Two of San Diego County’s newest fine dining restaurants — Matsu in Oceanside and Semola Gastronomic Experience in La Jolla — celebrated their first anniversaries this spring, and their owners marked the occasion with some big news.
Both restaurants are moving from traditional a la carte menus to a tasting menu-only service, where diners pay a fixed price for a multi-course menu chosen by the chef. Matsu made the move on Thursday and Semola will make the switch in September.
William Eick, executive chef and owner of Matsu, and Giacomo Pizzigoni, co-owner of Semola, both say that the first year of a restaurant is about experimenting and evolving, so change is a necessity for doing business. Over the past 12 months, the two restaurateurs have discovered that the majority of their customers are opting for a tasting menu rather than ordering a la carte. Transitioning to a tasting menu will streamline kitchen operations, improve consistency and ensure that all customers can enjoy the most popular dishes.
Many San Diego chefs have turned to tasting menus for another reason: Michelin stars. The Michelin Guide introduced an all-California guide in 2019, making San Diego restaurants eligible for stars for the first time. The four local restaurants that have earned stars since then – two-star Addison and one-star Jeune et Jolie, Soichi Sushi and Sushi Tadokoro – have tasting or omakase menus. Chefs believe Michelin inspectors can better judge their culinary vision if they serve a progressive tasting menu.
Here is an overview of the transformation of the two restaurants.
Over the past two years, the tirelessly creative Eick has launched three food-related businesses, modern Japanese restaurant Matsu, karaage chicken sandwich pop-up Naegi, and Japanese wholesale milk bread bakery Hokkaido Bread. Co.
Since its opening day on April 29 last year, Matsu has offered both an eight-course omakase option and a la carte options. Eick said his goal was always to become an omakase only after a few years of building up a clientele, but so few customers dined a la carte that he decided to move his schedule forward.
Eick’s menu is known for its fresh and original interpretations of traditional Japanese dishes, including raw, smoked and aged fish dishes, duck, Japanese Wagyu beef and homemade dashi broths, sauces and flavoring powders. An example is his new three-way cuttlefish dish, which has a braised sunflower choke and rayu (garlic and chilli sauce) infused with dried cuttlefish, sunflower seeds and petals and fried cuttlefish, topped a pureed steamed cuttlefish leaf sprinkled with dehydrated sunflower oil.
The new omakase-only menu has been expanded from eight to 10 courses to ensure that all diners can sample Eick’s popular grilled cabbage and caviar “dumplings” appetizer and enjoy a second dessert (Eick prepares them all too). While the menu will change somewhat every few weeks, Eick said the current 10-course menu will also include tomatoes with hamachi and strawberry; scallop with romaine miso and macadamia; whelk (sea snail) with carrot and sunsho; two ways of cuttlefish in sunflower oil powder; ebi shrimp with tenkasu (tempura chips) and tentsuyu dip; sakana fish with sweet potato and seaweed; duck with Jerusalem artichoke and matsuyaki sauce; and the desserts of mochi waffle with matcha crumbs with kokuto syrup and yuzu/pine needle sorbet, and tangerine sorbet with orange blossom and marigold.
The price is $155, with an optional 11th course of A5 Wagyu steak from Japan for an additional $55. Food and wine pairings are $95.
There’s also a 10-course vegan tasting menu priced at $130 per person. For those who don’t want a full meal, the bar menu offers a handful of a la carte options.
Hours are 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Monday. 626 S. Tremont St., Oceanside. www.eatmatsu.com
Semola Gastronomic Experience
Semola opened on May 26 last year in the former PrepKitchen space in La Jolla. It is part of Milano Five Group’s Ambrogio15 restaurant group, which includes three Ambrogio15 pizzeria-restaurants in Pacific Beach, Del Mar and Little Italy.
Initially, the culinary concept of Semola was modern Italian with the influence of Argentinian, Japanese and Korean cuisines. But with so many other Italian restaurants near La Jolla, Semola has repositioned itself as an international fusion restaurant “with an Italian soul,” said Pizzigoni, general manager of Milano Five.
The current spring-summer menu — which will be replaced in September by a tasting menu — includes starters, salads, risottos, pastas and red meat and seafood starters and desserts available à la carte or from a set menu. five-course tasting for $99. Pizzigoni said around 80% of customers now opt for the tasting menu.
The menu was developed and overseen by chef Daniela Martinez, who is Argentinian-American. The menu also features four “house specialty” dishes created by consultant chef Silvio Salmoiraghi, who runs the Michelin-starred restaurant. Acquerello Restaurant, a modern Italian restaurant just outside of Milan. Salmoiraghi and his chef-partner Choi Cheolhyeok, who is Korean, travel to San Diego every two months to create new dishes for the Semola menu.
When the restaurant fully transitions to a tasting menu in the fall, Pizzigoni said the menu will likely still include Martinez’s best-selling Wagyu carpaccio and his Bob Ross Risotto dish, which diners can “paint” with powder. olive, tomato and prosciutto with rosemary. strand of “brush,” as well as one of Salmoiraghi’s specialties, such as kaiseki dumplings, a Japanese-style pasta and tuna dish created to balance taste, texture, appearance, and color.
Other changes to Semola over the past year include a new indoor dining area, weekend brunch service from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the creation of a six-seat chef’s table near the kitchen. , where Martinez created his own eight-course, three-hour dinner menu for two to six diners.
Its current chef’s table menu—inspired by his childhood memories, family heritage, and love for Brazilian and other cuisines—includes a whimsical vegetable “garden” of Jerusalem artichoke hummus topped with za’ atar planted with baby root vegetables served with a side of hot Italian gnocco fritto fry bread. Another dish is “Alice in Wonderland”, with tiny mushroom tortellini and grilled trumpet mushroom “scallop” topped with a mushroom broth that has been brewed in a glass teapot.
For each dish, Martinez presents diners with his own hand-illustrated index cards of each dish with notes on the back about the origins and ingredients of the dish. Dinner has seating every night from 5-8 p.m. The cost is $180 per person for two guests, $160 for three to five guests, and $150 for six. Food and wine pairings are an additional $99.
Hours are 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 7556 Fay Ave, La Jolla. (858) 412-3432. semolalajolla.com