L’Auberge Del Mar
The courtyard of L’Auberge Del Mar
Hidden hotel gem celebrates 25th anniversary
By Katelyn O’Riordan
In the heart of the charming village of Del Mar sits a seaside sanctuary buffeted by the rolling Pacific surf: L’Auberge Del Mar. The ultimate in coastal elegance, this historic hotel celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
The 120-room resort, located at 1540 Camino Del Mar, is reminiscent of a Cape Cod estate and provides the perfect blend of sophistication and comfort. As you enter the open-air lobby, smiling staff immediately welcome you and ease you into your stay. Dramatic ocean views await you outside on the terrace and in the distance surfers carve the glassy waters with the fins of their boards, and dolphins frolic past the crashing white wash. The beach is L’Auberge’s backyard, and the salty air carries scents of jasmine and Torrey pine trees.
The resort rests on a historic local site that originally housed the Stratford Inn, which opened in 1910 and played host to a bevy of Hollywood stars. In 1927, the hotel changed its name to Hotel Del Mar and became a hot spot for celebrities seeking sun, fun and pretty ponies at Bing Crosby’s newly-opened Del Mar Racetrack. The hotel closed during WWII and then re-opened, but without success. The property was torn down in 1969 and the land remained vacant until 1989 when the Inn L’Auberge was born.
In 2008, then-General Manager Mike Slosser —who was recently named vice president and area managing director overseeing Town and Country Resort & Convention Center, L’Auberge Del Mar, and Paradise Point Resort & Spa — spearheaded an extensive $26 million renovation to transform the property from a dark, French-inspired hotel into a bright and intimate coastal resort.
“We envisioned a high-end hotel that catered to the upscale customer for both leisure and group travel,” said Slosser. He describes his vision for the remodel as “beach sophisticated” with the intent of providing a warm, casual and timeless environment that offered a series of intimate spaces to appeal to a cross-section of guests depending on their mood.
Renovations included a complete overhaul of the hotel’s guestrooms, meeting rooms, lobby, arrival and pool areas, and a new restaurant and spa. “The most memorable part of my work at L’Auberge has been taking a relatively quiet and dark building with superior architecture and turning it into a vibrant hotel with a soul which caters to locals and upscale travelers,” said Slosser.
The resort’s ambience celebrates Slosser’s vision, and the property exudes a luxurious and chic vibe without being pretentious.
Shaun Beucler, who has been at his post as general manager of the property for about two months, believes that there are three secrets to L’Auberge’s preeminent
success: the phenomenal location, the “home away from home” feel, and the team of people on staff. “It’s important for travelers these days to feel comfortable and a sense of well-being,” said Beucler. “Our team is a group of people who are extremely proud of this property, who put their heart and soul into everything they do each day to make sure our guests’ needs and wants are taken care of.”
Beucler will carry L’Auberge into its next chapter, which he calls ‘L’Auberge 2.0’ and will place a large focus on service and a guest-centric culture. “We want to create an environment where people can come whether it’s for business, pleasure, or entertaining family and friends and feel like it’s their second home,” said Beucler. Other future plans include upgraded guest rooms, a new pool area, enhanced live entertainment and a creative culinary and food and beverage program that highlights the hotel’s prime seaside location.
No doubt that executive chef Brandon Fortune of KITCHEN 1540, the hotel’s restaurant and one of the top-rated dining establishments in San Diego, will be the mastermind behind the exciting new culinary offerings.
Fortune draws inspiration from his Southern upbringing and childhood memories. “The current menu is very reflective of me as a person. New American with some worldly influences with obvious signs of the South shining through,” said Fortune.
The ‘Memphis-Style’ Pork Ribs, which take 72 hours to prepare and represent the fall backyard barbecues of Fortune’s youth, are his menu favorite.
Visitors to the restaurant rave about the famous Shrimp ‘n’ Grits, Chicken ‘n’ Dumplins and Slow-Cooked Bread Pudding. Beucler and Slosser both confirmed that the shrimp and chicken dishes are not to be missed. Beucler also highly praised the Still Smoking Scallops.
Though specifics of the future culinary program aren’t yet available, Fortune admitted a current ingredient obsession to be curries. Could we be seeing a Thai-inspired dish on the menu soon?
The late Eddie Read, the Del Mar Racetrack’s longtime publicist, once described Del Mar as a place where “nobody’s in a hurry except the horses.” Spending the day in one of the resort’s many spaces or dining in a cabana on the Kitchen 1540 patio can transport anyone to this mindset.
When it comes to relaxation, what more could you ask for? L’Auberge Del Mar is an idyllic clandestine retreat not to be missed.
