Addison Restaurant in San Diego Turns to ‘California Food’ – Robb Report
On a pleasant summer evening of 2019, Michelin, the tire company with disproportionate influence in the restaurant industry, brought together the best chefs in the Golden State for the release of its first all-California guide. If you were invited, you were in the club. But at what level, the leaders wondered, would they be initiated?
Chief William Bradley was present. Addison, his contemporary French restaurant in San Diego, which he ran for a decade, seemed poised for two stars. Michelin disagreed: Bradley’s sleek and technical fare earned Addison a place in the Guide, but at the one-star level. While it was a monumental achievement for the San Diego native, there were disappointments as well. “I thought we could maybe, maybe get two out of it,” he admits.
In an industry where many chefs drape themselves in false modesty or dance around their desire for stars, or even no longer really care what Michelin has to say about their work, Bradley, 46, is unambiguous about his ultimate desire: three Michelin stars. “This is the Holy Grail, this is Mount Everest,” he said. “A third star is a final goal and dream for the restaurant. And after clearing the initial hurdle to become the Guide, he was ready to transform himself, along with his cooking, upside down to win them over.
As he left the ceremony and returned to Addison, Bradley realized that the restaurant could not continue on its current momentum. Addison just wasn’t going to become a three Michelin star restaurant serving French cuisine in San Diego. While his cooking had technically excelled with dishes such as Dutch asparagus with osetra caviar, Gribiche sauce and whipped eggs, and agnolotti with mascarpone with peas and morels, these offerings can be found in Napa Valley as well as in Hong Kong or Paris. His new goal was to give Addison a sense of belonging that, in Michelin’s words, “was worth a special trip.”
Turning all his attention to his craft, the avid cyclist, who not too long ago covered up to 200 miles in the saddle a week, now only finds time for occasional rides. “I’m not on the Tour de France anymore,” said Bradley, laughing. “You can’t do both. I’m trying to climb another mountain right now.
The restaurant has also refocused its attention, changing its format. “We have gone from a more à la carte tasting menu to a simple tasting menu,” explains chef Stefani De Palma. “The reason behind it was ‘Let’s really drive home consistency.’ ”
Bradley and his team have come together around a kitchen they call California Gastronomy. Hints of this new direction emerged ahead of the 2020 global shutdown, with dishes such as crab leg with coconut curry and passion fruit. But as he and his team reopen on the other side of the pandemic, they dive deeper into the ingredients of Golden State, as well as the international flavors inspired by Southern California’s immigrant communities. While Gallic precision remains, the 10-course tasting menu now includes dishes like Thai coconut soup tom kha gay, that Bradley and De Palma developed during the dark days of Covid-19, when the restaurant was closed and the couple were looking for take-out items to sell.
But it’s not a complete overhaul. While Addison was no stranger to caviar before his pivot, the restaurant is now trying to make a name for itself with its unique presentation of Regiis Ova perched on a creamy koshihikari rice with smoked sabayon and sesame seeds. It’s a dish that draws on the restaurant’s French roots, and also “the kind of lighter Japanese techniques we’ve evolved into,” says De Palma.
There are fine dining restaurants that feature “interesting” dishes meant to challenge the palate – a nice concept, but these places rarely produce delicious food, which, let’s not forget, is kind of the point. This is never the case at the ‘new’ Addison: from the moment an impressive array of canapes arrives as you sit in front of the caramelized cod with katsuobushi with squab grilled in red cabbage syrup, morels and nettles, there is no misstep in the symphony. Best of all, it’s clear Bradley isn’t playing anyone’s music other than his own.
“There is a willingness to get on the plate,” Addison’s Director of Services Sean McGinness said of Bradley’s renewed commitment. “It’s a passage to adulthood for him. It enters into an identity.