Chef Anthony Sinsay Makes Duke's La Jolla His Own

January 14, 2016

There is a saying that "cooking is love made visible." Taking that as truth, we think Chef Anthony Sinsay must really, really love us. The young and exceedingly talented chef has made us some of our most memorable meals to date and always does so with humble passion. From his time at Harney Sushi, to his tenure at Enlightened Hospitality's Burlap, to his short stint at La Villa, we've made it a point to visit him at each of his recent San Diego restaurants. And in tracking his development, we know that Chef Sinsay has a long and triumphant career ahead of him. Now leading the kitchen at the newly opened Duke's La Jolla atop of the picturesque La Jolla Cove, Chef Sinsay is putting his twist on a developed brand and making it his own, elevating its cuisine substantially in the process.

Let's get this out of the way right off the bat. Yes, Duke's is a chain of sorts, owned by a somewhat large restaurant group - TS Restaurants - which also owns nearby beachside eatery Jake's Del Mar. With that said, our Duke's is led by a born-and-raised San Diegan, Chef Anthony Sinsay, who is one of the most talented chefs in town. Now, if you're a longtime follower of SanDiegoVille, you know that Chef Sinsay can do almost no wrong in our book. We absolutely love his food. He was our one and only Chef of the Year, the only year we designated such honor in 2012. We have not been able to award another chef with such a title, because frankly, we haven't found another that has wowed our tastebuds on a consistent basis like Anthony Sinsay has. He set the bar high.

Being that Duke's La Jolla is a corporate restaurant group, Chef Sinsay doesn't have full leeway to implement his own techniques and recipes like he may in a smaller establishment. That being said, he is still THE MAN in the kitchen and seizes the opportunity to incorporate a few of his own dishes and to add his spin on some Duke's classics and mainstays. During our first visit to Duke's, Chef Sinsay took us on a journey through some of his favorite items on the menu that are most reflective of his culinary influence.

Before our dishes started rolling out, I started with one of Duke's classic Mai Tai's ($10) which, unlike San Diego's best known version of the cocktail, contains more than just booze (not that there is anything wrong with that). The drink comes in a rad tiki glass, topped with an orchid and is made tropical with the use of PPOG juice (pineapple/passion/orange/guava). Lady SanDiegoVille ordered a local draft brew - Stone Delicious IPA - because she is awesome and loves our city's craft beer. During our meal, we both moved on to suggested wine pairings from our gregarious and attentive waiter.

The first dish to arrive to our table was the charred snap peas ($9) with local radish, burnt pineapple vinaigrette, sliced Marcona almonds and house-whipped brie - full of texture. We love how chefs are embracing the burnt flavor and implementing it into dishes with finesse, Chef Sinsay being one of the first we recall doing this when he was at the now-defunct La Villa. This dish was fresh, crisp, crunchy, and creamy with an underlying smokey, fire-charred flavor.

Next up was the fresh fish crudo ($13), a star of the evening, made with ahi tuna, caramelized pineapple, white soy ponzu with burnt pineapple, Serrano chilies, black sesame seed, and cilantro and mint. This dish tasted even better than it looked. The clean ahi shined through the delicate sauce, was punctuated by great texture from the sesame and rock salt, and elevated by the freshness of the micro-greens and spice from the chilies. Chef's ponzu should be bottled and sold.

Before it arrived to our table, Chef Sinsay detailed the elaborate process of making his Tahitian octopus with smoked papaya, cucumber, lime and coconut milk ($15). The octopus is prepared using the confit method along with papaya seeds, a natural meat tenderizer. He proclaimed that it would be the "most tender octopus you've ever tasted." Not that I didn't have faith in my old friend, but we've eaten a lot of deliciously tender pulpo in our day, so we may have been oh-so-slightly doubtful. Now, when I tell you that this octopus was incredibly tender, I'm talking the consistency of a piece of perfect mozzarella, melt in your mouth tender. It also had that wood-fired, grill-char flavor to boot. There may be a new King of Pulpo in town!

The next dish we received was said to be the nearest to Chef Sinsay's heart, as the recipe was handed down by his late mother. The love shined through in this plentiful bowl of mussels adobo with chili, soy, vinegar, coconut milk and pan de sal ($9), and it is a steal for the price. We ate every last morsel of this dish and would have asked for extra bread and sopped up all the sauce if we hadn't known more food was on the horizon. No kidding, we were spooning the salty-sweet out and slurping it down. Surely, you've done Mama proud, Chef.

Okay, so we didn't order extra bread for the mussels, but we did get a side of Kennebec fries with Togarashi salt, which we eagerly dredged through the mussel broth ($6). Chef Sinsay knows that fries are very commonplace but also frequently cooked as an aforethought. He's gone to great lengths to perfect his fries and produce them with the most ideal outter-crisp-to-interior-fluff ratio. Be sure to get an order with your mussels for one of the tastiest moules-frites in town.

San Diego is known for its fish tacos, so we had to try Sinsay's version. We split an order of grilled Mahi tacos on locally made corn tortillas with salsa verde, cabbage, radish sprouts, rajas (roasted Poblanos with cream), and a side of chips ($16). When I order a fish taco, it is generally of the battered and fried variety, but these may have made me a convert. The fish was flaky and moist, the taco as a whole full of texture, spice and flavor, making this, hands down, my favorite grilled fish taco ever.

Chef Sinsay brought out his favorite side dish for us to sample, the eggplant miso ($7). Japanese, Chinese and Thai eggplant pieces are dredged in a cornstarch slurry, dipped in cornstarch, then flash-fried before being tossed in Saiko miso, then sided with whipped yogurt and fresh mint, making for an herbaceous, Mediterranean-style dish. The contrasting varieties of eggplant brought a pleasant diversity and wonderful meatiness to the plate.

You would think we would be getting full by now, but somehow, our hunger for more grew with every bite! The roasted Duke's fish came out next - a meaty cut, moist and flaky Mahi, glazed in a lemon and basil sauce served over green bamboo rice and roasted rainbow carrots with a pomegranate vinaigrette ($27). This sizable dish was hearty and comforting and the rice a unique and texturally pleasing twist.

Our last savory course was the 24 hour sous-vide Kalbi short rib with house made kimchee stew, sweet potato, bacon and long beans ($24), a recipe adapted from a colleagues' recipe that he learned from his Korean grandmother. Frequently short ribs are fall apart tender, but this version had a welcomed meaty consistency and incredible flavor. And that bacon! Wow.

To finish off an amazing meal, Chef Sinsay brought over an order of malasadas - a fluffy Portuguese doughnut very popular in Hawaii, coated in cinnamon and sugar, sided by a guava jam for dipping ($9). Sinsay admitted that he taste-tested dough for these bad boys until he could no longer stand eating them, but he would continue making it just to test the texture of the dough between his fingers until he got it right. His efforts paid off, because these airy delights were delicious! Just look at them.

Sinsay, in our opinion, is in a league of his own in San Diego. We cannot help but look forward to the day when he is in complete creative control of his own restaurant. Until then, head to Duke's La Jolla to see him work his magic. He'll show you the love, too.

Duke's La Jolla is located at 1216 Prospect Street with unrivaled views of La Jolla Cove. For more information, visit