Since 2001, Chef Jason Knibb has helmed the kitchen at Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar, one of the first farm-to-table restaurants in San Diego, located at the landmark Grande Colonial hotel. Offering an evolving California Cuisine, Knibb says he cooks the food that “we as chefs like to eat”, staying true to sourcing the best ingredients from local farms and purveyors. “We still try to always cook within the season, and use what is available in our own backyard, staying true to the core values that the restaurant was built upon.”
Since the restaurant was newly renovated, Knibb says it feels much more contemporary and less stuffy and dark. “The ambiance is still very warm, but with a refreshing, lighter color scheme. The restaurant’s new main focal point is the vibrant and locally-inspired ocean and fauna wall panorama created by local artist, Dana Montlack. It’s really beautiful.”
Knibb says it’s the consistency in his Nine-Ten kitchen that keeps guests coming back time and time again. “We have remained true to who we are, and what we do best, since we opened our doors 17 years ago. The consistency in the food, and the service delivery, is what sets us apart, and brings our guests coming back multiple times each week.”
Knibb doesn’t really try to create dishes that are too outside the box of what he presents traditionally, or too unrecognizable for his type of customer. “As we mature, we tend to create food that is more approachable, than unique and different,” he says. “Our Stone Crab and Old Bay Spaghettini is one dish that is fun and creative, and currently being very well received by our guests. The basic concept is to re-create a crab boil.”
A few popular menu items that have withstood the test of time are the Hamachi Sashimi with marinated baby shiitake mushrooms, and scallion vinaigrette, and the Jamaican Jerk Pork Belly with baby carrots, Swiss chard, plantains, black-eyed peas, spicy jellies and sweet potato purée.
Knibb believes the current food trends seem to be all about regional and heritage foods. “If you’re a Mexican chef, you’re cooking Mexican with a more modem, local approach,” he says. “I think we’ve been doing that for several years now, pulling from my Jamaican heritage – using some of the spices and techniques from my region, without turning NINE-TEN into a modern Jamaican restaurant.”
Knibb explained to me that many people don’t know that the building in which NINE-TEN now sits, has a history all its own. In 1926, the La Jolla Drugstore was purchased by Kansas native Silas O. Putnam, and moved inside the adjacent Colonial Hotel’s main building (which is now NINE-TEN). After he bought the drugstore and moved it to its new home, he added an ice cream parlor on the sidewalk that served up chocolate sodas and banana splits. The drugstore became a prime location for locals to gather, talk, and watch the few passers-by. Well loved by the townspeople, the pharmacist was also the father of Gregory Peck. Peck, who grew up in La Jolla, eventually left for Hollywood, and became a movie star. In 1980, the space once occupied by Putnam’s drugstore became Putnam’s Grille, which quickly became a local La Jolla landmark. Then in February of 2001, Putnam’s Grille closed its doors and six months later (on July 17th, 2001) opened as NINE-TEN.
©Written by Maria Desiderata Montana