Now a year after Kitchen 1540 restaurant’s Executive Chef, Scott Thomas Dolbee, debuted a new seasonal menu featuring American cuisine he describes as “playful, whimsical and modern,” the effort is a resounding success. This as the award-winning restaurant—a landmark inside the picturesque L’Auberge Del Mar hotel—continues to garner industry acclaim and patron accolades.
Now at the helm of Kitchen 1540 for just over a year, Chef Dolbee has taken the esteemed eatery in an exciting direction rife with bold flavors and culinary intrigue.Adhering to the restaurant’s commitment to creative cuisine and memorable dining experiences, the rethought menu is all about progressive cooking techniques and original dishes that allow the high-quality, locally sourced ingredients to shine. Dolbee’s focus on fresh, local, and sustainable products fuels his vision and creativity, and the edible innovation that ensues has made Kitchen 1540 a draw for locals and tourists, alike.
Dolbee is making the most of his “endless possibilities” philosophy with his seasonal dinner menus, which include a few surprises like the addition of an abalone dish—notable as this ingredient just recently become available from a sustainable seafood farm. The menu overall is divided into sections: raw, artisan, cure, coastal, inland and sidekick, changing up how diners think about, and select, their food. The raw section of the features items like oysters and steak carpaccio while the artisan selections are focused on salads and cheeses. The cure segment of the menu has a selection of smoked and cured meats. Inland and coastal offer diversified main entrées while sidekicks provide a range of exciting side dishes that can be shared.
The evening of my visit I had the opportunity to sample a cross section of Chef Dolbee’s spring menu and the experience left me longing for more. Much more.Tastings of the amply portioned, artistically plated dishes included the fresh Ahi ($16) with hot miso, yuzu cucumber, crispy oyster and smoked ikura; Truffle Salad ($19) with tomato and burrata; Un-French Onion Soup ($10); Abalone ($18) with artichoke, arugula puree, lemon nutty brown butter and northern lights caviar; Diver Scallops ($15) with scrambled corn, sweetbread “bacon” and tonic 5; Wild Boar ($33) with black kale, black mole, apple, parsley root, charcoal and white chocolate; and Halibut ($31) with green garlic, ramps, nugget potato “mugaritz” and chicken fried fiddlehead fern; and, as the side, the Fried Brussels Sprouts ($10) tossed in a red hot sauce with bacon and topped with blue cheese. From the dessert menu, I reveled in the Red Velvet Cake ($10) with red vanilla beet, flexible chocolate and cocoa nibs; the Tres Leches Cake ($10) with coconut, white chocolate, and pickled blueberries; and the Frozen Yuzu Pie ($10) with lime sugar and nori cookie.
The inventive dining philosophy at Kitchen 1540 also carries through to the restaurant’s newly introduced L’Party Planners service for up to 100 people—offering everything from theme ideas to photography—with venue options that include indoor seating, outdoor patio parties surrounded by lanterns and a waterfall, and intimate celebrations in the private wine room. The private wine room also boasts an exclusive “Kitchen Sink” tasting menu ($85 per person or $150 if paired with wines), which essentially allows up to 10 diners to sample nearly everything on the menu over four courses—five dishes per course—served family style.“One of the unique things about Kitchen Sink is that, unlike most tasting menus which feature one-time specials, it is a tasting menu entirely made up of items that are on our regular dinner menu,” said Dolbee. “So, if a guest really enjoys something, they are able to come back to the restaurant and order it for their meal.”
Prior to taking the reins at Kitchen 1540, Chef Dolbee helped the Four Seasons Resort Whistler earn Canada’s only Five Diamond distinction, and his work was also integral to the conception and design of the popular SIDECUT restaurant. A Los Angeles native, Dolbee started his culinary career at 18 as a chef tournant for the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel in Laguna Beach. He also worked at the Jonathan Club in Los Angeles. Other of Dolbee’s professional culinary quests around the U.S. include Manele Bay Hotel in Hawaii andThe Sagamore Resort in New York, as well as working for famed culinary master Joaquim Splichel at Pinot Provence followed by French 75 in Laguna Beach.
Now in command of the brigade at Kitchen 1540, the stakes remain high for Chef Dolbee. To date, the restaurant has received numerous awards and accolades, including Wine Spectator magazine’s Award of Excellence; The California Restaurant Association’s Gold Medallion-Best Hotel Restaurant, Fine Dining; San Diego magazine’s Best Hotel Restaurant; and Ranch & Coast magazine’s Editor's Pick for Best Restaurant.
Having clearly risen to the occasion, Chef Dolbee has assured a fine dining experience that’s nothing short of remarkable.
***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***