This month, we find ourselves straying a bit off our usual beat to wend our way up to the Palos Verdes Peninsula (in that other county). As we drive north, the road narrows and becomes serpentine as lush green hills loom up on our right and the Pacific crashes into the craggy coastline on our left, leading us to Terranea Resort.
In the elite cadre of luxurious resort properties between San Diego and Santa Barbara, Terranea sits on a 102-acre private point and features a nine-hole links-style golf course and nine options for dining. Of these, the prime purveyor of California coastal cuisine is its fine-dining restaurant, mar’sel, and its chef de cuisine, Andrew Vaughan.
A native of New Orleans, Vaughan earned his toque in the kitchen of the famed Emeril Lagasse, and later in New York at Daniel, under the master chef Daniel Boulud. Vaughan is passionate about his vision at mar’sel, which begins with fresh produce and seafood. The resort maintains a one-acre farm near the compound, developed under Vaughan’s direction.
“We’ve been in the process of conditioning the soil, but this summer we’ve been super successful with baby carrots, heirloom tomatoes, favas, zucchini and squash,” says the chef, who also tends an extensive herb garden in raised beds just outside the restaurant. He is known to frequent farmers markets four times a week or so and is adamant about having fresh fruits and vegetables on every plate: “If I can do anything, it’s to silently educate the customer on fresh California cuisine.”
A salt-tinged breeze wafts through the dining room as his sous chef expedites the final touches on Vaughan’s featured dish, lobster burrata with butternut squash and golden raisins on fresh pappardelle. He acknowledges and justifies the somewhat unlikely pairing of seafood with cheese. “Two clean flavors next to each other. They blend with the pasta and play with different texture and temperature.”
As the dish arrives from the kitchen in a deep gleaming white bowl, accented with a slash of orange uni and bright green sprigs of Thai basil, the composition has clearly been meticulously tweezed into such an expression of refined beauty that it repels disruption by the diner. Duty calls, however.
In the first bite, the sweet brine of tender lobster meat smacked with uni collapses into a satin pillow of fresh burrata, each tied to a ribbon of pappardelle slicked with butternut squash.
Small chunks of squash and a golden raisin or two…