Those who like to support small, local companies will love the new “Flavor” concept introduced in January at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort. The idea is that guests don’t have to leave the hotel to dine like a local, and Coronado locals can enjoy the finest regional cuisine in a resort setting.
This week, Loews Resort invited a group of journalists, media influencers and bloggers to go straight to the source of the local flavors that the hotel has introduced. The first event featured native food prepared by Executive Chef Chris Aguirre, coupled with spirits by You & Yours Distilling Co. (Y&Y), which is led by San Diego’s first female distiller, Laura Johnson. Their gin and vodka are served in the Cays Lounge and Silver Strand Exchange Bar, Crown Landing, and can also be delivered to guestrooms. The popular Y&Y Sunday Gin is a modern take on American-style gin, highlighting fresh citrus and juniper with an elegant floral finish, elevating the flavor profile. Launched in March, Y&Y is a full production distillery, tasting room and event space located in downtown San Diego, complete with a world-class cocktail program.
Our next adventure was to Catalina Offshore Products Fish Market where we met Tommy Gomes, a bona fide fishmonger who has fished all over the world and whose family has been in the fishing industry for generations. One of his claims to fame is catching an 865-pound blue fin tuna at age 17 that sold for $72,000.
In 2012, he saw the need to create a seafood education nutrition center because not enough people in San Diego were talking about the health benefits of truly fresh fish. Catalina offers dinners and classes to educate the public about the reality of fresh fish and has an extensive showroom. Most people don’t know that San Diego has the second largest kelp forest next to the Falkland Islands.
“It’s important to know your fish. There is good and bad farmed fish. You should know the source of where your food comes from, whether it be the fisherman or the farmer,” says Gomes. San Diego has all the fish you need. They offload 30 to 60,000 pounds per week with most of their fish coming from San Diego and Baja California, and some from Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. Mt. Lassen has particularly good steel head trout. “You know it’s good if the fat develops on the roof of your mouth,” says Gomes. Some premium fish also come from New Zealand, where the fish actually swim in glacier water rivers with no added parasites or antibiotics. He calls his favorite opah the filet mignon of fish.
There is no doubt the fish is authentically fresh when each fish is marked with the boat, fisherman, time caught and weight. Fish is shipped daily all around the world, including Los Angeles, Boston, New Orleans and China. For example, the fish that’s caught one day is shipped the same day to New Orleans and ends up on a guest’s dinner plate the next day.
Catalina Offshore has been serving up fresh fish since 1977, when it was founded by Dave Rudie, who started diving near Catalina, catching sea urchins during the day and processing them at night. He grew to be the number one sea urchin producer in the U.S. out of his garage, and now Catalina has an extensive fish market and education center where locals can shop for the same quality fish as chefs.
Sixty women are specially trained to sort, hand crack and scoop the sea urchins through the complicated process of getting them ready for market within 24 hours as Uni, which is used for sushi and sometimes called the “custard of the sea.” Gomes developed a process where the unusable parts of the fish are now developed for a variety of fish attractants. “My philosophy is to use the whole fish,” he says, and continues, “We work to build trust with local chefs and help them find the best fish for their particular needs.”
When we returned to the resort, we were treated to a beer and truffle pairing, which was a combination I had never experienced, but from the rave reviews, the two paired superbly. The Claritas Kolsch beer, a 2014 World Beer Cup winner, was paired with an apple pie truffle, while the HessFest 7 Imperial Stout was combined with a bacon whiskey truffle, offering a tasty sweet and salty combination.
We met Greg Hess, who along with older brother Mike, started Mike Hess Brewing in 2010 in San Diego in an 800 square foot space with a small cooking size brew pot. They developed a cult following and now brew 10,000 barrels per year, making them the 11th largest brewery out of 150 in San Diego. They have three locations: the original “nano” in the San Diego Miramar area, the production brewery in North Park and the satellite tasting room in Ocean Beach. Expansion plans include a taco shop in Imperial Beach opening by early fall.
Creativity oozes out of San Diego native Andrea Davis, Trufflin TM chef at Andrea’s Truffles, which she started out of her studio apartment in 2011. She has since partnered with local businesses and The Patio Group. The 2,000 truffles created each week are all handmade with premium chocolates and the colors are created with cocoa butter. She loves crafting new products and flavor profiles. A popular item is the milk and dark chocolate crack chocked full of French wafer cookies and an array of other interesting ingredients. These delicacies are available in the Loews gift shop, specialty stores and online.
The final event was decorating cupcakes from Sweet Cheeks Cupcakes, which claims title to Cupcake Wars winner. A variety of flavors of their organic, natural and delicious sweets are available for guests at the Silver Strand Exchange. As two friends who had baked together for what seemed a lifetime, owners Donna and Elaine officially started their company in 2007. They use only quality ingredients including local butter, cage-free local chicken eggs, local organic field lavender, farmers’ market fruit, French nuts and fruit purees, and single sourced and sustainable chocolates. Their offerings also include cakes, cookies, gluten free options and other sweet treats.
Loews is one of the first hotel brands to embrace local partnerships on a national scale. “Living in America’s Finest City definitely has its perks. We are excited to offer Flavor San Diego to guests and local residents. From the freshest seafood to innovative cocktails, you don’t have to scour the city for the best, we offer it to you here,” says Eric Jenkins, director of food and beverage at Loews Coronado Bay Resort, who has been personally involved in the project.