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06/18/13

Chef Pascal Vignau feels at home at Chandler’s Restaurant & Lounge

randc-chef_Zel_1253The chef helming Chandler’s, the Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront Resort’s all-day eatery, is a household name in coastal North County. Before taking up his new post, executive chef Pascal Vignau made a name for himself at longtime Encinitas favorite Savory Casual Fare. While the business that went into Savory’s space — Craftsman American Tavern — is constantly crowded, many locals missed Vignau’s food, and are excited about his return to the scene.

Nowadays, most chefs eliciting this style of cult fandom are of the new wave variety. But you won’t find any fancy foams, gels, powders or “air” on Vignau’s menu. He’s moved on, but his cooking style remains as it’s always been — simple and straightforward. The majority of the dishes on his current menu incorporate as few ingredients as possible across no more than three components. Bells and whistles are replaced with sound cookery and nicely crafted familiar items like smooth, rich buttermilk mashed potatoes and sweet, glazed, farm-fresh Thumbelina carrots.

Tender beef short ribs bring a touch of homestyle cooking to a vacation destination while seafood dishes like lobster and rock shrimp tacos, crab-crusted Pacific sea bass perked up with peppercorn sauce, and “catch of the day” specialties like halibut with Romanesco and a plum-merlot reduction give visitors to the region a delicious taste of California coastal. Instead of pumping out esoteric gourmet flatbreads, Vignau keeps his stone-baked pizzas familiar with the Genoa (pepperoni, sausage, peppers and good ol’ mozzarella) and just one out-there variety made with duck confit, leeks, and roasted garlic.

Vignau’s even bringing back the humble pretzel, serving warm, petite bready orbs alongside scrumptious, perfectly salted (read, not overly salted as is so often the case) house-smoked salmon, and breading skinless chicken breasts with shaved pretzels that, thanks to astute seasoning, make for fried chicken that ranks above and beyond.

The Chandler’s dinner menu is rounded out by soups, salads, and well-constructed desserts that, like the restaurant’s breakfast and brunch offerings, are better than those from lodgings of similar sizes and status. If there’s a knock, it’s that this compliment does not extend to the inventiveness of Vignau’s fare. This is not the place to come for cuisine that pushes the envelope or brings in luxury ingredients (though it should be noted that the wine list is praise-worthy and ups the lavish factor).

But this is by design. Chandler’s food fits just right for a beachside hotel catering to patrons — largely families — looking to kick back and relax. Vignau’s style works for Chandler’s — just enough gussying up without gilding lilies. Sound flavor, seasoning, and cooking is the name of the game and it’s one this recently established three-squares station is winning early on. (855.683.5500, www.chandlerscarlsbad.com)    BRANDON HERNANDEZ