The first time I met Gunnar Planter, he was tableside, dressed in chef’s whites and describing a cavalcade of beautifully-plated dishes at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe’s fine-dining restaurant, Morada. I was there on a fact-finding mission as part of my food writing and, in preparation for my visit, Planter had conducted a thorough Internet search to find out what I’m all about — beer. He brought up that bailiwick along with the fact a chef-friend and former colleague from nearby gourmet gem Mille Fleurs was opening a brewery in Del Mar. I asked him if it was Viewpoint Brewing Company, he confirmed, and soon we were gabbing over the topic like a couple of beer nerds. It was a welcomed surprise, as was his announcement to me via a follow-up email that he was moving on from Morada to become executive chef at Viewpoint.
Being deep into beer and food, I was eager to learn more about Planter and Viewpoint founder Charles Koll’s vision for the business, especially when I discovered they were bringing on a third culinary professional, former pastry chef and Bear Roots Brewing brewer Moe Katomski, to serve as head brewer. That’s a great deal of gastronomic firepower, and they intended to put it all to use from the get-go at their high-profile brewpub on the banks of San Dieguito Lagoon directly across from the Del Mar Fairgrounds. That spot opened in July and has impressed behind a menu stocked with dishes that are a cut above more common brewpub offerings without coming across as stuffy or pretentious.
Pork belly “bites” are dressed with a molasses gastrique while a honeyed balsamic reduction adds sweet-and-sour zing to a salad of watermelon and feta cheese. Jidori chicken receives added savoriness from a jus infused with a house porter and hanger steak is bolstered by both pink peppercorns and a fresh chimichurri sauce. Even chicken wings are more exotic, coated in a dry-rub flavored with black limes or coated in a “Buffalo” sauce made with mild Calabrian chilies.
In my opinion, the most impressive differentiator at Viewpoint is implementation of a first for San Diego brewpubs—a food-and-beer tasting flight. Three beers served with three small-bite offerings designed specifically to pair with each ale. It’s the sort of idea so simple and smart one wonders how it doesn’t already exist. And now it does. Planter’s mode of conveyance for interchangeable flavors and ingredients is a brilliant pretzel bao bun. Viewpoint’s initial tasting flight paired a Mandarina Bavaria pale ale with salt-and-pepper shrimp, bacon jam and daikon relish; a red-rye India pale ale with pork belly, apples and kimchi; and a single-malt-and-single-hop (SMASH) saison with oxtail, pickled peppers and coconut hoisin sauce. It’s thoughtful, high-level pairing made better by a trio of chef minds.
The recipe for the house bao buns is rightfully well-guarded, but Planter did divulge a couple recipes for those looking to see things from his culinary point of view: mussels that includes nduja, a spreadable Italian-style pork sausage (which can be substituted with easier-to-find Mexican-style chorizo in a pinch) and shishito peppers in a German wheat ale broth. That’s followed by a popular vegetarian entrée from Viewpoint’s menu, roasted Romanesco cauliflower served over quinoa with roasted baby vegetables and heirloom tomato gazpacho. Get cooking… or simply make a visit to Viewpoint.
Mussels & Nduja
with Shishito Pepper in Beer Broth
Paired with Viewpoint Mandarina Pale Ale
Yield: 3 to 4 servings
2 pounds PEI blue or black mussels
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
5 ounces nduja sausage (or Mexican-style pork chorizo to substitute)
1 cup shishito peppers, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups of hefeweizen-style beer
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
salt to taste
¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped
Soak the mussels in salted water for 20 minutes, then drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the sausage, peppers, scallions, shallot and garlic and saute until they are slightly caramelized, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the mussels and beer, and bring to a boil. When the liquid has reduced by half, slowly whisk in the butter. Season with salt as needed. Finish with a squeeze of lemon, garnish with cilantro and serve, family-style, immediately.
# # #
Roasted Romanesco Cauliflower
with Quinoa & Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho
Paired with Viewpoint French Saison
Yield: 3 to 4 servings
1 pound heirloom tomatoes
1 Tbsp salt
2 tsp granulated sugar
2 sprigs basil, leaves only, chopped
1 sprig fresh tarragon, leaves only, chopped
2 heads Romanesco cauliflower, halved
extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1½ cups quinoa, cooked
roasted seasonal baby vegetables*
Combine the tomatoes, tablespoon of salt, sugar, basil and tarragon in the bowl of a blender or food processor. Blend until all of the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Refrigerate until cold.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Submerge the cauliflower and blanch for 2 minutes. Remove the cauliflower, dry it thoroughly and place on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil. Drizzle the cauliflower with the oil, season with salt and pepper, and place in the oven. Roast for 15 minutes, then remove and set aside.
To serve, place a mound of quinoa in the center of a bowl and top with a cauliflower half. Place baby vegetables around the quinoa, then drizzle with cold gazpacho. Serve immediately.
* Vegetables currently in season include baby carrots and baby squash.