George’s at the Cove brings dining to a new level

For years, George’s at the Cove has been a very successful three-level restaurant complex overlooking the ocean in La Jolla. Now, the critically-acclaimed signature restaurant on the lower level has its own name, a chic new look, and an incredible new menu.

In fact, the only thing that hasn’t changed in this outstanding upscale eatery is the genius behind George’s creative cuisine. Chef Trey Foshee still presides over the kitchen and puts his special touches on the contemporary cuisine, only at the new George’s California Modern, the chef has something he didn’t feel he had before - freedom.

That’s how this talented world-class chef describes his culinary philosophy at George’s California Modern. With a relaxed and casual - though still sophisticated - atmosphere, Foshee feels less constrained when he gets into the kitchen to whip up innovative dishes. He still uses the very freshest seasonal ingredients, and he still changes the menu daily to reflect market factors. But his menu for the newly-named George’s California Modern is as modern as tomorrow and as exciting as any in the culinary world.

Even the cocktails are based on seasonal recipes from the chef. As a result, this time of year look for The Red Hound, made with Ciroc vodka and ruby red grapefruit ($11), The Bee Sting, a drink that features kumquat, honey syrup and Ketel One vodka ($11), The Brown Derby made with Knob Creek, grapefruit and honey syrup ($11), and other unique cocktails.

The wine list is still fabulous, with its interesting organization - you’ll love the Quick List for a fast overview of the wines - and its nice assortment of wines by the glass and half bottle as well as the full bottles.

The menu features a Raw and Cold section of appetizers that includes the excellent Dungeness crab cocktail we sampled during a recent visit. Priced at $14, this cold starter featured fennel, cucumber, tangerines and avocado, which made it as colorful as it was tasty. Octopus carpaccio ($9) with potato salad and romesco oil and an Artisanal charcuterie plate ($14) were also included in this list.

The salads are splendid, and should make a salad eater out of everyone. We adored the date salad with arugula, goat cheese, walnuts and pomegranate vinaigrette ($11). Another great choice is the slow-cooked beets with currants, pine nuts, herbs and feta puree ($12). There are three other delicious salads on the menu as well.

The soup selection is delightful, and all the soups are poured tableside, which is almost a lost art. Try the green garlic and potato soup ($10). Foshee surprises you with asparagus and a crispy poached egg in the center of the bowl - what a taste sensation.

Broccoli with caramelized onions, bacon cream and crouton ($8) and oyster chowder with sea urchin, leeks and potato ($12) are the other popular choices on the soup menu. Everything has a flair at George’s, even the soups.

If you like seafood, you’ll find five outstanding preparations, all unique and inspired. We loved the chickpea-crusted petrale sole ($29). It was prepared with sunchoke, spinach, marinated peppers and lemon-crab vinaigrette, and it was picture perfect.

Sous Vide local white seabass ($28) gets royal treatment at George’s California Modern. The beautifully cooked seabass is perched atop daikon, pea tendrils, citrus and shitake, and then anointed with miso vinaigrette.

Just about every dish on the menu has been popular with the local crowd since the new incarnation of George’s opened its doors recently. Try the duck breast with confit, turnips, mustard greens, honey, ginger and kumquat ($29) for a very different taste sensation. The lamb chops and osso buco ($35) is another winner, and the garlic roasted chicken with roasted potatoes will appeal to any chicken fancier.

Steak lovers can opt for a 28-day dry-aged Cote de Boeuf for two ($90), a spectacular preparation that includes smoked potato puree, glazed vegetables, marinated mushrooms and red wine sauce. But that’s only one of four steaks offered on George’s new menu. If you prefer a surf and turf, the chef will oblige, so just specify which steak you’d like paired with surf.

George’s raised the bar for desserts in this new restaurant. You’ll love the warm strawberry rhubarb tart with sour cream-ginger sorbet and balsamic glaze. The coconut cake is like no other cake of its kind, and the malted milk chocolate ice cream on top makes a wonderful accompaniment. Another triumph on the dessert list is the honey ricotta cheese cake with pine nut crust and dried fruit compote. All the desserts are $9, including the trio of seasonal sorbets, served with fresh fruit.

The new decor at George’s California Modern is minimalist and magnificent. The unusual upholstered chairs are covered in charcoal, the large picture windows give diners bird’s eye views of the million-dollar coastline outside, and the bar area in the front invites singles to dine comfortably from the regular menu. People get very friendly on those long sleek tables, but you can also bring your own group and enjoy a great dining experience in this newest hot spot.

Neither the Bar Deck nor the Ocean Terrace restaurants have changed much, and they’re still jumpin’. There’s nothing nicer than to sit out on the upper Terrace for a pleasant lunch. These days, the lunch menu includes Asian style chicken wings ($9), seared rare tuna with soba noodle salad ($10), grilled eggplant sandwich ($9.50), grilled chipotle chicken sandwich ($11.50) and salads to die for, including grilled mano de leon scallops with tabbouleh salad ($15).

Even pastas, such as penne pasta with braised lamb ($12) and Mexican delicacies such as ancho chile shrimp tacos ($11.75) are available for lunch.

Both sister restaurants serve dinner, and the dinner menu includes George’s signature soup ($7.50), fresh mussels ($9.50), Thai-inspired fish stew ($15.50) and braised pork shoulder ($18).

If you haven’t checked out the new George’s California Modern, you’re missing one of the most exciting new restaurants in California. It’s casual and cutting-edge, so don’t worry about a dress code. And remember, there are three different restaurants in this oceanfront restaurant complex, and they all have the welcome mat out to local diners.

George’s California Modern is at 1250 Prospect Street. Call (858) 454-4244.