The Hotel del Coronado hits the jackpot with its new JoJo Ruiz-led sea-to-table extravaganza.
I have to be honest. When I heard that The Del had tapped Las Vegas giant Clique Hospitality to come in and create a new dining concept for the property as part of the hotel’s master plan, I had my concerns. Vegas at The Del? What would that mean for San Diego’s beloved icon? Granted, there have been many incarnations, from Polynesian Tiki to the recent white-tableclothed 1500 Ocean, which, frankly, felt too insular and hushed. The debut of Serẽa (old Portuguese for “mermaid”) kicked off The Del’s $350 million master plan to reimagine the hotel’s 21st-century cool. Several million dollars later, Clique Hospitality, executive chef-partner JoJo Ruiz and Studio Munge, the Toronto-based design firm also responsible for The Oxford Club and Lionfish at Pendry, have transformed this space into a pulsing, vibrant scene.
“We wanted to do something that expressed beachside without being thematic. That felt luxurious, but at same time relaxed and comfortable, local and residential,” explains Alessandro Munge, the founder of Studio Munge, whose projects dot the globe from Asia to North America. This vision successfully unfolds as an eclectic mix of white-washed oak tables, art deco-style satin brass and mint-colored pendant lights hung from woven rope, Italian chairs with a Tuscan leather wrap, chunky Mexican woven tule chairs and more than 20 different fabrics from around the world. Pops of color enhance the neutral palettes, appearing in local artwork “inspired by the Californian coast and its beachy, Bohemian ‘laissez-faire’ attitude,” says curator Grace Zepelli from GZ Art Co.
The restaurant’s open-air terrace offers vibrant sunset views.
The indoor space spills outside onto a staggered terrace with deep booths dressed with blue-and-white pillows and wire-brushed marble tabletops with beautiful veining and texture. This vantage point delivers spellbinding views of the Pacific and pageantry of the bustling resort. The space feels effortless in its design and holistic in its approach, as the overall fresh and clean vibe also reflects executive chef JoJo Ruiz’s philosophy when it comes to his seafood menu.
Ruiz is a Jedi when it comes to fish. Unfaltering in his advocacy of sustainability, the 32-year-old earned a James Beard Smart Catch Leader title earlier this year for his commitment to sustainability at Lionfish. “I want my 1-year-old son to have access to the same fish I have now,” says the chef, who walks the talk, shows up on the docks and fills Serẽa’s centerpiece—a sprawling raw bar—with the bounty from local San Diego fishermen, as well as catch from Baja-based fishermen. His energy is infectious as he talks about the line-caught swordfish from Kelly Fukushima, the jiggling live sea urchins from 78-year-old diver Peter Halamay and spot prawns he receives from the Saraspes, one of San Diego’s oldest fishing families. “What’s really cool is that I officially have sustainable seafood restaurants in the newest hotel in San Diego and the oldest hotel,” Ruiz says with a smile.
Patatas bravas served with chile garlic aioli and chives
We start with a divinely tender charcoal-grilled octopus with red chimichurri and sumac-pickled onion on a bed of salted potatoes. Next, it’s beef carpaccio with manchego, 20-year-aged balsamic and watercress pesto, though it’s slightly overpowered by the presence of too many walnuts. And while the menu sports many tempting ocean delicacies like halibut ceviche, hiramasa and sea bass en papillote, we have to go for the whole fish experience. Our server presents us with a red snapper on a platter, then whisks it off behind the scenes, where it’s scaled, gutted and cooked to order. Chef declares his secret weapon to be a “vinegar blitz”—a spritz of white balsamic, red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice he uses while grilling, forgoing marinade.
The white fish melts in our mouths, perfectly accompanied by sides patatas bravas in chile aioli and a medley of mushrooms sauteed in caramelized brown butter with shallots, garlic, Provençal herbs and a dainty hen egg on top. And while fish steals the show here, I can’t resist the lamb chops, which are hung over open fire so they “render nice and slowly” before being grilled and served with chermoula, sunchokes and fingerlings. Sighworthy in every way.
The Del Fugu cocktail, $150, is presented in a handcrafted puffer fish glass (yours to keep) with a side of Beluga caviar.
The middle booth on the upper terrace near the tiled fireplace
Your favorite whole fish at the raw bar or a snap of the Pearl Diver, a white chocolate seashell with a white chocolate mousse pearl set on pineapple pound cake and dressed up with tropical fruit.
The deluxe $150 Fugu Del cocktail: Beluga platinum vodka, marcona almond orgeat, Meyer lemon and 2006 Dom Pérignon Champagne served in a handblown puffer fish glass on a wooden plank with a caviar bump, accompanied by a beach essence made in-house (coconut and tanning lotion) over dry ice in a seashell. The glass is yours to keep.
Fresh live sea urchin that’s still moving when served.
Message in a Bottle Sundae consisting of salted caramel ice cream, bourbon chocolate sauce and candied walnuts
It’s easy to get swept up in the dinner theatrics here, like the $150 Fugu Del cocktail served in a handcrafted puffer fish glass with a side of Beluga caviar, or the massive Pearl Diver white chocolate dessert. As darkness descends over Serẽa, I can’t help but think that a glow-in-the dark Cirque du Soleil performance should start any minute on the Windsor Lawn before us. Serẽa is a welcome burst of new energy in this storied place, and rather than clashing with the grand dame, Serẽa makes her brighter. 1500 Orange Ave., Coronado, 800.468.3533
Photography by: Jim Sullivan