Sea Change is one of three restaurants housed in Redondo Beach’s Chez Melange, a quaint retreat just steps from the beach. Run by Executive Chef Robert Bell and Co-Owner Michael Franks, who have been in business together for more than 40 years, Chez Melange is both homage to decades of friendship and a modern player in the realm of sophisticated fare.
Pass through Bouzy Gastropub and Oyster Bar, Chez Melange’s other micro-establishments, and a museum-style corridor allows for a glimpse of the past—photos of Robert and Michael from the early 90’s, menus from their previous restaurants, and even painted portraits of the two in action. From there, enter Sea Change, a small but mighty dining room hustling and bustling with the regulars, who are just as familiar with each other as they are with the servers who see them ever so frequently.
Friendly Becoming part of the family is easier than anticipated, with friendly staff that greet you with a warm smile at first sight. The difficult part comes with placing your order. Chez Melange’s massive menu with inspirations from across the globe speaks to Chef Bell’s range, and fresh fish specials that change daily take it up a level further.
At the top of the list stands the Zarzuela, a Spanish stew of scallops, shrimp, mussels and other seafood in an addictive bisque-like base. The New England dry pack scallops are the perfect golden brown, taken off the frying pan not a second too soon or too late, served with rich bacon cheddar mashed potatoes. The Pacific rim tostadas bring together sashimi-grade ahi, Japanese salsa, avocado, spicy aioli and pickled ginger atop wontons that contain just the right crunch.
Portion sizes are another strong suit at Sea Change. It’s a surprise to see guests finish the mountain of parmesan truffle fries, or have room after the delightful baby beet salad. The drink selection follows much the same face, containing a long list of wine, beer, craft cocktails and a homemade ginger lemonade that’s absolutely worth trying.
Chez Melange is located at 1611 S. Catalina Avenue, Redondo Beach, CA 90277. Sea Change is open 5:30 – 9:30 p.m. Sun, Tue – Thur, 5:30 – 10 p.m. Fri/Sat. Sunday brunch served 9:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. Closed Monday. Out-the-door cost for split appetizer, entrée, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$79/person. For more information, call 310-540-1222 or visit Chez Melange online.
Downtown San Diego’s exploding Gaslamp District carries a distinct energy, spread through young partygoers and hip clientele that flock to the area’s restaurants, bars and nightclubs that transport San Diego from laid-back beach town to something closer to Las Vegas Boulevard. Lionfish embodies this energy in every aspect, serving a haute menu to an even hotter crowd, where groups come to see and be seen.
And who better to be behind the helm of it all than Executive Chef Jojo Ruiz, an up-and-coming visionary that’s continuing to push San Diego’s culinary scene.
“I want people who want to try something, and then taste it and discover it’s amazing…I want them to feel adventurous,” Ruiz said about the crowd who comes to Lionfish. Beyond the restaurant’s nightclub-esque feel is a sophisticated menu, dedicated to fresh and innovative seafood, seasonal produce and Mediterranean, Asian and Latin American flavors.
The food at Lionfish is simply superb. A small mountain of rock shrimp comes bursting at the seams with slightly spicy, slightly tangy, and totally savory character. Pair it with the wild mushroom and potato gnocchi, which enters the palate like an angel resting its head on a pillow. Flavors here are elevated and pronounced in a way that can only come with fresh ingredients executed with fine attention to detail.
“We try to use everything that’s in season, matching the fish to the produce,” Ruiz said. He takes pride in his ability to change the menu on a dime. “If corn is done, that dish needs to change tomorrow.”
Seafood at Lionfish is as fresh as can be. Ruiz spearheaded Lionfish’s ability to source from Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, located about a mile away.
“We get every fish fresh and break it down from whole,” Ruiz said. He’s established personal relationships with market vendors to bring in new seafood to experiment with, allowing guests a new and different experience every time they walk in through Lionfish’s doors. At the time of this writing, it happened to be spiny lobster season, whereby Ruiz showcased whole lobster dressed in spectacular fashion.
Ruiz’s talents come from more than a decade training with some of hospitality’s hottest names. After starting his career as a sushi chef and going through culinary school, Ruiz trained at Oceanaire, one of San Diego’s most acclaimed seafood restaurants and Brian Malarkey’s home base when he rose to fame on Top Chef. He followed Malarkey to Searsucker as a su chef, then to Herringbone as an executive chef. Ruiz then transitioned to Ironside, another San Diego seafood establishment, under Michelin-star Chef Jason Mcleod.
