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Mistral at Loews Coronado Bay -- dining with a view Phillip Brents | Thu, Aug 12 2010 06:56 PM

Want a taste of the coastal Mediterranean with a modern flair without taking a trip to southern France? The essentials are there courtesy of chef Patrick Ponsaty and the new Mistral restaurant at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort.

Ponsaty hails from Toulouse but has lived in the United States for the past 15 years, soaking up what Americans fancy from some of France’s best kitchens. Prior to coming to San Diego, he worked two years in New York after originally arriving from France.

“I have two kids and I didn’t like New York,” Ponsaty said. “San Diego is much safer and the weather is much better.”

With more than 30 years of experience and an impressive 15 Michelin stars to his credit, Ponsaty has brought his interpretation of modern French cooking with him from Europe via the Big Apple. Area palates will likely never be the same.

“There are three things that I think are essential to any proper meal: texture, flavor and presentation,” said Ponsaty, who was honored as the Best Hotel Chef in America by the James Beard Foundation. “I like to put different flavors on a plate but no more than three.”

The restaurant, Loews’ signature dining venue, is named for a strong, cold and usually dry regional wind in France that blows from the north or northwest  through the valleys of the Rhone and the Durance rivers to the coast of the Mediterranean around the Camargue region. With San Diego’s similar climate to his native France, Ponsaty must feel right at home.

 As Mistral’s chef de cuisine, Ponsaty has control of every aspect of the menu.  It starts with the cornerstone of French cooking: to take fresh produce and ingredients and deliver them to the dining table as fast as possible. Freshness of the products is stressed and that’s why most of the produce is acquired either locally or in nearby regions of California, including the seafood.

“The French concept of dining is from the farm to the table,” Mistral manager Paul Goldstine said. “We try to showcase that here as well.”

To that end, Ponsaty does some of his shopping at local farmers markets for organically grown produce. Some ingredients come right from the restaurant’s own 3,800-square-foot herb garden that features more than 60 vegetables and herbs.

Ponsaty’s culinary creations are relatively simply, yet intensely flavorful.

Mistral is an amazing restaurant, both for its gourmet French cuisine and its views of San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Situated along the southern bayside of the Coronado peninsula, the second story restaurant offers views of Point Loma and the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Coronado Bay bridge and downtown San Diego skyline to the north.

The menu at Mistral is seasonal and features daily specials. Summer selections showcase artichokes, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, basil, rosemary, lavender and thyme in various pairings.

The menu is divided into appetizers, pasta and risotto and, in classic European culinary diction, “from the sea” and “from the land” sections.

We had a chance to sample six items during a recent visit, starting with the garden artichoke barigoule, steamed Santa Barbara blue prawn and wild mushroom ravioli.

Artichoke, truffles and tomatoes figure prominently in the starters section.

Seared ahi tuna is the centerpiece of the artichoke barigoule with a tomato confit, aioli pesto broth. Artichokes also figure in the blue prawn appetizer, though the full-size prawn is clearly the prize. Truffles, parmesan cappuccino and sautÈed chanterelle mushrooms make the ravioli starter a perfect vegetarian choice — one that delights with its savory, almost smoky taste.

The sautÈed wild sea bass (from the sea menu section, priced at $28) was our favorite both in terms of taste and presentation. The luxurious dish includes lavender honey braised endive, an orange blossom mousse and carrot-orange emulsion. The bass is cooked to perfection and the mix of different flavors simply astounds the eater.

The bacon-wrapped domestic lamb loin ($32) is served with a side squash stuffed with a confit of summer vegetables that rivals the lamb for the diner’s attention.

Every dish we sampled attacked our taste buds in exciting new ways.

From the sea selections also include lacquered Alaskan halibut ($28) and seared organic salmon ($27). From the land selections also include Jidori chicken breast ($26), Muscovy duck breast ($28) and grilled Creekstone beef tenderloin ($29).  

The Buffalo mozzarella salad ($11) and Maine lobster ($16) are both tantalizing starters. We didn’t have the chance to sample the pasta and risotto but the Yukon gold potato gnocchi ($19) and Italian parsley and herb garden risotto ($14) with seared scallops, garlic and fennel blossoms both appear intriguing menu items.

The desserts are delectable, especially the rhubarb and strawberry consommÈ with lemon verbena ice cream.  

Even more impressive than the menu is the 14-page wine list. The restaurant carries an estimated 120 varieties, including dessert wines. Specialty coffees also are offered.

Mistral features great views, an intimate yet casual dining atmosphere and prompt and courteous service. If you have the opportunity to pamper yourself, Mistral is worth a visit.

Mistral is open Tuesday through Saturday, starting at 5:30 p.m. The restaurant also features a full-service bar. For more information, visit the Web site at www.dineatmistral.com or call 424-4000.

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