It has been less than three months since Anthony Sinsay left his position as Executive Chef at Burlap in the Del Mar Highlands Town Center (now Searsucker Del Mar) to take the lead at La Villa in Little Italy, but news broke this week that the young chef will return to Brian Malarkey's fabric brand to take the helm at the highly anticipated Herringbone in Los Angeles (set to open New Years' Eve 2013 in the Mondrian hotel). We were fortunate to very recently get a sampling of Sinsay's Italian and Mediterranean inspired menu at La Villa (only a couple short days before he left the restaurant), and although we wish Chef Sinsay the best during his tenure in LaLa land, we are more than disheartened to see another talented culinarian depart San Diego for "greener"($$) pastures (we'll never concede that L.A. has anything on SD!).
Anthony Sinsay is one of our favorite chefs in the area. The guy is young, humble and soft spoken, yet he's an absolute rock star in the kitchen. He's innovative with his dishes, plates like an artist and makes magical harmonies with the wildest flavor combinations. Any restaurant is fortunate to have him. When he strayed from his previous pigeon-hole of Asian fusion cuisine to take the executive chef position at La Villa, we couldn't wait to see how Sinsay implemented his spin on an Italian-focused eatery. We certainly witnessed another side of Sinsay with his La Villa menu and are glad to have had that opportunity.
La Villa Restaurant and Bar occupies a gem of a space nestled in the heart of Little Italy, known for its enchanting European style patio, surrounded by stone and romanticized by the echoing whispers of the central fountain. A wood burning pizza oven is on full display and bellows with fire and delicious scents of scorched bread and fresh basil. Since its inception, La Villa has focused its efforts on the farm to table concept that Sinsay has always prided himself on, and we were witness to how his newest interpretation of this philosophy led to his notoriously sophisticated menu.
Just perusing the innovative menu we knew that Chef Sinsay would be serving the confit pork belly starter ($12) - it sounded so quintessentially Sinsay, and it was. Imagine steak and eggs reinvented and elevated: this creative dish boasts a generous serving of crispy, crunchy pork belly whose fatty tissue was spice rubbed with anaheim peppers, a sixty-three minute egg floating atop a light and refreshing hot lemon foam, and brined and smoked red grapes. Chef instructed us to break the egg and whip it into the lemon foam to instantaneously create a creamy delicious hollandaise, then to pop a grape for a literal explosion of flavor, and we happily obliged for what was a unique and amazing dining experience.
We also indulged in the squid ink fettuccini ($22) with local squid, juicy lemon slices, tarragon, crispy chicken skins and pickled and fermented Serrano chilies. Little pieces of curled squid adorn the plate, prepared by being frozen, rolled, then thinly sliced on a meat cutter, imitating pasta with a pleasant chewiness.
For our entrees we had the local sea bass ($27) and the Muscovy duck breast ($28). The sea bass comes atop a delicate artichoke barigoule (a traditional Provencal dish of artichokes braised with onions, garlic and carrots in a seasoned broth of wine and water), sided by crisp Lacinato kale, topped with tomato confit, and garnished with parmesan nage (a flavored foam broth) which threw food faux pas to the wind, elevating the delicate fish with the subtle saltiness of the cheese. We also enjoyed the duck breast accompanied by rich slices of duck prosciutto, maitake mushrooms, the duck's natural jus filling little "bowls" composed of charred onions, and a crunchy pistachio puree. Wow.
While we are sad to see him take a hiatus from America's Finest City, we are elated to have had the opportunity to indulge in yet another unique sampling of Chef Sinsay's creative genius and are eager to visit him in Los Angeles. And though we cannot speak for Chef Sinsay's replacement, La Villa remains an enchanting, family-driven, Italian-inspired eatery with a vast array of exciting menu items in a gorgeous restaurant atmosphere.
La Villa is located at 1646 India Street in Little Italy. For more information, visit lavillasd.com.