Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Valle (Oceanside, CA)

Valle at Mission Pacific Beach Resort
222 N Pacific St, Oceanside, CA 92054
Tue 03/19/2024, 07:15p-10:40p

Valle Exterior

If you've read my last two posts, you'll know that I was recently in San Diego for work. I certainly wanted to enjoy a good meal on my drive back up to LA, and decided to check out Valle, a contemporary Mexican spot located at Oceanside's oceanfront Mission Pacific Beach Resort. The place is the creation of Chef Roberto Alcocer, known for his work at Baja's Malva, and opened back in October 2021.

About the Chef: Alcocer was born in 1984 in Mexico City, but spent much of his childhood in Baja. He got interested in food early on, thanks in part to his Oaxacan mother, and started cooking during middle school. At age 17, following high school graduation, he relocated to France and attained a bachelor's degree in the culinary arts from the Lycée des Métiers Condorcet in Arcachon, during which time he worked as a commis at Le Patio for a year. He furthered his culinary education in Puebla, Mexico while cooking professionally, then went to Belgium to study some more, and in 2004, worked at Sergi Arola's La Broche in Madrid. Alcocer was subsequently at Enrique Olvera's game-changing Pujol in 2006, an experience that really opened his eyes to modern Mexican cuisine.

In May 2009, he landed a corporate position at Sempra Energy's Casa Azul in Ensenada, a role he stayed at until April 2012. The Chef started work on his first solo project the following June, and Malva, situated inside the Mina Penélope winery in Ensenada, ended up debuting in 2014. That same year, he began a Valle de Guadalupe winemaking project called Bodega ERA, in collaboration with Mina Penélope's Veronica Santiago, and in 2015, he became a partner in Vesuvio, a charcoal oven company. In January 2016, Alcocer helped with the opening of Sole Raw and Oyster Bar in CDMX, while March 2021 saw the debut of his Ensenada pizzeria, Dr. Pizza.

Valle, meanwhile, was birthed in 2018, when the Chef was approached by Two Roads Hospitality's Matthew Stuhl on consulting for a restaurant in the San Diego area. Driven by both a desire to seek better medical treatment for his son (who'd recently been diagnosed with autism) and a desire to win a Michelin star, he accepted the offer, but as a full-time chef, not a consultant. Thus, he and his family relocated to Carlsbad in 2021, and Valle ended up grand-opening on October 15th. The place sort of went under the radar early on, but gained considerably more attention when it was awarded a Michelin star back in July last year, and was named one of Esquire's "Best New Restaurants in America" in November.

In the kitchen, Alcocer is supported by CdC Raul Casillas (Malva, L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Jaleo) and Sous Chef Esteban Avila (Shake & Muddle, Grove Steakhouse, Rancho Tecate Resort), while the front-of-the-house is run by GM James Spencer (Gwen, Bottega Louie, Melisse, Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare).

Valle Bar
Valle Dining Room
Pictured above is Valle's bar area, as well as the view from my seat in the dining room. The overall aesthetic is apparently inspired by the Valle de Guadalupe, and serves its purpose well.

Valle Menu Introduction Valle Mar y Tierra Menu Valle Vegetariano Menu La Familia de Valle
My "Mar y Tierra" tasting menu was priced at $180 a head, with an optional $150 wine pairing, and there was also a vegetarian option at the same cost. Click for larger versions.

Valle Cocktail List Valle Mocktail List/Beer List Valle Wines by the Glass List Valle Wine List: Sparkling, White, Rosé Valle Wine List: Red, Dessert Valle Spirits List
Here we see Valle's cocktail list, created by Lead Bartender Nina Burns (Bantam's Roost, The Crack Shack), as well as the restaurant's selection of beer, (mostly Mexican) wines, and spirits. Click for larger versions.

Champú Pet Nat Malbec, Valle de Guadalupe, MX 2022
Libation-wise, I got things going with a glass of the Champú Pet Nat Malbec, Valle de Guadalupe, MX 2022 [$26], as I don't think I'd had a sparkling Malbec before. The Chef actually helped craft the wine, and it falls under the banner of his Ensenada-based winery Bodega ERA. In any case, the pétillant-naturel demonstrated a delightful nose brimming with bright florals, peach, and yeast. On the palate, the sparkler was super floral (think rose), yet crisp and nearly beer-like with its yeastiness. Really enjoyed this one.

