Dining — Tom Ham’s Lighthouse
Tom Ham’s Lighthouse
Come for the view, stay for the food
By David Rottenberg
Can you see the light…at the end of the island? Harbor Island lies adjacent to the airport, just across Harbor Drive. Enter onto the island, turn right at the intersection and you’ll shortly reach Tom Ham’s Lighthouse, a fully functioning and still operating facility to guide ships. But – surprise – it is more than just a lighthouse. It is a fully functioning restaurant with perhaps the best view of the Downtown skyline and Coronado Bridge. Come for the view. Stay for the food!
Tom Ham’s first opened in 1971 and has been a local landmark since. For more than 40 years it has served generations of residents and visitors. It has been the site of many weddings, celebrations and corporate events. High standards for cuisine and service have always been maintained under the direction of the Baumann family. Unfortunately, Tom Ham passed away but his daughter and son-in-law, Susie and Larry Baumann, continued to operate it and its “sister” restaurant, Bali Hai, which is located at the opposite end of Harbor Island.
The restaurant is now managed by a third generation. Grant and Andy, the Baumann children are now in charge.
Tom Ham’s Lighthouse recently completed a great renovation and expanded its wedding services. The exterior of the building’s classic lines were retained but a new view patio was added, a large deck with clear glass walls that seem to disappear against the background of the sea. Sitting there to watch the sunset and the glow of Downtown lights is simply magical.
The restaurant is on the second floor of the building. The ground floor holds several large meeting rooms for private parties and corporate events. A new wedding center was established on the side of the building to provide a beautifully scenic focal point — gorgeous bay views — from which to launch married life. It would be hard to find a nicer setting.
One may walk up a winding staircase to the restaurant level or take a nearby elevator. The restaurant itself is a large open area, ringed with booths and filled with tables where happy diners may also watch the views through large glass windows. A large bar area is located at one side of the room. A small private dining room for small groups is found near the bar area.
In addition to the physical renovation, the restaurant appointed a new executive chef, Lance Repp, to preside over food preparation. Repp trained in Ohio through an American Culinary Federation apprenticeship program. After coming to California, Repp worked alongside restaurant consultant and two-star Michelin Chef Jason McCleod to rework the extensive menu of the Mediterranean Room at La Valencia Hotel.
He has also served as the executive sous chef of La Valencia Hotel Auberge Resorts, where he helped manage the kitchens of three restaurants and oversaw menu planning. His work at La Valencia Hotel landed him into the San Diego Chef Hall of Fame in 2009 and 2012. He has been the executive sous chef of the Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa and the chef de cuisine at Fairbanks Ranch Country Club.
Repp focuses on fresh seafood, echoing the nautical themes of the restaurant and has created many tasty and innovative recipes to please his guests. His menus include Mediterranean-style seafood dishes with contemporary twists.
Iced shellfish platters are one way to begin the meal. Clams, mussels, crab and more are available in several platter sizes, depending on how many are in your party. Other starters include Calamari, Roast Corn and Shrimp Soup and a very popular Pomegranate Glazed Pork Belly with fontina polenta. The Pork Belly is a delightfully presented large square of meat, darkened on top with the savory glaze and very tender. It can be cut with a fork and is full of flavor. The polenta beneath blends well with the meat’s sauce and is very creamy.
Entrees include two exotic dishes — Paella, a Spanish dish made famous in Valencia, with rice, chorizo, chicken, shrimp and more. The second is Lobster Bouilllabaisse, a French dish made famous in Marseilles, is a stew-like amalgam of clams, mussel, scallops, and more in a saffron broth.
The well prepared Scallops dish came with mushroom, turnip and heirloom carrots. The Jidori Chicken is accompanied by a tasty wild mushroom risotto. The New York steak, dry aged, is served with fava beans, whole corn and cauliflower gratin.
Chef Repp blends vegetables into many of his dishes, satisfying appetites with healthful combinations. His presentations are simple. Plates are not unnecessarily adorned. But the proof is in the eating.
For dessert, be sure to try the Mango Cheesecake. It is delicious. Or, ask for Elvis’s Favorite Sandwich in a glass, combining peanut butter, bacon, banana pudding and chocolate shavings. Elvis loved it.
Want a terrific evening? Come to Tom Ham’s for the view, enjoy the food and go for a long walk during the cool evening along the waterside promenade.
Prices are moderate to high but the view is priceless. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner daily and brunch on Sunday. Reservations are suggested. Lots of free parking is available on the adjoining lot. Tom Ham’s Lighthouse is located at 2150 Harbor Island Drive. Call (619) 291-9110 for directions and information.
Tom Ham’s Lighthouse recently completed a renovation and expanded its wedding services. The exterior of the building’s classic lines were retained.
The restaurant may have the best view of the Downtown skyline.
Chef Lance Wall.jpg
Chef Lance Wall
The Baumann family, from left: Tommy, Susie, Grant, Larry and Andy.