Lionfish brings Ruiz in partnership with Clique Hospitality, run by the founders of The Light Group, a wildly successful Las Vegas-based organization that ran some of the Strip’s hottest restaurnats and clubs, which sold to Hakkasan in 2014. It’s no wonder, then, that anyone who’s dined at a Light Group restaurant gets a hint of déjà vu at Lionfish.
Ruiz’s big eye tuna pizza is a near spitting image of a similar dish served at the Bellagio’s Yellowtail. Each bite encompasses fresh, tender fish and perfectly crispy crust—Decorated Yellowtail Chef Akira Back would tip his hat here in the Gaslamp. Lionfish’s sushi program is another story in itself. You’d be missing out if you didn’t treat yourself to the surf and turf, a roll of wagyu beef, Maine lobster, avocado and crispy shallots that embody Ruiz’s mantra toward ‘taste, texture and presentation.’
The cocktail program is another force to be reckoned with. Mixologist Antony Sazerac has created a cocktail program that matches Ruiz’s culinary flare. Drinks such as the raspberry beret, with Absolut Elyx, aperol, raspberry and Sancerre white wine make for the tasteful and visual creations that equally tasteful partygoers crave in a dining scene like this.
If you’re not worried about a food coma getting in the way of your late-night escapades, then dessert is every bit as good as the rest of the restaurant experience. The churro ice cream sandwich is exactly as it sounds, with fresh churros dripping cinnamon syrup over ice cream. The peanut butter tart is rich as can be, delivering a fine finishing touch.
Lionfish pays homage to its Las Vegas predecessors in the quality of its food and drink as well as the feel of the experience itself. It’s not for the faint of heart or the budget-conscious diner, but it is for those looking for an electrified night and a dining experience that lingers in the memory books.
Lionfish is located at 435 Fifth Ave #2, San Diego, CA 92101, at the Pendry Hotel. Open 5 – 10 p.m. Sun – Thur, 5 – 11 p.m. Fri – Sat. Avg. out-the-door price for appetizer, split sushi, entrée and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$95/person. For more information, call (619) 738-7200 or visit Lionfish online.
Captain Kidd’s has been a Redondo Beach staple for 40 years. What started as a local fish market by a fisherman family has evolved into a locally-renowned hotspot for fresh, sustainable seafood imported from across the world. While this may not be the classiest place for its price point, Captain Kidd’s will assure you an authentic dining experience with quality seafood as its focal point.
Captain Kidd’s, as both a fish market and a restaurant, works in two ways. They have a standard restaurant menu that features your classic fish plates, fish tacos, fish ‘n’ chips, lobster rolls and the like. In addition, they allow guests to choose their meal from the fish market display on the other side of the counter, where Captain Kidd’s staff recommends and executes on the most fitting preparation method. The latter route allows you to venture outside the traditional menu and truly make your own meal from one of the finest seafood selections in the South Bay.
The shrimp here are simply spectacular. Caught in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche and the size of lobster tails, these rare shrimp stay true to Captian Kidd’s claim as ‘simply the best.’ King Salmon from British Columbia are fileted in-house twice a day for maximum freshness. Six varietals of crab range from large to enormous, with several of those varietals also swimming in tanks on the other side of the market.
The traditional menu is much more, well, traditional, with excellent shrimp and fish tacos, killer lobster bisque and meaty New England clam chowder. You may want to skip out on the lobster roll: While it does contain some hefty lobster chunks, the ‘lobster salad’ presentation and a dry bun leave much to be desired.
The big setback here is the price point. As would be expected with excellent seafood, you’re paying close to fine-dining prices, but only to eat in a dive atmosphere with a view of the parking lot. The wine and draft beer list helps but not enough to make up for the ambiance. If atmosphere is what you’re after, you’re better off ordering a burger at a nearby gastropub, or of course taking your fresh seafood to-go.
Captain Kidd’s is located at 209 N. Harbor Drive, Redondo Beach CA 90277. Fish market open 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. daily, restaurant open 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. daily. Avg out-the-door price fresh seafood plate and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$40/person. For more information call (310) 372-7703 or visit Captain Kidd’s online.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.