Following the holiday chaos of a full house of fledglings returning temporarily to the proverbial nest, I was in dire need of rest and relaxation in lovely surrounds. In coastal Carlsbad, I got that, and culinarily speaking, so much more. The Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara located in North San Diego County’s Carlsbad, is a great spot to regroup and reconnect. Set amid lush landscaping atop hillsides and fairways, the grounds provide blue Pacific vistas along walking paths, two large year-round heated pools, two large well-equipped fitness centers, daily exercise class, kids’ club and a comfortable clubhouse with coffee service, newspapers, large screen television and pool table. Though I valiantly played two games of pool, I lost both, but the second only due a silly, late game scratch.
The resort has 246 villa units in 27 low-rise buildings set in two villages, Meadows and Summit. Villa rooms are spacious with my one bedroom unit containing 1,245 square feet with two furnished balconies, fireplace, full kitchen and not that I had any intention of doing laundry, a stack washer and dryer discreetly placed in a closet. Given that some Residence Club guests stay for a month or longer, especially those from chilly climates, this is certainly a well-appreciated amenity. The bedding provided much needed luxurious sleep no doubt aided by the dreamy mattress topper menu with choices of Four Seasons Signature, Signature Firm or Signature Plush.
Aviara’s Driftwood Spa has a full menu of specialty massages, wraps and facials with treatment rooms named Breeze, Drift and Sway. Its small relaxation lounge that is just that. Herbal teas, dried fruits and nuts and hanging driftwood ensembles with shell-filled glass jars provide a Zen-inspired atmosphere.
Five minutes away is Ponto Beach with high sandy dunes and good surfing. If boogie boarding floats your boat, then Tamarack Beach is close by. If traveling with four-legged, furry companions – the Four Seasons Aviara is very dog friendly – family friendly Del Mar Beach is also dog friendly and north of 29th Street, dogs are permitted off leash from the day following Labor Day until June 15th. (The remainder of the year dogs are permitted on leash.) If travel companions include children of the human variety, Moonlight State Beach in Encinitas 10 minutes away has it all, including lifeguards, volleyball courts, and a playground. If the kids tire of the beach, nearby are legendary Legoland, SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park to explore.
For golf aficionados, Aviara’s Arnold Palmer designed 7,007-yard, par-72 course, was named “scenic resort golf at its best” by Golf Digest. With abundant wildflowers, water features and colorful landscaping, it resembles a botanical garden. Close by are several other renowned courses including Torrey Pines, site of the 2008 U.S. Open where Tiger Woods played – and won – on a broken leg, the traditional Omni La Costa which has two PGA championship 18-hole courses designed by Dick Wilson and Joe Lee, the challenging Carlsbad Crossings designed by Greg Nash, and the Joseph Lee designed Del Mar Country Club.
What sets the Four Seasons Aviara apart from other hotels in the area is the food – more on that in a minute – and always, the service. Impeccable, without being hovering, the genuine hospitality of its employees simply makes guests never want to check out.
Carlsbad itself is a quaint beach town. Along State Street are a few interesting shops including Humble Olive Oils with a good selection of infused oils, and Chocolate Bar serving lattes and espressos and of course, gourmet chocolates. A block away on Grand Avenue is Ohana Creations where one can buy Kona Coffee, Aloha shirts, and for those needing some island aroma, fresh flower leis. On intersecting Carlsbad Village Drive are more little shops and on Roosevelt Street, Paon Restaurant & Wine Bar that boasts over a thousand different wines. This all with the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean two blocks away.
Carlsbad is often thought of as a sleepy beach town to nearby San Diego. It may not be perceived as a proto-foodie haven, but that perception will likely change in short order. Campfire Restaurant opened in September 2016. Its nondescript exterior and cavernous interior resembling a high-end Quonset hut with soaring ceilings makes sense once you learn the space was first used as an auto repair shop. Here Owner John Resnick and Chef Andrew Bachelier have created a truly unique dining and drinking experience.
What makes Campfire’s menu so innovative is the ability to take foods one would never consider ordering as tapa-style dinner dishes, like broccoli, purple cabbage wedges or cauliflower and add spices such as bonito, quinoa furikake, tamarind, chermula and candied peanuts rendering those items so delicious, one could almost consider becoming a vegetarian. Not to worry carnivores, Campfire has a tender lamb crépinette on offer as well as brisket with cornbread purée and grilled ribeye.
Another Campfire favorite is mouth watering salmon tartar with shishito pepper and smoked aioli presented in a glass terrarium. The piece de resistance is a six-inch campfire for one to roast oversized marshmallows with salted caramel chocolate sandwiched between almighty graham crackers. With food like this, I could have a future as a Girl Scout. At the Four Seasons Aviara ‘Kitchen Counter,’ I sat at the six-seat counter of the working kitchen for a five-course tasting menu under the direction of uber-talented, Cordon Bleu-trained Chef de Cuisine James Waters.
With a bird’s eye view of the preparation by Chef Waters and his Sous Chefs, I became a human version of Pavlov’s puppy albeit with perfectly paired wines. An amuse bouche of San Diego mushroom and edible flower got the ball rolling joined by Medivol sparkling Rosé. Hamachi crudo with strategically placed Caro Caro oranges, local grapefruits and jalapeño got me in touch with my inner mermaid. A blood beet salad with creamy goat cheese and pistachios came next with a Masianco Pinot Grigot followed by tender, flavorful octopus on house made angel hair pasta accompanied by chorizo, bacon, smoked tomato and Iconoclast Chardonnay. To cleanse the palate came a tequila-infused pineapple slushee making clear that the slushees of my youth were wholly inadequate ice bombs.
Though unsure I could taste more, my resolve abruptly ended when Chef Waters brought out pomegranate braised short ribs served with mole on masa and a warm shrimp salad that went swimmingly with the 2014 Joseph Carr Cabernet. The fetching feast ended with a deconstructed Tiramisu perfectly paired with an Otima Port. Innovation, coupled with highly skilled culinary talent and the freshest, locally sourced ingredients rendered this an utterly unforgettable dining extravaganza.
At Aviara’s main restaurant Seasons, a must try is the breakfast of champions: bread pudding French toast with shaved coconut and sliced almonds. The avocado Benedict and the fish tacos are also winners.
Aviara’s Chef Waters conducts a monthly cooking class and lucky for me the January class, in honor of the New Year, was Healthy Reboots. He showed me how to make a healthy, cleansing tonic that would also boost one’s immune system. With crushed cranberries, lime, ginger, rosemary, mint, tarragon, bitters, Ginseng and Echinacea and virtually no sugar, it was brightly colorful but I was skeptical. However, in the time it took to make our entrée of a grilled broccoli salad with multicolored carrots, roasted almonds, dried cherries and tahini dressing, I drank three glasses of the delicious cranberry elixir, no doubt rendering me far healthier than an hour prior.
On Cedar Street in San Diego’s Little Italy, the weekly Saturday Farmers’ Market from 8am to 2pm is a great find. With food and flowers galore, it is quite the foodie scene and a distinct part of the local life. Small farms are big in San Diego – there are more per capita than any other American county – their economic importance and cultural significance explains why this market attracts over 10,000 people a week. Come hungry, you will leave satiated beyond measure.
The Lesson Learned
The splendid culinary scene in Carlsbad will not likely remain quiet much longer. With all manner of activities nearby, including the all-important activities of rest, relaxation and eating, the Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara is an excellent choice. And that’s a very good thing since those fledglings may return for Spring Break just-around-the-corner.