As our venues for eating and drinking in North County continue to proliferate, it’s becoming even easier to get stuck in our local bubble. Heck, I don’t even have to leave Leucadia anymore to experience a nice variety of culinary options. And as bubbles go, the North County coastal one is not a bad one to be stuck in.
That said, there are parts of San Diego that are worth exploring and I’ve discovered one area in particular that is worth making the short drive south to. It’s the Shelter Island region and when I was down there about a month ago at Fathom Bistro Bait & Tackle I noticed a beautiful resort called Kona Kai Resort & Marina. I needed to know more after a little digging I found out Kona Kai had just undergone a major renovation and had a new chef and restaurant called Vessel.
I booked a room and a dinner reservation for a Saturday night and made the easy drive down in about 25 minutes. The first thing I noticed was that the whole resort had an island feel to it. The marina holds some of the nicest and largest yachts around and the resort sits on the water with it’s own private beach, nice size pool, and all kinds of fun activities for families and couples. The rooms have all been completely renovated and while air conditioning may not be needed most of the year at Kona Kai, I went on one of our recent very hot weekends and it was nice that they had it. Request a room on the marina side as the views are much better.
Besides the epic location and all the nice amenities, I was really looking forward to trying the new restaurant at Kona Kai. Vessel offers New American cuisine expertly prepared by Executive Chef Roy Hendrickson, served in a casual, chic atmosphere. Vessel re-opened on July 4, 2014, fresh off of a transformation that included the addition of a 360° bar at its center and video wall showcasing local landscapes The coastal fare created by Chef Roy Hendrickson incorporates local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients, taking traditional delicacies and giving them a flavorful twist.
We started off with some really good New England clam chowder that was full of chunky pieces of clams and potatoes. A unique kale Caesar salad was a fun twist on the traditional version and the sardine was a nice authentic touch.
Chef Roy sent out a sample of the nightly special, which was a Japanese Hamachi that was melt-in-your-mouth good. I’m fairly certain I now know the difference between Japanese Hamachi, Yellowtail as it’s called here, and the local variety that is caught off of San Diego. Both are delicious but the Japanese variety has a higher fat content, giving it that buttery texture that is oh-so-good. Roy gave a slight sear around the edge but the rest was pure raw fish goodness. Geez, I need to get me some more of that, as it was really amazing.
For our main courses we went with the linguine Bolognese that was a huge portion of pasta goodness that I knew was going to be as good or better as a leftover cold the next morning and indeed it was.
Our second entrée pick was the New York steak frites with arugula and chimichurri. It was cooked a perfect medium rare with a nice charred crust over a bed of hand-cut fries. This is truly one of my favorite dishes ever and Chef Roy nailed it.
There was hardly room for dessert after those two hearty entrees but the warm fruit cobbler with vanilla ice cream was calling. Something about crumbles and fruit and ice cream weakens any restraint I have going. All good though, this was a staycation and I was going to indulge.
Vessel also does some serious hand crafted cocktails and in keeping with a vacation theme also had some fun looking punch bowls that serve 4-6. The local punch bowl that I tried in cocktail form includes Hendricks gin, St. Germain, pressed lemon and cucumber soda. Oh boy, those go down way too easy. It’s a fun bar scene at Vessel and there is also a bar outside by the pool. Either is worth checking out before or after dinner.
Check out hotel packages and the menu at Vessel at www.resortkonakai.com