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Vela - A Restaurant Review

+ shameful
++ mediocre
+++ delightful
++++ amazing

Vela ++++

1 Park Boulevard, San Diego, 92101

Hours: Breakfast: 5:30 to 11 a.m., daily. Lunch: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., daily. Dinner: 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., daily

Cuisine: Contemporary

Budget impact: Moderate to High

Ask where to go for terrific fine dining and without pause I’ll respond, “Vela.” Unless some wicked demon starts planting eyeballs in the risotto, my answer isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

The spacious, big-windowed restaurant resides at sublevel of a 30-story concrete edifice that is the Hilton San Diego Bayfront. Less than a year old, the smell of fresh carpeting still pervades the hotel’s broad and sterile hallways, which from below the lobby lead to aromas of a much higher order.

Vela’s menu changes according to seasonal bounties, if not more often to accommodate the creative whims of Chef de Cuisine Adam Bussell, formerly of Ivy Hotel’s Quarter Kitchen. Those roasted baby apples abutting last week’s Kurobuta pork shank could be swapped out at the drop of a fork for creamy polenta or salty caramel. Or in the case of a highly memorable trio of sushi-grade seafood, bedecked with sea urchin aioli and radishes, it has since given way to such gems as coriander-crusted tuna with kumquats and spicy Baja prawns spiked with preserved lemon. Bussell’s adroit presentations dare keep changing, as if to chase away staid and conservative palates.

Consider the pan-roasted Northern halibut that he joins up with pork belly and tangerines; the Parmesan risotto speckled with English peas and roasted tomatoes; or for lesser appetites, a wine-friendly board of artisan cheeses and air-dried meats. The trick is to seize these dishes while they last or else take solace in unforeseen masterpieces that follow a pattern of “here today, gone tomorrow.”

Epicures will also delight over Vela’s intelligent wine list and stimulating cocktail offerings while gazing out to this quiet branch of the bay. Globetrot through the wine pages to craft your own flight, or pamper your whistle with an effervescent liquor concoction boasting muddled fruits and herbs. The airy atmosphere adorned with big sheer curtains demand you luxuriate.

Of late, Vela has injected into its “California coastal” theme a monthly series of dinners that take patrons to far-away places. The prix-fixe meals pair internationally inspired cuisine with wines from around the world, starting at about $50.

Enter the fortress and indulge.