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Review: Coastal comfort food at Del Mar SoCal Kitchen

J.R. McMillan

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If not for the rhythmic roar of an occasional COTA bus breaking like waves against the shore, you might just mistake the sounds of the Short North for a Southern California boardwalk. But if the seaside-inspired shutters and coastal decor of its most recent restaurant don’t suspend your disbelief, the menu and milieu surely will.

Cameron Mitchell’s newest venture, Del Mar SoCal Kitchen, is the casual counterpoint to Ocean Prime (or what we locals know better as the original Ocean Club). Though the dinner-only destination is more than a “finer diner,” with an emphasis on intimacy, dominated by two-tops complemented with low-lit alcoves for more amorous couples and conversations.

The weekend before any restaurant launch is often a soft open, the culinary equivalent of a dress rehearsal for a forgiving audience. But unlike the average opening night, this evening was actually a tale of two Camerons. To my left was the insatiable restaurateur introducing a table of friends to his latest collection of curated cuisine, and at my own table, the irrepressible Cameron Fontana and his wife Katie. Familiar faces for sure, but we were otherwise strangers who just happened to be seated together.

Columbus is just big enough for folks to share the same orbit without ever intersecting. Though they didn’t know it at the time, my wife and I also happened to be house shopping a couple of years back, even looking at some of the same homes, including one featured
on their appearance on HGTV’s House Hunters. Fontana also fell short of finishing a comically-proportioned local pizza challenge, as well as having been born in Osaka the same year I’d spent a summer in Japan as an exchange student.

Cameron moved to California as a kid, decades before television became his calling and Columbus his adopted hometown. Meanwhile, Katie hails from Pickerington, yet her influence as a fitness and dance instructor reaches well beyond Central Ohio. The unanticipated rapport made them the perfect two-person test market for that other Cameron’s Midwest twist on coastal comfort food.

Never mind the awkwardness of new acquaintances. Exploring the menu immediately became a group effort, with each course pushing geographic and culinary boundaries. Though billed as a “SoCal” establishment, opening options like the curry clams, with heirloom tomato and Thai coconut, to the chilled octopus, served on ice with pickled cucumber, tobiko roe, and a citrus vinaigrette, cast a wider net with Pacific Rim credibility.

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Cameron was cool with shells, scales, even suction cups. But Katie confessed she isn’t always so keen on seafood. It’s a common conundrum among couples when one comes from the coast and the other is a little more local, another coincidence my wife and I share with the Fontanas. It’s not that seafood is inherently more sophisticated, just more scarce. The farther you grow up from saltwater, the more likely you are to eat off the hoof than off the hook.

Accordingly, Katie ordered the more reliable angus ribeye, flanked by a spinach salad of smoked bacon, pickled turnips, and ricotta salata, while Cameron was tempted by the almost obligatory fish tacos, breaded in a Baja style Tecate beer batter with bright pico de gallo and a sweet potato chimichurri. The halibut had my name on it, with Marona almonds and golden raisins atop a citrus chili relish. But everyone was also eyeing the swordfish, which we agreed to split—along with everything else.

And this is where Del Mar really raises the bar, offering equally enviable alternatives to their signature fare. At most seafood restaurants, if it doesn’t have fins, it probably plays second fiddle. The ribeye was seasoned and seared to steakhouse standards. The tacos were on target with a tempura texture offering yet another nod to California’s Asian influences. The halibut was delicate and decadent, and exactly what you’d expect from a plate I later learned every chef has to personally approve before it leaves the kitchen.

But the swordfish was sumptuous and as satisfying as any cut of steak, balanced with a refreshing Brussels sprout and sliced apple slaw with orange-mustard vinaigrette and a creamy sweet potato puree waiting to be discovered on the bottom of every bite. If there’s a single entree that epitomizes Del Mar’s earnest appeal to Midwestern palates, this may be it—and Katie is among its early converts.

