AFTER UNDERGOING one of those multimillion dollar remodels that appear essential to staying fresh and enticing patrons, the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe unveiled Morada and installed a terrific new chef in Todd Allison.
For all the dollars spent, the restaurant is refreshed, but not particularly current. When the weather is accommodating, you’ll want to sit on the patio, which is a verdant world of its own.
The dining room’s conservative sensibility does not extend to the food, which is impressively good. While Chef Allison could have gotten by with an Old World menu, he prefers foods that are natural and nearby and has created a menu of intriguing starters, com-posed dishes and à la carte items.
Among the starters, pan-roasted baby octopus stands out. The dish comes as three tiny octopi hiding under a garland of greens and resting on roasted red pepper jam. The look, flavor and concept are thoroughly winning.
Composed items include dishes that are often sauced and accompanied by vegetables and starches. They include monkfish with olives, butter beans and cured lemons; wonderful double-cut grilled lamb chops with ratatouille and a pistachio gremolata; and beet fettuccine with pine nuts, spinach and feta. Still a work in progress is fried chicken, which has more of an entombment than a crusting.
Among à la carte offerings are sea bass, ocean trout and rib-eye steak. Separately ordered sides include an ethereal risotto with truffle, duck-fat fries with Cotija cheese and roasted maitake mushrooms.
Most of the food is remarkably straightforward, so natural flavors dominate. There’s an occasional lapse to be sure, but the focus on solid and satisfying cooking is abundantly clear.
Patrons: Many folks seem to come from the community, especially families with kids, power couples and the retired. There’s also a smattering of vacationers.
Service: Cordial and knowledgeable.
Parking: There’s a parking lot adjacent to the restaurant.
Special diets: Virtually any dietary restrictions are accommodated.
Details: Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At dinner, starters range $12-$14 and entrées $23-$33. Full bar. Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, 5951 Linea Del Cielo, Rancho Santa Fe. 858-381-8289.
By Stephen Silverman • Photography by Martin Mann