At Vistal, in downtown’s spanking new InterContinental Hotel (IHG), I recently discovered my all-time favorite food description: mindfully curated coastal cuisine. I’m not being facetious. It’s clever. Chef Amy DiBiase (Laurel, Roseville, Tidal) and IHG’s director of food and beverage and culinary operations, Paul McCabe (Kitchen 1540), have birthed a new and au courant way to say local, sustainable and conscious. Cigars and Champagne to them. On the other hand, no one seems to know or understand exactly what the word “Vistal” means. The Collins English Dictionary calls it an adjective related to “vista.” Merriam-Webster politely says it doesn’t exist. My interpretation is something like this: Vistal = vista + portal, a conjectured hybrid that riffs on the restaurant’s epic views and the idea that it’s a portal to the sea or to that dreamy lightheaded feeling one gets on vacation when routine and drudgery have disappeared. Just saying, as this place feels like vacation.
The InterContinental sits at the edge of the embarcadero, and from Vistal’s third-floor perch, you can watch a parade of humanity playing in San Diego. Electric scooters zip by, cyclists pedal to and fro, trolley tours jangle along, palm trees sway, sailboats slice the sea, and ferries slip in and out of docks. The antique ships of the Maritime Museum lie to the north, and the gargantuan USS Midway fills the view to the west. While sipping a Pacific Blue—an Avatar-colored, frothy concoction of guava-infused tea with light rum and blue curacao, and a bright orange marigold floating on top—it’s a good time to ruminate on the fact that man figured out how to land high-speed airplanes at night on a tennis court-sized space on that very ship.
At Vistal, DiBiase has her dream job—working with her friend and mentor, McCabe, who’s taking her “cuisine to the next level.” She adds with zeal: “We have access to an amazing repertoire of ingredients. The best of the best. There’s no handcuffs here: We can do whatever we want.” Like kids in a chef candy store, the two have invested heavily into sourcing and experimenting to create an eclectic personal menu that draws upon the flavors of San Diego’s diverse cultures, nearby Baja, the chefs’ travels and McCabe’s passion for molecular gastronomy.