Mustangs and Burros at Estancia La Jolla marries deep tradition with modern sensibility.
Accommodating an equestrian estate and training facility in the mid-1900s, the current property honors original Spanish architecture and furnishings of early-California life. Wood-beamed ceilings, adobe walls and wrought-iron fixtures are prominent throughout the estate. This hotel is certified green and is committed to saving the environment though extensive practices to lower its carbon footprint.
Thoughts of your stressful day dissolve quickly as you stroll along the winding paths filled with Southern California vegetation and dimly-lit candles. It isn’t difficult to locate the signature dining destination, as voices and laughter rise through the air, generated by happy patrons warming themselves in front of the adobe fire pit outside, or cozy fireplace in the dining room. Enter Mustangs & Burros, the warm and vibrant culinary centerpiece of Estancia, boasting finesse and beauty as well as an inspired menu by Executive Chef Kim Kramer.
Born in Lewiston, New York, but raised in New Mexico and Anaheim, Kramer began her culinary tenure right out of high school working in the hospitality industry at The Hilton Irvine, completing her three-year cook-apprentice program at Orange Coast College. She then served as Executive Chef at The Crowne Plaza Resort in Anaheim, California, where she was responsible for all day-to-day operations, including banquet production and purchasing for all events. Kramer also previously worked as the Executive Chef at the fine dining Italian Restaurant at Hyatt Anaheim, was chef at The Ritz Carlton Marina del Rey and recipe developer at The Artic Seafood Company. Prior to joining Estancia La Jolla, Chef Kramer served as the Interim Executive Chef at The Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa, California, where she assisted in reorganizing the catering and banquets departments, while executing elaborate large-scale events.
Backed by extensive culinary experience, Kramer is passionate about seasonal products and fresh seafood caught using sustainable practices. She supports the property’s green philosophy in making responsible decisions for the environment. “I have a big heart for our animal life; from how it is raised and eventually utilized for human consumption,” she said. “My profession relates to so many things: economics, arts, music, history, and the environment. I like knowing that my product comes from my core and speaks for me.”
Although I was tempted to sample one of the most popular starters, the Estancia Nachos with queso fundido and braised chicken, I opted for a more calorie-friendly option. The Ahi Tower was in a traditional configuration, layered with mango, avocado and sea beans, and complimented with crispy plantain chips. However, I took note of the frequent nacho sightings, resolving myself to return on a sinful night to plunge through the gigantic mound of flavors while sipping on one of the many local craft beers available by draft or bottle.
Kramer describes her cuisine as California Continental, with heavy influences from previous American and European mentors. Tasting her creations provides a glimpse into Asia, Latin America and south-of-the-border flavors. Descended from grandparents born in Northern Italy, she mandates authenticity by highlighting her family’s history throughout the menu. A unique dish not seen anywhere in my travels, her Open-Faced Ravioli is presented in vibrant color. Large pasta sheets are stuffed with sea scallops, prawns and herb Brie sauce, folded and accompanied by tomato confit, grilled radicchio and broccolini. This is an extremely rich dish with a creamy texture and complex flavor combinations that can be easily shared. Another one of my Italian favorites is the homemade Pappardelle topped with King crab, tarragon sauce and mushroom varietals. Absolutely decadent, it finished tableside with shaved truffle.
Traveling to other regional cuisines on the menu, I was impressed to find intriguing options for fresh seafood including Pineapple Glazed Salmon with sweet onion marmalade or Sea bass served with a mélange of mushrooms and lemon grass blanc. If you’re craving tender and flavorful meats, I highly recommend the Cumin Crusted Skirt Steak with fingerling potato skins and cheddar cheese. The presentation is simple and straightforward, upstaged by a whole roasted jalapeno, which added the buzz on the lips and heat I desired. Also not to be missed is the Pork Short Rib dripping with a Butcher’s Brewing Double Shaka IPA BBQ glaze, served with artichoke puree, cocoa nibs and coleslaw.
I can’t think of a better way to end a great meal than with the drama of a warm and evocative chocolate dessert paired with a Spanish coffee. The top note in the Chocolate Pudding Cake is the decadent chocolate sauce paired with a touch of Berry Coulis and a nice dollop of Tahitian Vanilla Ice Gelato. It’s hard to argue the results! (858/550-1000,www.estancialajolla.com)*This story by Maria Desiderata Montana first appeared in the March 2013 issue of FINE Magazine.