L’Auberge Del Mar is celebrating its 25th anniversary and marking the milestone with room, spa, dining and wedding specials available now through Dec. 25. The anniversary celebration will culminate on Dec. 31, where the hotel will commemorate 25 years with a New Year’s Eve 25th Anniversary Bash. More information is available at www.laubergedelmar.com
Serving Aloha Spirit to San Diego for 60 Years
By Katelyn O’Riordan
A staple on San Diego’s dining scene since 1954, the Bali Hai Restaurant, originally “The Hut,” is celebrating 60 years in operation this November. Opened by San Diego restaurateur Tom Ham, the restaurant was Shelter Island’s first “tiki temple,” and is one of the largest remaining original tiki temples in the United States.
Delighting guests with panoramic views and delicious menu items focused on Polynesian cuisine with Southern California flair, it’s easy to see why Bali Hai continues to be a local favorite. The restaurant embraces the spirit of aloha. When you arrive at the northern tip of Shelter Island and view the restaurant’s impressive structure, you feel as though you’ve stepped off a plane in the tropics, with Mr. Bali Hai, a large wood sculpture at the front entrance, welcoming you.
Family owned and operated for more than five decades, Ham’s daughter Susie Baumann and her husband Larry, and their sons Grant, Andy and Tommy, continue to carry out Ham’s vision and legacy.
“There weren’t very many restaurants in neighborhoods back 60 years ago. We were one of a handful of the restaurants people went to back then,” said Larry Baumann, owner of Bali Hai. “Because there were so few, the Bali Hai was blessed to become woven in the fabric of people’s lives, and we are still woven. Families have allowed us to be a part of every special occasion, including weddings, graduations and anniversaries over the years.”
Bali Hai underwent an extensive renovation in 2010 by renowned architect Graham Downes, and now features an expansive outdoor dining patio that highlights the prime location on San Diego Bay. The structure, built from more than fifteen types of exotic woods, has been restored to its original sheen, and the interior features a historic collection of Polynesian artifacts, ranging from tiki figures and ocean charts to wood weapons and native pictures.
The contrast of the warm wood tones with the floor-to-ceiling windows, exposing the bright lights of downtown San Diego and the aqua tones of the bay, is magical. The honey onyx bar lights up the center of the dining room, beckoning diners for a taste of one of Bali Hai’s tropical cocktails. The
space is inviting, and encourages a relaxed meal where you take your time and enjoy, Hawaiian style. The restaurant is also one of the few “dock and dine” locations on San Diego Bay, allowing guests to arrive by boat, only adding to the air that you’re on vacation, watching fellow travelers arrive.
The menu features farm fresh ingredients with Hawaiian, Chinese and Japanese influences, with selections varying slightly depending on time of day. The lunch menu is filled with pupus, soups and salads, sandwiches and house specials, ranging in price from $5 to $19. Dinner showcases raw dishes, pupus, soups and salads, kai (fish) and aina (land) selections, ranging in price from $5 to $32. And the restaurant even has a Sunday champagne brunch- popular with boaters- priced at $38 for adults and including free-flowing champagne and a selection of breakfast, lunch, fresh seafood and dessert options. Gluten free? Don’t worry, Bali Hai even has separate menus for gluten intolerant diners.
Constantly on the hunt for happy hour spots to indulge after work, I dined during Bali Hai’s pau hana hour, which in Hawaiian means finished with work, a time for relaxation and socializing. We all need an excuse for a little Polynesian paralysis, a term used by island dwellers, specifically in Hawaii, to describe that people will get where they need to go in good time. No rush. Slow down. You get the idea.
Happy hour is available Monday through Friday from 3 – 6 p.m. A number of Bali Hai’s pupu items from the main menu are available during pau hana, allowing restaurant goers to taste a nice selection of different items. I sampled the tuna poke, served with avocado cream cheese, masago and wonton; the coconut shrimp, with papaya salad and ginger lime dipping sauce; crispy vegetable spring rolls with an apple mustard sauce, micro mint salad and yuzu vinaigrette; and island beef skewers with pickled pineapple salad. The presentation of all of the menu items is thoughtful and beautiful. Each dish is filled with fresh, vibrant ingredients that burst with flavor. And of course, when dining at the Bali Hai, it’s ritual to sip on one, and I place emphasis on the word one, of their signature Mai Tais. The bartenders aren’t lying when they say it’s strong. More than one is enough to knock you off your chair.
It’s clear by the end of my meal how Bali Hai has managed to maintain a strong presence in San Diego over the years. The ambiance, combined with friendly staff and variety of delicious menu items creates a memorable dining experience for guests that keeps them coming back.
“We have had to evolve with the industry over the years to stay competitive and to thrive and we have managed to do that,” Baumann said. “We are still the Bali Hai and we are looking forward to serving our community for another 60 years.”
So what are you waiting for? Indulge in delicious cuisine and thirst-quenching Mai Tais, gaze out at panoramic views of San Diego Bay and the downtown skyline and let the Polynesian paralysis set in.
The Bali Hai Restaurant is located on Shelter Island at 2230 Shelter Island Drive. www.balihairestaurant.com