By Daniel K. Lew
Situated inside The Lodge at the world-famous Torrey Pines Golf Course, A.R. Valentien Restaurant sets itself apart by focusing on California cuisine not only inspired by its majestic setting, but by offering a menu that changes daily based on what’s in season and which ingredients are acquired from local farms and fisherman.
The restaurant takes its name from Albert Valentien, an early-1900s California artist from the Arts and Crafts Movement who is known for painting 1,000 native wildflowers for Ellen Browning Scripps' private library in La Jolla. In fact, another highlight of the restaurant is the display of works by Valentien and memorabilia from his estate.
In addition to its relaxing, lodge ambiance, the restaurant's indoor-and-outdoor seating areas overlook the 18th hole of Torrey Pines Golf Course. An adjoining bar and lounge also includes a cozy fireplace.
Executive Chef Jeff Jackson and Chef de Cuisine Tim Kolanko said they take a “farm-to-table” approach to cooking while showing their passion for fresh ingredients prepared by classical and traditional methods. “We work with 10 to 12 different local farms to procure our ingredients,” Jackson said.
In addition to fresh daily produce deliveries, the chefs make regular trips to Chino Farm in Rancho Santa Fe and Point Loma Farms. "(The farmer) will literally be picking it off the beds, washing it, and sending me off with it — that's about as farm-to-table you can get — without growing it out here on the golf course," Kolanko said.
To undertake a daily changing menu, Jackson gives a lot of credit to his kitchen staff. "We have a group of cooks who have been with us for a long time and who are very passionate with what they do. Most other restaurants don't have the capability of doing menu changes day in and day out."
The chefs at A.R. Valentien adjust the accompaniments, vegetables and sauces based on each day's fresh ingredients, while popular items like Liberty Duck Breast and Confit Leg, Niman Ranch Ribeye Steak, Oak Fire Roasted Pork Loin, Roasted Free-Range Chicken, and local seafood can be found throughout the year.
Among the more popular dishes is Roasted Liberty Duck Breast and Confit Leg, served with Anson Mills faro, pomegranate and hazelnuts. "One of the things that make this dish unique is we have a great relationship with a farmer in Sonoma who raises these ducks — we get whole ducks shipped twice a week directly from the farm," Kolanko said.
Liberty Ducks are regarded for their flavor and quality from being raised free of antibiotics and hormones and fed a diet mostly of corn and grains. Also of note, the dish is accompanied with faro (an heirloom variety of spelt wheat) harvested by Anson Mills, known for its artisan and organic heirloom grains.
For those who want to experience farm-to-table dining, the Artisan Table is recommended. Offered on Thursday evenings by reservation only, Artisan Table offers a family-style meal in which "whatever we get in that day that's great, that's what we offer for the Artisan Table," Jackson said.
Kolanko added: "It's an adventure for diners to eat what we serve them; sometimes it gets them out of their usual routine or habits, and they end up realizing they like something they previously thought they didn't."
The Artisan Table sits diners with other "strangers" at first, but develops into a social and private-party atmosphere "where everyone becomes best friends by the end of the evening," Jackson said. The chef's choice for dishes includes three different first-courses, several main courses (a meat, fish, accompaniments and two vegetable dishes), along with wine, artisan cheeses, dessert and coffee.
"Getting new produce from farms each day keeps our motors running and inspires us each day," Kolanko said. "It forces the cooks to really think about the food and ingredients, rather than just cooking like it's routine."
• Address: 11480 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla
• Phone: (858) 777-6635
• Website: www.arvalentien.com
• The Vibe: Majestic, scenic, elegant, comfortable
• Signature Dishes: Artisan Table (chef's choice), Roasted Liberty Duck Breast and Confit Leg, Niman Ranch Ribeye Steak, daily changing menu
• Open Since: 2002
• Reservations: Yes
• Patio Seating: Yes
• Take Out: No
• Happy Hour: No
• Breakfast: 7:30-11:30 a.m. Saturday-Sunday
• Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; noon-2:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
• Dinner: 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Sunday
• On The Menu Recipe:
Each week you’ll find a recipe from the featured restaurant online at lajollalight.com. Just click Get The Recipe at the bottom of the story.
This week: A.R. Valentien's Porcini Chestnut Soup