The Tom Ham's Revival | Restaurant Evolves Through Renovations to Menu and Historic Location

September 20, 2013

Photos by Derek Plank courtesy of Tom Ham's Lighthouse
Lately we have been increasingly hearing its name chanted and revered from the mouths of trusted foodies. Tom Ham's Lighthouse has been owned by the Baumann family since the early 1970s, and although the restaurant could have lost itself in complacency and still thrived on its incredible view alone, Tom Ham's chose to undergo a five month, $3.5 Million renovation and picked up the experienced Chef Lance Repp from La Valencia to overhaul the menu.  The stunning result is a patently 'new' restaurant offering some of the freshest seafood in town along with a fantastic craft beer selection and quite possibly the very best view of downtown San Diego.

The restaurant was beautifully redesigned by the late Graham Downes and includes tributes to the history of the restaurant as well as its owners.  Located on Harbor Island, the restaurant's second floor outdoor dining deck overlooks Coronado, nearly the entire harbor (including sister restaurant Bali Hai) and an unmatched perspective of the San Diego city skyline. And did you know that Tom Ham's Lighthouse is, in fact, an operating U.S. Coast Guard lighthouse? A beacon to seafarers and foodies alike.  

After an arduous day, we chose to visit Tom Ham's to catch a sunset dinner.  We started with a couple local brews from the well organized craft beer list - a Port Brewing Mongo IPA and an Essence IPA from Hangar 24.  Tom Ham's has also embraced the craft cocktail trend with a variety of offerings, and their wines by the glass are very reasonably priced, with the most expensive glass at $9.50. To go with our frosty beers, we also sampled a serving of Chef-selected oysters.  We soaked in the sprawling scenery, slurped down our oysters and sipped our icy IPAs, and all our worries seemed to fade away.  So serene!

Our next course was the fig and burrata salad ($12), a perfectly simple dish with fresh California figs, creamy burrata cheese, local watercress and a drizzling of toasted pistachio burrata.  Although the leafy greens were difficult to eat due to bit too much stalk, the dish was rustic and delicious - an ideal combination of sweet and savory.
From the starters, we were presented with the beautiful pomegranate glazed pork belly ($12), a hefty serving of juicy swine perched atop a silky fontina polenta and sided by a frisee and pickled onion salad.  Although the protein could have been a bit more tender, the mix of flavors came together successfully for a hearty dish.  We also received the grilled octopus ($14), and although this was the dish we would be least likely to order, it was hands down our favorite of the night and will certainly be listed in our Best Bites of 2013 roundup.  The smokey char flavor on the tender octopus, the warm garlic oil, and the salty capers and kalamatas all combined with the peppery spice of arugala for one of the best squid dishes we've ever eaten.

It's difficult to choose from the entrees, but the lobster bouillabaisse ($32) beckoned, and the piping bowl of fresh seafood did not disappoint. The mix of lobster, clams, mussels, scallops, cod and lightly creamy saffron broth made for a tasty seafood stew that I surprisingly finished, even sopping up the last bit of broth with the accompanying toasted baguette.
A first for us, we also picked apart the whole roasted striped sea bass, and although the presentation was a bit intimidating, we dug right into the stunningly seasoned flesh - eyes, cheeks and all.  The flavor profile was blissful with the rosemary-infused flesh of the fish, kalamata tapenade and an amazing sofrito lining the plate, all harmonizing in the palate.

We weren't permitted to leave without dessert, and we're happy our hosts insisted because the "Zumbar float" ($9.50) was right up our alley.   A unique mix of chocolate coffee stout and Bailey's Irish Cream gelato, this inventive finish was akin to an Irish coffee and had us both loving life.  We were also presented with The Elvis ($8.50) - a mix of banana cream, peanut butter mousse and bacon toffee, as well as an off-the-menu offering of sticky toffee pudding ($8.50) with bourbon pecans and bourbon banana sauce.  We were completely satisfied and ready to slink under the table for a nap.

On the weekends, wedding watch from the upstairs patio, as the bottom floor includes numerous banquet areas that can be rented for anything from class reunions to corporate events to weddings.  Tom Ham's Sunday Brunch is reportedly legendary, and was listed by OpenTable as one of the 100 best restaurants for brunch in the U.S. in 2012 (pre-renovation!).  The restaurant also serves lunch everyday but Sunday and has dinner daily.

2150 Harbor Island Drive, Harbor Island
(619) 291-9110

Monday – Thursday
Lunch 11:30am - 3:00pm
Dinner 5:00pm - 9:00pm

Friday and Saturday
Lunch 11:30am - 3:00pm
Dinner 5:00pm - 10:00pm

Brunch 9:30am - 2:00pm
Dinner 4:00pm - 9:00pm

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