It can seem so very English to nibble at a slice of coarse, country-style pate with Cumberland sauce while regarding the turbulent sea through the comforting barrier of a broad glass pane.
The presence of Cumberland sauce, actually more a sweet, pungent relish than a true sauce, is surprising anywhere in a county that swears minimal allegiance to English cooking. It does fit the idiom at Jake's Del Mar, however, the handsome and long-popular seaside restaurant that pledges fealty to no particular school of cooking, but offers tastes of many.
To a degree, the menu recognizes the restaurant's location by listing "fisherman's" chowder, a more sea-inclusive variation on the eternal clam chowder of local popularity, as well as such other staples of coastal cookery as fried artichoke hearts, the inevitable shrimp "scampi" and Australian lobster tail. This last is available both aloof and apart on a plate all its own, or paired with a filet mignon in the surf 'n' turf combination that, to some points of view, represents the zenith of luxury dining.
At dinner, the entree list is nothing if not broad-minded, and it demands a degree of versatility from the cooks. It opens with the fresh fish of the day in a Szechuan treatment that specifies a glaze of soy and ginger and a side of stir-fried veggies, then speedily switches themes by offering the same fish "blackened" under a coating of so-called Cajun spices.
Just as speedily, the mood changes to Franco-Italian with a fettuccine Provencal that adds assorted seafood to a sauce of onions, tomatoes and olive oil, takes a more definite French tone with chicken in a cream sauce flavored with tarragon and brandy, and turns unexpectedly Australian with rack of lamb, coated with herbed mustard and moistened with a mango chutney butter.
By adopting no single theme, the kitchen stretches somewhat, but by and large turns out credible cooking.
A thick, nicely cooked veal chop finished with brandy and shiitake mushrooms came off quite well, despite the seeming incompatibility between the liquor and this particular type of mushroom, which has a strong, decided taste; brandy generally is more at home with European-type mushrooms. A pair of salads, one of hearts of palm in bell pepper-spiked vinaigrette and another of butter lettuce with toasted hazelnuts and a basil dressing, were imaginative and flavorful; hazelnuts rarely appear in restaurant cookery in this country and were particularly welcome in this combination.
An Australian lobster tail was ordered largely out of curiosity as to why this seafood should be so popular in Southern California despite the constant availability of fresh, less expensive Maine lobsters and the seasonable availability of our very own home-grown beasts. The question did not receive a satisfactory answer. Quite disappointing, the flavor of the meat at best seemed flat and dull, and the size of the tail stingy compared to the price. Jake's serves Maine lobsters as a Friday and Saturday special only.
Lunch includes not only the advantage of a daylight view of the surf--broadly visible from nearly every chair in this attractive, wood-walled eatery--but of a menu rather different from the norm. The respectable salad list includes California's own Cobb salad; a Santa Fe-style toss of chicken, avocado, beans and blue tortilla chips on Romaine, and rotelli pasta dressed with an assortment of shellfish and vegetables.
The shellfish theme repeats in the hot sandwich of English muffin halves topped with shrimp and crab salad and melted cheese, which seemed warming and substantial on one of the recent stormy afternoons; in the quiche Del Mar, which combines crab and shrimp with artichoke hearts and custard in a good, flaky crust, and in the cioppino , which adds bass and snapper to the equation and submerges it all in a tomatoed broth.
Among other luncheon choices are chicken in the same Szechuan treatment as the nightly fish, grilled red snapper, a steak sandwich with horseradish and a hamburger with the very California option of green chilies and Jack cheese.
The dessert list does not transcend the art of pastry making but does include Kimo's hula pie, an invention of a Hawaii restaurant owned by the Jake's management. This ice cream confection rises high off the plate, can easily suffice for two and is a good excuse to spend a few extra minutes dawdling over the view.
Jake's Del Mar
1660 Coast Blvd., Del Mar
Hours: Lunch daily except Monday; dinner nightly.
Cost: Dinner entrees $9.95 to 19.95, lobster price quoted daily. Dinner for two, including a glass of wine each, tax and tip, about $35 to $80.