Del Mar’s desserts are deceptively understated. Easily overlooked are the coconut sorbet served on the half shell and the Hawaiian shaved ice with the punch of pineapple. Order both and share for an experience akin to a deconstructed piña colada. For something more citrusy and unexpected, the olive oil cake is like eating an orange creamsicle with a fork, and so moist it cuts without leaving a crumb.

Dinner could end right there or extend upstairs to Lincoln Social Rooftop, an equally intimate perch accessible only by private elevator. Despite the polished appointments and urban overlook that stretches from downtown to the University District, the low seating around a cozy campfire still carries a little of the beach vibe into the exclusive cocktail lounge.

Despite its shine, California cuisine often gets as much shade, with petite and pretentious presentation rubbing the working class the wrong way. Steve Martin’s sardonic Shakespearean satire L.A. Story summed it up succinctly with one silly line — “Gee, I’m done already and I don’t remember eating.”

Not so with Del Mar SoCal Kitchen. Each plate is portioned with purpose—generous, but never garish—featuring flavors that reveal a refined appreciation for beloved regional ingredients. Those Brussels sprouts and sweet potato headline a recurring cast of Midwest favorites rarely found in deep-sea delicacies. The recipes are ocean-inspired, but undeniably Ohio in origin. If Alice Waters were to suddenly set up shop in the Short North, her execution would likely look shockingly similar. 

Columbus is still a meat and potatoes town better known for beer and beards than seafood for certain. But the thoughtful and affordable opulence of Del Mar SoCal Kitchen proves we’re more than just another inland culinary imitator. We’re not simply an emerging market. We’re evolving into a city that defines its own identity—sure to acknowledge influences, but unapologetic as innovators deserving our own overdue moment in the sun.

Del Mar is located at 705 N High St and is open Sunday through Thursday 4pm – 10pm and Friday through Saturday 4pm – midnight. Visit cameronmitchell.com or call 614.300.9500 for more information.

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Food & Drink

Rémy Cointreau presents: The Sidecar

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**SPONSORED**

We teamed up with Rémy Cointreau and local bartender, Ben Griest, from Giuseppe’s Ritrovo to bring you an icon of cognac cocktails. Ben's previous videos featured the art of margarita-mixology, and now we are moving on to another tasty cocktail. This timeless, opulent drink is well-balanced and fresh.

With National Cognac Day coming up, we figured it would be great to share, Rémy Martin 1738 presents The Sidecar.

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Food & Drink

National Brisket Day is Today!

Julian Foglietti

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Photo by Brian Kaiser

With meat shortages starting to take their toll and National Brisket Day here at last - we've gathered a roundup of some spots you can go to to get your brisket fix.

Legacy Smoke House

With their main location in Hilliard and a food truck moving throughout the city, Legacy Smoke House is a solid choice for brisket on National Brisket Day, just be sure to get there while supplies last. Enjoy!

Pecan Pennys

Just off Main Street, Pecan Pennys is ready to fulfill your brisket needs. If your looking to feed a family though be sure to get your orders in advance as they're requesting 24 hours notice on dinner bundles.

Ray-Ray's Hog Pit

With locations in Franklinton, Westerville, Clintonville and Powell Ray Ray's Hog Pit is open for business with brisket stocked at all locations. #NationalBrisketDay is the best day!

Hoggy’s Restaurant and Catering

Located on Bethel Road, Hoggy’s will be stocking brisket for both dine-in or carryout. Feel free to stop in or stop by!

The Pit

With a new location opened up on Parsons Ave. The Pit BBQ will be offering brisket for the National day. Celebrate with some tasty brisket!

City Barbeque

City Barbeque will be offering brisket for the National day! So get excited and get ready for some yummy BBQ brisket!

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{UPDATED} Indoor Dining: what’s NOT opening?

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Los Gauchos

PINS Mechanical Co.

