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With new chef, La Jolla’s 80-year-old Marine Room is spicing things up

Executive chef Mike Minor's Perfect Egg dish at The Marine Room in La Jolla.
(The Marine Room)

Executive chef Mike Minor has added whimsy and Latin flavors to the plate at the venerable restaurant.

This year in La Jolla, The Marine Room restaurant has marked two major milestones: its 80th anniversary and the retirement of its popular French-born chef Bernard Guillas, who stepped down in August after 27 years at the helm.

To honor its eight-decade past, the oceanfront restaurant in La Jolla Shores rolled out an anniversary menu that includes Guillas’ lobster bisque and Caesar salad recipes, as well as some retro-inspired dishes such as prime rib and a grasshopper sundae. But in a clear nod to the future, there’s a new executive chef in the kitchen, Mike Minor, who is bringing new flavors, ideas and presentations to the plate.

Mike Minor is executive chef of The Marine Room and other La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club restaurant properties.
(The Marine Room)

Minor spent 30 years in Las Vegas, starting as a catering company sous chef in 1991. He worked his way up to executive chef at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino’s upscale Border Grill restaurant for 13 years. Along the way, he racked up several regional and national awards, competed on several TV cooking shows and ran his own Mexican-style barbecue food truck for three years.

Despite his success in Vegas, Minor said, he and his wife had one thing left on their bucket list. For 20 years, they dreamed of moving to San Diego. So when the COVID-19 pandemic upended both the casino and restaurant industries last year, they decided it was time to make their move.

On April 17, new Point Loma resident Minor joined the culinary staff at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club. A little over a month after Guillas left, Minor was promoted to head all of the club’s culinary operations, which include the 160-seat Marine Room, 200-seat Shores restaurant, 100-seat members-only Club Dining Room and the club’s banquet program. His first priority has been to reinvent The Marine Room’s menu. When that’s done, he’ll concentrate on the other locations.

While some Marine Room standards like the lobster bisque are staying put, diners likely have noticed Minor’s influence on the food. Guillas’ specialty was French-inspired fare. Minor’s passion is seasonal, sustainable and humanely raised regional ingredients and dishes presented with modern and whimsical plating techniques. He’s passionate about Mexican and Latin American cuisine, and many of his new dishes are infused with peppers, spices and ingredients native to the Mexican regions of Baja, Oaxaca and Michoacán, as well as Central America and Peru.

An example of that marriage of contemporary technique, whimsy, local ingredients and south-of-the-border flavors is Minor’s signature Tuna Tartare Cones, an appetizer of raw yellowtail tuna, cubed and tossed with serrano-soy glaze, served in mini gold foil-wrapped wafer cones and topped with beluga caviar. He alternates the cone contents among tuna, salmon and locally caught uni ($30 for four cones).

Chef Mike Minor's Uni Tartare Cones at The Marine Room in La Jolla.
(The Marine Room)

Minor also has introduced a Creekstone Farms dry-aged prime New York steak with an Oaxacan spice demi-glace ($85). There’s also a new hamachi crudo dish with yuzu pearls and a coconut aguachile sauce ($24). Another dish in development is a salpicón, a Spanish and Central American chilled meat salad that Minor makes with poached lobster, mint leaves, fried tortilla strips, Fresno chiles, carrots and red onions.

One of Minor’s favorite dishes that he brought from Las Vegas is an appetizer he calls the Perfect Egg ($20). Served on a fried potato “nest” sprinkled with thyme and rosemary sprigs, it’s an eggshell filled with layers of corn velouté, a sous vide-poached egg yolk and an egg-white mousse, topped with even more eggs (beluga caviar). It’s served with tiny spoons, and Minor recommends stirring the delicately flavored contents together before scooping it up for a bite.

Minor said he’s been having a ball since arriving in La Jolla, meeting longtime customers and getting to know his fellow chefs, who are collaborating on the still-changing menu.

“What I’m so proud of is The Marine Room is not about one chef, it’s about me and my team together ... creating a really great experience,” Minor said. “They’re excited to have a say in the menu and to be able to put some flair on the menu as well. We want to create a fun, unique meal for you that’s something you’ve never had.”

Waves crash at high tide at The Marine Room in La Jolla Shores.
(Renee Comeau)

Marine Room history

The Marine Room’s grand opening was May 29, 1941, inside the former Spindrift Inn, a four-bedroom roadside inn and restaurant built in 1916 on what was once called Long Beach (now La Jolla Shores). The Marine Room was owned and developed by William Scripps Kellogg, whose family also purchased the adjoining La Jolla Beach & Yacht Club, which became the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.

When The Marine Room opened, it served lobster Newburg for $1.35, rainbow trout amandine for $1.25 and martinis for 35 cents.

Located just a few feet from the surf at 2000 Spindrift Drive, the restaurant is known for the high-tide waves that frequently crash against its dining room windows. Before three-quarter-inch glass was installed in 1948, the windows would get boarded up every time Pacific storms approached. During a massive El Niño storm in 1982, the thick tempered glass imploded and the sea flooded the restaurant.

For more information about The Marine Room, call (858) 459-7222 or visit marineroom.com.