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Every year, I look forward to the biannual San Diego Restaurant Week, when I get to taste and experience new culinary delights. Top of the Market is the first restaurant that specialized in fresh seafood that I tried ahead of the 2013 SD Restaurant Week (Jan 13-18). Located by the beautiful marina in San Diego, and framed by the massive ship of the USS Midway, the Top of the Market is a gourmet seafood restaurant that rests above the Fish Market, a fish market with prime sushi-grade fish (supplying the sushi restaurant on the first floor), and diner owned by the same company, hence the name “Top of the Market.”
We were directed to an exquisite room full of glass windows and a beautiful view of the sea. You can imagine many boats sailing across the sea during the day, and at night, you can enjoy the lights out to see. When my mom and I sat down, our waiter Bill brought some crunchy bread and recommended some dishes to my mom. He was very knowledgeable and recommended some great dishes, but, he completely ignored me, the critic! He only talked to my mom about the orders, so I’ll have to take half a starfish off for that. The service of food was very fast though, and food arrives at the table in a matter of minutes!
I learned from the restaurant’s manager Bobby Sanchez that Top of the Market gets priority pick from all the top seafood suppliers. No wonder they have some of the best ingredients in town, critical to the success of any restaurant.
We heard from Bill that the chef makes a new tasty treat every day. This time, we got a tiny saucer of Sunomo Salad, with slivers of crunchy daikon radish and slices of chewy, flavorful cucumber, topped with white and black sesame and rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and a dash of fish sauce. The crispy radish and the chewy cucumber make a great contrast, and the fish sauce adds the savory touch. The next appetizer was the Oysters Rockefeller, a rich, salty oyster with melted Parmigiano Cheese, a heap of cooked spinach, and pieces of savory bacon. The taste of soft, cooked oyster was exceptional, and melts together with the stringy spinach, smooth cheese, and warm bacon, creating an explosion of flavor.
But, in contrast to the cooked oyster, we had the Oyster Combination (on regular menu, not Restaurant Week menu), a platter of 3 different kinds of fresh, raw, gourmet oysters: Fanny Bay, Chef’s Creek, and Island Creek. The oysters taste best with red cocktail sauce and a pinch of horseradish. The first oysters were the Fanny Bay oysters, with the largest, tallest shell of them all. The Fanny Bays were the most velvety and watery, with a slippery feel and a briny taste. Next, was the medium sized Chef’s Creek, the most popular oyster. Not too salty, not too watery, rich and flavorful, and the consistent texture. Island Creek had a large, flat shell with the smallest meat. But, the taste was still exceptional, because it was the most smoothest of them all and possibly the freshest. This was the first time I ever had raw oyster, and the taste was amazingly good, much better than I expected! If I had to recommend one, I would pick the Chef’s Creek, my personal favorite, and the most popular with the customers.
The last starter was the Mache and Spoon Spinach Salad. The salad had sweet, crunchy candied pecans sprinkled in the salad, creating contrast with the small mache leaves and the crispy spinach. Sweet, mildly tart poached pears lay in slices on the side of the plate. The whole dish was sprinkled with parmesan cheese, and garlic vinaigrette. When eaten altogether in a single bite, it tastes like a burst of crunchiness, sweetness, and crispy leaves. The only flaw is that the garlic vinaigrette dressing was used somewhat sparingly, and the whole salad was a bit dry and bland. Luckily, I had my delicious pina colada in hand, one of the best non-alcoholic drinks on the menu. Topped with an orange slice, whipped cream, and a cherry on top, the mix of crushed ice and pineapple juice tasted like something you would expect to drink on a tropical island paradise!
After we had finished our appetizers, on came the main course items, the Ink Linguini With Sea Scallops & Prawns, and the Maine Lobster. The ink Linguini was a delicious linguini, with its specialty being a linguini with a purple hue colored by real squid ink! The hot plate had a heap of spinach and loads of crispy pancetta, an Italian topping made of cubed bacon chunks. On the bed of spinach, lay soft herbed large shrimp covered in creamy sauce, and the tenderest scallops I’ve ever tasted! The scallops were blackened on one side and flaked off in little needle-like fibers with a great texture and flavor!
