Clay’s La Jolla soars to the top with unique cuisine

With its spectacular panoramic views of La Jolla, Elario’s was one of the most popular restaurants in the city. The restaurant underwent a series of ownership changes, and eventually Elario’s lost its edge.

Fortunately, Clay Bordan, an innovative and highly talented chef, had realized that this striking location atop the Hotel La Jolla had enormous potential as a fine dining spot. He rescued the restaurant and is in the midst of bringing it back to its former glory.

The restaurant is now called Clay’s La Jolla, and it features contemporary cuisine and artful plate designs, plus a handsome new sushi bar. Bordan is a trained artist, so it’s not surprising that he has made picture-perfect presentations a priority.

However, it’s the chef’s knack for giving traditional dishes a delightful new twist that really sets Clay’s apart. For example, his ahi tuna tower ($15.95), an appetizer extraordinaire that featured diced saku tuna tossed in Thai chili, is paired with purple Thai rice cake, mango and Japanese cucumber, among other tantalizing ingredients.

The jumbo lump crab cake ($14.95) is a real treat, served with chipotle mango jam over organic French bean salad and tempura parsnips. Best of all, the crabmeat is excellent, and you can tell the chef has his culinary roots planted firmly on the East Coast.

There’s a strong Asian influence in Clay’s cooking, but every dish has his unique signature.

The pan sea bass ($31.95) is a perfect example of the chef’s creativity and uncanny ability to blend flavors and textures. Bordan serves the sea bass over mango, fried purple Thai rice cake, baby bok choy and soy-seared long beans. He gives the fresh fish a ginger tangelo glaze with chili oil, and the results are heavenly.

Unlike many restaurants that take a one-size-fits-all approach to vegetables, Clay’s pairs just the right vegetables with each dish, which makes sharing even more exciting. The grilled New Zealand lamb chops ($35.95) are topped with oven-dried tomatoes and feta cheese. Along with that, you’ll find baby spinach, ragout of leeks and cippolini onions and garlic mashed potatoes.

Vegetarians can enjoy a wild mushroom tofu chow mein dish with crisp wontons and grilled Asian veggies ($23.95).If the large portions aren’t enough to satisfy your appetite, add a side ($7.95), such as pappardelle with garlic or manchego potato gratin.

The dessert list is mouthwatering. Try the chocolate lava cake ($12), but find someone to share this rich chocolate delight with. The house-made creme brulee ($8) is another winner, served with whipped cream and fresh berries. Cheesecake lovers can have it two ways, with fresh berry coulis and warm chocolate ($9).

Since Clay’s serves hotel guests, it also serves breakfast and lunch every day. Among the innovative lunch selections are a combination of grilled-cheese tea sandwiches and artichoke tomato soup ($10.95), grilled tenderloin steak sandwich with garlic pesto, lemon aioli and gorgonzola cheese ($14.95), and pappardelle with organic seared chicken, pine nuts, oven dried tomatoes, spinach and feta cheese ($19.95).

Add to the mix the interesting preparations and pairings Chef Clay offers dinner guests, eye-popping views from every table and convenient parking, and you’ll see why Clay’s may soon regain its place as one of La Jolla’s best dining destinations.

Clay’s La Jolla is at 7955 La Jolla Shores Drive on the 11th floor of the Hotel La Jolla. Call (858) 551-3667.