By Kelley Carlson
Mere fathoms from the sandy beaches of Del Mar are the wooden decks of The Brigantine. The nautical-themed restaurant, on the corner of Camino del Mar and Via de la Valle, provides picturesque views of the nearby racetrack and the ocean. Guests often flock to the patio rail or as close to the deck’s large windows as possible, drinking in the panorama over a sunset-colored Brig Mai Tai or the sweet and smooth Millionaire Margarita made with Don Julio Añejo tequila.
While those areas are popular, the family-friendly lounge can be lively, as well. Kids often sit and work on puzzles while waiting for fare such as pasta or fried shrimp, while the grownups gaze at the big-screen TVs to see the latest game scores, slurping up fresh oysters on the half shell and sipping white wine. A fireplace in one corner creates a cozy atmosphere; the music is mellow.
Patrons who seek a quieter, more intimate experience may sit in the formal dining room. Colorful paintings and lanterns decorate the walls; a skylight and large, glass-paneled doors allow for a natural glow during the day.
During warmer weather, guests are seated on the grassy garden patio, which doubles as a site for weddings and other special events. A three-tiered rock fireplace, stained-glass sculpture, small waterfall and strings of lights add to its ambience.
The establishment is especially bustling during the Del Mar racing season. It’s a favorite hangout at lunchtime, before first post, and also during the actual races. As the horses get close to the finish, Brigantine customers can hear the roar of the racetrack crowd build, and those in the restaurant who have placed bets yell and plead for their picks to win.
“It’s really fun,” General Manager Tyler Martin said of the experience.
Not only does The Brigantine draw racing fans, it also attracts seafood lovers. But it serves more than just fish; it offers American cuisine that is “all over the place,” including steaks, chicken and pasta, Martin noted.
For starters, guests have options such as the Not So Basic Chip Basket, a plate of fiery-red chili tortilla chips surrounding a cup of creamy jalepeño white sauce. The mild spiciness is subtle, yet enhanced with each successive bite. And a soup that may hit the spot on a chilly SoCal day is the Brig Clam Chowder, prepared New England-style and chock-full of clams and potatoes.
The Brigantine is perhaps best known for its fish tacos, which constantly bring people back, Martin said. Its Classic Fish Taco is a corn tortilla amply stuffed with breaded pollock, salsa fresca, cheddar, cabbage and Ranch dressing; the leaner alternative, Grilled Swordfish Tacos, contains fish blackened in Cajun spices with the same fillings.
Another highly requested dish is the tender and flaky Signature Grilled Marinated Swordfish with a pat of avocado lime butter. It’s recommended with risotto and cooked vegetables.
Some portions of the menu are specific to The Brigantine’s Del Mar location, which is one of six in San Diego County. Among the site “favorites” are the Wok-Charred Ahi, which is partially covered with a mild wasabi-shoyu sauce and rests on a bed of jasmine rice with stir-fried vegetables; and the Spiced Scallops with pumpkin and sweet-potato ravioli, wild mushrooms, fresh peas and sun-dried tomato butter.
Those who still have room for dessert can try to squeeze in a Brig Mud Pie, a tall slab of coffee ice cream on a chocolate cookie crust, topped with fudge, peanuts and whipped cream, which is ideal to share; and a true Key Lime Pie that is pale yellow with a hint of graham-cracker crust, whipped cream and garnished with toasted coconut and a lime slice.
Brunch is served on Sundays and features entrees such as New York Steak & Eggs and a Smoked Salmon Stack Platter on a bagel with cream cheese. The meal can be turned into a Champagne Brunch for $3, which includes refills.
On The Menu Recipe
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Brigintine’s Grilled Swordfish Tacos