But, the highlight of the evening was a whole Maine Lobster, 1.25 pounds, and steamed with heirloom carrots, broccolini, and mashed potatoes. The lobster had a striking orange color, surrounded by extremely sweet heirloom carrots (like a steamed fruit), and refreshing and crunchy broccolini. The lobster was amazing and chewy, flaking off in strips and chunks of tender meat. The lobster tail meat and claw meat are the best part, and paired well with a dash of salt and pepper, or the roasted garlic and chive mashed potatoes, that tasted rich, creamy, and slightly buttery, which added a great contrast to the tight lobster flesh.
Last but not least, were the desserts. Our waiter Bill brought us a whole platter of choices. We chose two desserts: the Creme Brulee Trio (on regular menu only) and the Blackberry Cabernet Sorbet. The Blackberry Cabernet Sorbet was an amazing maroon hued massive scoop of sorbet with a strawberry on top, intoxicatingly addictive, and dark but sweet. The sorbet had a deep, complex grape flavor, being sweet and refreshing with subtle hints of tartness. Just by the taste I could tell that these grapes were prime quality. Even if you are completely stuffed with food, you’ll still have room for this treat!
The last dessert was three different types of creamy Creme Brulee. The first type was the pumpkin flavored cup, which was a dark-colored pumpkiny cream, topped with hazelnuts. Next was the Amaretto-flavored Creme Brulee, which was a type of almond-flavored Italian liquer. This custard was the sweetest of them all, with a bit of whipped cream on top. The Amaretto was my favorite of them all, because of its lightness and sweetness. But, my mom’s favorite was the pistachio one, which was the richest and nuttiest of them all.
I give Top of the Market 4 starfish. The ambiance was very good, and the view of the sea was breathtaking. The food was scrumptious, with noticeable Californian and Italian cooking influence, shown in its linguini and seafood cooking style. The only downsides were the service (waiter ignoring the critic) and the lack of dressing for the salad. Still, I would love to come back again to try the delicious foods, and I highly recommend Top of the Market’ excellent restaurant week menu to anybody who enjoys fresh, scrumptious seafood.
Perry Chen is the youngest award-winning film/ entertainment critic & animator, artist, speaker, and entertainment personality. He started writing movie reviews at 8 using a kid-friendly starfish rating system, under the guidance of his mom Dr. Zhu Shen and his 3rd grade teacher Ms. Harris. Perry’s debut on the CBS Evening News in 2009 made him a national sensation. He has been featured extensively on local, national, and international media, including NPR, Fox, CNN, NBC, The Guardian, The China Press, and many more. He has interviewed prominent filmmakers at film festivals, red carpet premieres, and press junkets. He won a prestigious “Excellence in Journalism Award” at the San Diego Press Club in 2010 as its youngest member. Perry currently writes movie reviews for the Animation World Network, San Diego Union Tribune, Amazing Kids! Magazine, and his own Perry’s Previews website with a combined readership of over 2 million worldwide. Perry and his family live in the community of Carmel Valley San Diego.
Dr. Zhu Shen’s love for the movies started when she was a young girl, growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution where watching movies was the only entertainment available to the masses. Her journey to become a filmmaker took a convoluted path. She studied medicine at Peking Union Medical College before coming to the US and earning a Ph.D. in biochemistry from University of Colorado, and then an MBA from Cornell University’s Johnson School. She is a producer of the upcoming documentary feature “Average Joe on the Raw,” about journey into raw food and health. Dr. Shen is also an award-winning biotech executive, author, speaker, China business expert featured on national and trade media including CBS, Fox, Business Week, Pharmaceutical Executive, and more. She has worked at IBM, Bayer, Chiron, Immusol, and is the CEO of BioForesight, consulting on cross-Pacific life science business. *Photos of Perry Chen and Zhu Shen by Brian Bostrom.