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Hey Pinheads. We're so excited to hear that our world is beginning to reopen! Many of you have reached out asking about our opening plans so we wanted to provide a brief update on Pins Mechanical Co. While we fully trust and support the decisions of our local leaders, it’s our responsibility to ensure the health and safety of our team members and guests, while not sacrificing the experience that makes Pins, Pins! With that in mind, none of our locations will be opening in May. There are many unknowns with COVID-19 and we hope that taking this extra time will help our guests and teammates feel better about the measures we’ve put in place to keep all of us safe. For example, on top of our already stringent cleaning procedures, we’re installing UV technology at all locations (ensuring you always have clean balls to play with). We’re looking forward to welcoming back our kick-ass team to train and adjust to this new normal. Once our people feel comfortable + confident, we’ll know it’s time to get rollin’ again! Thank you for your incredible support, online sales, photo shares + kind words over the last two months. Even when you couldn’t show up, you showed up and we’ll never forget it! We’re hopeful that everyone will be safe and smart as we begin to reopen the doors to the small businesses that make our communities so special. See you soon, Pinheads!

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Old North Arcade

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Dear friends, . As you are most likely aware, Governor DeWine has permitted the reopening of bars and restaurants for dine-in seating effective 5/21. We are very grateful that our leadership is now offering businesses the choice to do what they think is right. We offer no judgment for the bars and restaurants that are/have chosen to open. However, for our particular business, and for our staff, we still think it's too early. We are going to remain closed this week and next but do hope to open soon. Your understanding and patience is greatly appreciated and we cannot wait to see you all. It is important to us that we apply an extra layer of safety and precaution on top of the govermental recommendations. Tentatively, we are looking at the end of May to reopen in a very limited capacity but we're following local and national developments very closesly so will be quick to bail if things turn south. Your continued support has been quite humbling. Thank you. Stay healthy, support local, and be more than kind to one another. . Cautiously optimistic, . ONA Staff

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Watershed Kitchen + Bar

101 Beer kitchen

They are delaying opening dine-in service until May 26th.

Matt the Miller's Tavern

Stay tuned on social for patio and dine-in updates!

J. Gumbo's

J. Gumbo's will continue to stay open for online ordering for pick up and delivery - stay tuned for dine-in updates.

Mouton on High

The Whitney House

The Whitney House will be opening Tuesday, June 2, 2020 at 11 am.

The Guild House

Stay tuned for opening dates!

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Stay safe everyone 💕

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Smoked On High

Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace

The Woodbury

The Woodbury will be opening its doors for dine-in service on June 1 2020.

Roosters

Roosters are not opening dine-in until May 26th 2020.

The Eagle

The Eagle is temporarily closed - stay tuned on social for updates!

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In light of the government mandated closure of dine-in business for an indeterminable period of time, we’ve made the incredibly hard decision to temporarily close The Eagle Columbus. . Given the truly unprecedented and quickly evolving nature of this health crisis, we’ve been forced to make the best decisions we can, with the information we have. As the true scale of this crisis has been revealed, it’s become impossible to deny the impact this mandate will have on our business and team members. This decision was made as all of our decisions have been: with the health, happiness, well being and best interests of our guests and team members in mind. . The state of Thunderdome Restaurant Group is strong and we look forward to seeing and serving you all on the other side of this. Truth, courage, and be well.

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Lavash Cafe

Tiger + Lily

Tiger + Lily is sticking to carry out for the time being. Follow them on social for updates for dine-in!

Yats Grandview

Red Lobster

Red Lobster is continuing to stick to curbside pickup, delivery, or touchless pick-up.

Harvest Pizza

Bareburger Columbus

Bareburger is opening for dine-in on May 26th, 2020.

Mezze

City Barbeque

Local Cantina - Creekside, Grandview, Dublin, Westerville, Hilliard Locations

Creekside Local Cantina is delaying opening indoor dining until May 26, 2020.

OH Pizza and Brew

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