Frederick’s Ignores Fads, Keeps Its Flavor
The world as a whole may progress through time in a neat rhythm measured by the second, but many of its residents maintain inner clocks that tick happily out of sync with the Greenwich Observatory.
Among those fortunate souls who stay in step with themselves, rather than with the times, are restaurateurs Chuck and Jill Frederick. This pair has managed, through nearly seven years in business, to keep the menu at their Frederick’s Bistro in Solana Beach unsullied by the scores of trends and fads that have so thoroughly unsettled the restaurant industry. While other restaurateurs have felt obliged to install blackened redfish, kiwi sauces and whatever else may be considered the flavor of the month, the Fredericks have adhered to an attractive style of cooking that is peculiar to themselves.
Chuck Frederick might be called a gentleman restaurateur, in that his Solana Beach restaurant exists as the gratification of a desire for a certain life style, rather than as an economic imperative. He has managed to create--and to thrive in--a most unusual situation: the restaurant could be said to be ruled by a committee composed of the Fredericks and their chef.
The division of labor may be unique in all the county. Until recently, Jill spent her days as a supervisor at Pacific Bell and her nights supervising the restaurant’s dining room. Having retired, however, she now devotes her full energies to the restaurant and, among other chores, assists the chef in writing the menu, a fixed price list of four or five entrees that runs for one week and includes soup, salad and dessert. Chuck prepares vegetables and soups and bakes the bread, but otherwise excuses himself from most cooking chores, leaving these tasks in the overall capable hands of the new chef, David Tennaccio.
The cornerstone of the Fredericks’ approach has always been a light cream or butter sauce flavored with a full-bodied wine or spirit. This seems almost too simple a principle on which to build a successful restaurant, but seven years of filling 49 seats five nights a week has shown that it can work when the meats, fowl and fish dressed by such sauces are of the finest quality and are cooked to perfection.
A couple of appetizers, usually available at extra charge as preludes to the four-course meals, tend to be sized modestly enough to suit the circumstances. One recent choice played with the classic gravad lax (salmon cured in the Scandinavian style), substituting tarragon for the dill that usually flavors the fish, and replacing the traditional, sweet dill-mustard sauce with a potent mayonnaise flavored with capers and gin. It was interesting but, on the whole, dill seems the better choice of herb for this dish. One really must like gin in order to enjoy the sauce.
Sherry had a role in the tomato-onion soup (remember that spirits are extremely important in the cooking here), in this case used to deglaze a base of onions caramelized in brown sugar. Tomatoes and basil were added, then the whole was pureed with a bit of pasta added as thickening. Having said all this, it must be added that the soup tasted rather like a good marinara sauce. Tomatoes and basil in tandem can do little else; either tends to be overpowering on its own, and together, they are invincible.
Tomatoes, this time marinated, returned in the salad, which also incorporated strips of salami and red onion, crumbles of Montrachet goat cheese, and a base of good, simple greens.
Tennaccio spent two years as an apprentice in the Alto Adige, the mountainous, northernmost region of Italy, and his influence is starting to show on the menu. In addition to the obvious Italian overtones of the salad, one of the entrees was veal with prosciutto and Marsala (so far, this is saltimbocca ), highlighted by the addition of bok choy. The bok choy presumably transformed it into something different, and it sounded wonderful, but it had to be passed by. Other dishes sounded even better.
Certainly a piece of halibut topped with lightly browned artichoke hearts was nothing less than magnificent, the fish so moist and so beautifully cooked, the artichokes a clever and faintly bitter foil to the mild fish and sweetish sauce. The sauce, a beurre blanc (creamy butter sauce), started with a base of reduced white Zinfandel, and was cleverly picked up by hair-thin wisps of fresh orange peel. All in all, this was a spectacular dish, and notice how essentially simple it was in its components.
A second entree, a grilled poussin (baby chicken), was almost the equal of the halibut and was in any case excellent. Partially boned, and then flattened, it was grilled just long enough to thoroughly cook the breast meat, a European approach that left the legs somewhat rare. This resulted in a finely juicy bird, though, the perfect receptacle for a uniquely Frederick’s-style sauce of reduced veal stock and cream enlivened with a jolt of Wild Turkey liqueur. As odd as the thought of adding Wild Turkey liqueur to a sauce may sound, it did wonders for the poussin, and to carry the effect just one step further, a sprinkling of almonds baked with a dusting of cayenne was added to the dish.
Other entree choices were sauteed shrimp in a beurre blanc flavored with Pernod, dill and fresh tomato, and sauteed lamb loin dressed with a sauce made from cream and Guinness Stout. This last sounded quite interesting; stout and lamb could marry quite well.
Entrees plates were garnished with a selection of tiny, tender vegetables from the Chino’s truck farm in Rancho Santa Fe. These were cooked in the simplest manner, and served like the little jewels they are. Baskets of Chuck’s good, crusty, American-style loaf arrived through the meal; he begins mixing and kneading the dough at 2 p.m. so that the bread can emerge from the oven promptly at 6 p.m.
Now that Jill has retired from the telephone company, the desserts are made on the premises. Desserts have never been the restaurant’s long suit, but matters appear to have improved somewhat. A coeur a la creme (pressed, lightly sweetened cheese) was especially interesting, since Montrachet was added to the basic cream cheese, and a minimum of sugar was used. Tucked under a coverlet of strawberry sauce, this made a sophisticated dessert. A frozen amaretto souffle, on the other hand, was stiff and uninteresting.
Frederick’s boasts one of the nicer wine lists in the county, a thoughtfully selected tour of mostly California vineyards that runs to 346 choices and is generally priced quite gently. It is possible to find scores of good bottles for less than $20.
The four-course dinners range in price from $20 to $25, according to the entree; lobster, when included, raises the price.
128 S. Acacia, Solana Beach.
Dinner served 6-9 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Credit cards accepted.
Dinner for two, including wine, about $65 to $85.