Chicharrón Soup
My meal got underway with a trio of "botanas" (snacks), and up first was this macchiato-inspired chicharrón soup topped with cotija foam. It did a fantastic job conveying the cozy savor of pork rinds, set against a familiar, tingling, lingering heat.

Crispy Corn Tortilla with Yellowtail
Next was a super crunchy corn tortilla filled with yellowtail, then topped with a cool, creamy avocado mousse and zingy micro pico de gallo. It was a fun bite, but I would've liked to have tasted more from the fish.

King Oyster Mushroom Ceviche
My final canapé was a king oyster ceviche, capped with threads of fried guajillo chile, and set atop pickled jícama. Though I wanted the earthiness of the mushroom to be more assertive, I still quite enjoyed this, as its classic ceviche flavors really sang, especially when taken in concert with the crunchy jícama.

Nieve en la Playa
Nieve en la Playa [$18.00] | pear brandy, cardamom, orgeat, lemon, sparkling wine / sweet, festive
I went with something decidedly easy-going for my first cocktail. The drink had this nearly orange juice-esque character, but perked up by sweet spices, while the brandy peeked through just enough. An apropos apéritif.

Buñuelo de Maiz
1: Buñuelo de Maiz | crème fraiche, tepache, supreme sterling caviar
A fritter of fried dough certainly made a statement in the evening's first proper course, and did a great job setting the tone for the rest of the meal. I was a fan of the buñuelo's crunchy consistency, maize-y savor, and slight sweetness, and it served as an apt base for the time-tested duet of caviar and crème fraîche, with the tepache only making itself known on the back end.

2: Betabel | beetroot kvass, Humboldt Fog, rosemary, shiso
This was a very strong beet dish, probably one of the best I've had in fact. I was smitten by the crispness of the root veggie, and even more so by how its super floral sweetness was tempered by both the lushness of the goat cheese and the mintiness of the shiso. Really clever.

Maggie [$20.00] | Valle signature clarified margarita
I'm a sucker for clarified cocktails, so this was a must-try for me, and didn't let me down. Ostensibly a blend of blanco, reposado, and añejo tequilas, the concoction did a wonderful job displaying the essence of agave, paired with a really fresh fruitiness, while that salted rim completed the experience.

3: Trucha | snake river trout, achiote aguachile, sikil pak
The Chef's take on aguachile was another winner, and likely one of the best versions of the dish I've tried. I loved the smoky savoriness of the fish, and how that married with the overt nuttiness of that pumpkin seed salsa, while the finish sported this nearly curry-like sensation.

Blue Corn Tostada
The aguachile arrived with an ultra-crunchy blue corn tostada that actually reminded me of Fritos.

Chancla de Callo
4: Chancla de Callo | sea scallop, molcajete salsa, avocado, asiento
I'm quite familiar with the huarache, but the chancla is another sandal-inspired food that I don't think I'd encountered before tonight. That being said, this was pretty stellar, with a delectable back-and-forth between the cool, subtly sweet scallop and those crunchy, super savory porky bits. It was a great contrast in both taste and texture, with the whole thing brightened up by the salsa and avocado.

Muñeca [$18.00] | gin, rhubarb, lime, vanilla bitters, club soda / tart, refreshing
This long cocktail was as gluggable as its name ("doll") would imply. Think lots of citrus up front, leading to even more sweet, fragrant, long-lasting vanilla. Also of note was the agave-based straw, which was biodegradable, yet still very sturdy and a much better alternative to those paper straws that just fall apart on you.

Taco de Langosta
5: Taco de Langosta | grilled spiny lobster, fideo seco, pipian rojo, avocado, cotija
The requisite taco course delivered. The langusta was superb texturally, arriving supple yet with enough "snap," and I loved the additional interest provided by the noodles (fideos need to be in tacos more often), not to mention the harmonizing effect of the tortilla. In addition, the nutty heat of the pipián meshed seamlessly with the crustacean, while a squirt of lime served as the perfect exclamation point.

