geiger PriSecco Bio Cuvée Nr. 21

2) Le Pestillant de Rhubarbe

3) Jörg Geiger PriSecco Rosenzauber

4) Jörg Geiger PriSecco Bio Cuvée Nr. 7

5) Fleur de noël, hibiscus, coffee

The Service

In addition to the panoply of extraordinary courses, the service here was some of the finest I have ever experienced in a fine-dining setting. The staff maneuvered with urgency and purpose, but their movements never once registered tension or unease. They exuded a quiet confidence throughout the evening. In fact, when serving each course to a table with multiple diners, servers moved in unison like synchronized swimmers with the air of graceful ballet dancers. I personally watched this consistent act over and over at a table adjacent to mine. Never once did the staff fail to pull out a chair, tuck a guest back in, fold a discarded napkin, or be cognizant of the smallest details such as adjusting a water glass to the optimal drinking level. They were circumspect professionals at all times. The service here has most assuredly been well rehearsed and polished to perfection. Indeed, the staff here could probably teach a masterclass on the art of finesse.

The Kitchen

As part of a prior request, Sean McGinness invited me to come into the kitchen. What initially fascinated me the most about Addison’s kitchen was the cleanliness of the workspace. Every exposed metal surface gleamed as though the equipment had just been installed. When I mentioned it later, Sean joked that the chefs actually clean more than they cook. Or instead of cooking, Addison just caters all the food. The kitchen was that immaculate!

While there, I also sensed a palpable serenity, almost monastic in nature, to the kitchen atmosphere. I witnessed this collective composure when I saw Chef William at the pass confer with his other chefs and how the multitude of cooks at their respective stations maintained complete focus on their individual tasks. Their actions echoed the same mentality I first noticed in the service staff, an unobtrusive confidence surely developed by sheer repetition and mastery of one’s vocation.

When I first met Chef William right after entering the restaurant, the way he welcomed me made me feel like I immediately belonged. Now standing in his kitchen, he extended the same warm smile and welcome a second time. Chef de Cuisine Stefani de Palma quietly and humbly introduced herself to me though she was really the one I most wanted to meet. These are chefs, I feel, who eschew celebrity stardom and let the proficiency of their cooking speak for itself. They may toil quietly for years without much fanfare, completely dedicated to their craft, until talent and merit eventually become too great to ignore. I am thoroughly unsurprised that Addison has achieved its level of success and recognition.

Closing Thoughts

Addison is clearly not a restaurant built on affectations or grandiloquence. An underlying humility and sincerity run through this place. Despite its posh appearance, it is not a loud restaurant, literally or metaphorically. The awe-inspiring surroundings is matched by the amazing cuisine coming out of the kitchen as well as the warmth of its highly personable staff. From the first hello by Nicholas to the final goodbye by Sara, the hostess, I was made to feel like the most special diner that evening. Unparalleled hospitality is more than a priority here; it is standard operating procedures. In many ways, Addison is a restaurant that prefers to speak softly, never bragging or haughty. Instead, it chooses to charm you with its innate qualities:  the spectacle of the establishment, its first-rate cuisine, and its world-class service. All these characteristics together cultivate a je ne sais quoi that permeates throughout the restaurant. It is embodied by how the combined staff, from the front of the house and all the way to the back, conduct themselves each evening, full of modest certainty but exemplifying utmost professionalism, where the focus is not on themselves but directed towards providing a complete and optimal experience for the diner.

When Chef William received the news that Addison had earned one Michelin star, he remarked via social media, “One down, two to go!” He must have the patience of a saint, after having labored for well over a decade before earning this monumental achievement. I have no doubt this restaurant will achieve its goal of two more Michelin stars in the near future. This time, I am certain the highest honor will come much quicker than another thirteen years. In the meantime, I suspect Addison will remain a bastion of resplendent dining, the exemplar of excellence for the finest contemporary French cuisine, and sui generis not just for San Diego and California but across the US at large.

2 thoughts on “Addison: Love, Labor, and Patience

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