The dining room at the Hotel Coronado looks out over the ocean towards the skyscrapers of San Diego's downtown. Head chef here (since June 2011) is now Aaron Martinez, who has worked briefly at Belgium's In de Wulf and also as chef de cuisine at Rancho Valencia. He was running the kitchen tonight.
The dining room is doubtless a nice spot on a sunny summer evening, but in the dark of winter it is just an ordinary low-ceilinged room with wood panelling and leather chairs, with quite closely packed tables, with some banquette seating. The dining room seems to cater a lot for hotel guests, and the menu treads fairly carefully given this audience. Sorry for the lack of photos incidentally; I did not have my proper camera with me, and the lighting was subdued to boot.
The wine list had choices such as Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2010 at $48 for a wine that you can pick up in a shop for $16, Guigal Condrieu 2005 at $130 compared to a retail price of $50, up to wines such as Joseph Phelps Insignia 2007 at $450 for a wine you can find in a shop for $200, so markup levels were not excessive. Bread rolls were not good, doughy white rolls that tasted like something you might get in a supermarket.
There was a rather odd amuse-bouche of chilled green apple veloute with creme fraiche served in a shot glass. What was odd was the texture: it was presumably intended to be drunk (there was no spoon) and yet the texture was so thick that it barely moved when the glass was tilted. I was just contemplating this problem when the starter arrived, literally seconds after the amuse bouche had been set down.
The starter ($22) was black spaghetti, notionally with Dungeness crab, sea urchin, jalapeño and gremolata crumbs. In reality the seafood was lost entirely under the dominant flavour of the gremolata, and the jalapeño was barely detectable. I can be sure there was some crab mainly due to the piece of crab shell that the kitchen had included. The dish was also wildly over-salted, even for my taste (10/20).
Things barely improved with the main course. A trio of scallops ($36) were served with slightly overcooked baby squash, cherry tomatoes, and a gloopy green sauce that was I think was intended to be zucchini puree. The scallops were actually cooked OK but I am fairly confident were far from being alive just prior to cooking, and had a rather dull taste without the lovely sweetness that a really fresh scallop should have. I ate less than half of the plate of food, but was at least amused by the waiter's inquiry after I set down my knife and fork: "are you still enjoying?" - hmm, not much as it happens. I guess the scallops were objectively a 11/20, but the accompaniments were decidedly poor, and this was a long way from an enjoyable dish.
I decided to abandon the meal at this point. Not even if Michel Guerard had been personally preparing the pastry was this meal going to be rescued. Service was casual, though acceptable. The bill was $86 (£55) for two courses with a couple of glasses of wine. I once had a drink on the terrace here at sunset some years ago and it is a pretty spot, but wild horses would not drag me back here to eat.