Moist Towelette
Given the "hands-on" nature of the taco above, a wet napkin was much appreciated.

Black Bean Bread
A loaf of salty, nutty black bean bread was accompanied by a quenelle of sweet-yet-pungent black garlic butter.

Malinche [$18.00] | añejo tequila, mezcal, lillet blanc, honey, palo santo bitters / smoky, direct
My final cocktail just might've been my favorite of the bunch. I was enamored with the drink's fragrant, woodsy smoke, and how that was moderated by both the honey and the floral notes present.

Siete Mares
6: Siete Mares | aged yellowtail, mussel, clam, octopus, roasted fennel
Alcocer's caldo de siete mares seemed to draw from the tradition of bouillabaisse. I was impressed by the cookery on the seafood, with each item conveying its own unique, oceanic charms. Of particular note was the yellowtail, which had considerably more gravitas than usual, I'm assuming from the dry-aging. A heady broth worked to tie everything together, while charred fennel offered up a zesty counterpoint to the briny nature of the stew.

Sourdough Bread
A slice of sourdough was provided so that I could mop up the remaining liquid from above.

Cabernet Sauvignon/Nebbiolo, Chateau Domecq, Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico 2020
At this point, I requested some red wine in the form of the Cabernet Sauvignon/Nebbiolo, Chateau Domecq, Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico 2020 [$25]. A blend of Cab, Merlot, and Nebbiolo aged for 12 months in French oak, this one had a super jammy bouquet tinged with flowers. Taking a sip, I found loads of red, cherried fruits alongside soft tannins, light herbs, and smidges of spice. Quite easy to enjoy I have to say.

7a: Conejo | farm raised rabbit, chichilo negro, roasted poblano puree, squash blossoms
Rabbit was presented in a form resembling a roulade, and was on point in terms of both its taste and tenderness. I quite enjoyed it just by itself, but the protein was even better when taken with that mole chichilo, with its comfortingly nutty, sweet-n-spicy heat, which complemented the conejo without ever overwhelming it. Also key were the greens and flor de calabaza, which lightened things up.

Wagyu Carne Asada
7b: Wagyu Carne Asada [+$70.00] | 60 day aged Australian wagyu, onion, roasted guacamole, chile toreado puree
This reimagined carne asada was spot-on with its richness, fattiness, and deeply bovine flavors, and boasted a lovely smoke and char to boot. Given the heft of the beef, the avocado and veggies were absolutely crucial for contrast.

Yellow Corn Tortilla
The steak above was even better when folded with its various accoutrements into one of these hearty corn tortillas.

Cabernet/Merlot, Monte Xanic 'Gran Ricardo', Valle de Guadalupe, MX 2021
I was given a pour of the Cabernet/Merlot, Monte Xanic 'Gran Ricardo', Valle de Guadalupe, MX 2021 to pair with the beef. The wine was a Bordeaux blend, and was comprised of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec. The nose here was all about dark, inky fruits, tinged with a good amount of peppery spice. Palate-wise, this was super soft, showcasing loads of "seedy" strawberry, backed up by a distinct licorice character.

8: Mandarina | arroz con leche panna cotta, citrus curd, citrus
For dessert, a panna cotta did a commendable job expressing the ricey, sweet-n-spicy qualities of a good arroz con leche, and was set against the tangy, refreshing nature of Mandarin orange.

Double Espresso
A Double Espresso [$7] certainly fit the bill.

Valle Gift Box
Chocolate Truffles
At the conclusion of the night, I was given a box of chocolate truffles, which I enjoyed the next day. I found them particularly luscious, with a palpable dark fruit character, and perhaps a trace of coffee.

When I was looking for places to try in the San Diego area, there weren't all that many compelling options, quite frankly. Valle was one of the spots that seemed to hold the most promise, and I'm glad to report that the restaurant didn't let me down. In fact, I'd even say that this was one of the best Mexican dining experiences I've had. The team was able to deliver a smart, creative rendition of the cuisine, but one that was still relatively approachable and cheery given our location in easygoing Oceanside. Valle's clearly a standout in the SD restaurant scene, and I do hope that it can stick around for a long time in a region more known for California burritos and carne asada fries than any semblance of Mexican fine dining.


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