Tapenade

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Since opening in 1998, Tapenade has established itself as a La Jolla institution. Diners frequent the sophisticated establishment for acclaimed chef Jean-Michel Diot’s Provençal-style French cooking. Diot, who comes to San Diego after a successful career in Paris and New York, offers a consistently award-winning menu, while Tapenade’s welcoming atmosphere and excellent service complement the cuisine. For an exceptional experience, Diot offers a five-course tasting menu with wine pairings, offered daily.

Tapenade: La Jolla's Charming French Bistro

If there is a formula for the ideal restaurant experience—one where every need is met, every sense delighted, every dish inspired, and all of this without pretense—Tapenade Chef and Owner Jean-Michel Diot must have discovered it.  His downtown La Jolla restaurant offers a harmonious fusing of delightful elements: modern sensibility, understated elegance, gracious hospitality, and exquisite, engaging cuisine.  

Parking easily on Fay Avenue and entering the restaurant, our experience began with the smiling face of Ludovic Mifsud, Tapenade’s gracious Maitre D’.   Greeting us at the entrance, he stood between the restaurants two main areas—to the right, an inviting bar and lounge; to the left, an equally enticing dining room.  Framing the entrance were two semi-private dining areas—a round room enclosed in lush, velvet drapes for up to eighteen guests; and a charming, intimate alcove behind a low wall, set with a single table. The latter, offering a rare degree of intimacy for parties of two to eight, may well be one of the best tables in the city for special occasions.

We were seated at one of many tables against long booths in the main dining room. Tall, sloped ceilings buffered by long canvas sheets, cheerful yellow walls, and large windows made the space seem as bright and airy as the outdoors. Black and white photos in large frames as well as oversized canvas prints adorned the walls, each image celebrating the pleasures of food and wine. Simple, translucent curtains shielded the room’s windows, while a door to a charming outdoor patio stood open. The room epitomized casual elegance, with clean lines and carefully chosen textures that faded into the background, leaving only a warm setting that seemed to facilitate the lively buzz of conversation. I felt as if I were in a modern café in France or New York.

Chef Jean-Michel Diot hails from both, so it is no surprise that Tapenade seems like it could be found on another coast or another continent.  Diot came to America from France in 1987 and spent ten years in New York City, where he opened three restaurants and garnered much acclaim. With numerous awards and glowing reviews under his belt, he moved to La Jolla, opening Tapenade in 1998. The result of a career split between countries is a culinary style that delightfully blends classic and modern French with a hint of California influence, all with a complex maturity that can only come from a seasoned chef.

We knew we were in for a treat when an amuse bouche—a dainty sliver of toasted baguette topped with a light pink swirl of dried fruit and goat cheese mousse—teased our palates.  Lingering over the mousse's simultaneously sweet and tart flavor, I turned my attention to the wine list, which was approachable yet encompassing.  Compiled by Chef Diot himself, the list focused on French and French-style wines, offering a combination of small and well-known producers. The front of the list offered smaller portions, including wines by the glass and half bottle, and a selection of "premium wines" available by the half-glass, glass, and small carafe. The 100 or so wines by the bottle included an excellent selection of Bordeaux and aged Burgundy wines dating back to 1988.

We gladly enlisted the advice of our server, who after discussing both the menu and wine list suggested a half bottle of 2002 Puligny Montrachet Louis Latour Chardonnay. Green, grassy, and crisp, the Burgundy wine was versatile and very food-friendly, and would prove to pair well with each course.  We toyed with the tasting menu—a five course prix-fixe option offered daily, with or without wine pairings—but ultimately decided to order off the main menu.

Our first course offered a contrast in traditional and modern, with two dishes that spanned the range of tradition, taste, and flavor. The Escargots de Bourgogne au buerre d' ail, traditional Burgundy snails with fresh herbs & garlic butter, arrived in a white porcelain dish with six snail-sized cavities, each holding tender meat beneath a pool of hazelnut butter and parsley pesto. It was the sauce—a resonating, complex blend of herbs, nuts, garlic, and butter—that made the dish sublime. Each bite burst of flavor, the tender, dark meat a vessel for the savory sauce. The meat itself resembled shellfish in consistency, with a decidedly earthy flavor.  Even - nay, especially - if you don’t think you like snails, you must try this dish.

The Salade de Crabe Dungeness, Salade de Mangues, was light and airy; the exact counterpart to the hearty snails. Likewise, it was creatively "Californian" in its execution where the escargots were classically French. A large white plate divided down the center by a generous swath of mango gastrique held on one side a salad of micro-greens and clover sprouts, and on the other a cylindrical, two-layer form beneath a curved waffle shell.  The bottom of the form comprised plump bits of crab meat mingling with hints of cream, horseradish, and subtle spice. Atop, the cooling citrus of diced mango, pomelos, and oranges mingled with the piquant flavor of petit diced red onion. Together the tastes were fresh, vibrant, and delicate, the creamy crab filling out the light mango and the mango serving to tame the succulent crab.

Our next course featured Tapenade's signature dish, Raviolis aux Champignons: house-made wild mushroom raviolis served in a port wine & white truffle oil sauce with aged Parmesan Reggiano. Plump packages resembling dumplings sat in a pool of almost foamy broth, begging to be sliced into. Thin, al dente dough gave way to a deep blend of ground porcini, morel, and button mushrooms that melded in an earthy mélange of flavors.  A forkful—earthy filling, light, savory broth, and the distinct flavors of parmesan and truffle—achieved what can only be deemed perfection. Harmonious, engaging, and intriguing, each bite was wholly triumphant.  

The longest standing dish on the menu, Homard au Mais Blanc, Cepes et Vanille Tahitienne, was also the most arresting.  The presentation seemed angelic: pale white, foaming broth spread across a wide bowl, gently blanketing plump pieces of pink lobster, verdant English peas, pale porcini mushrooms, and tiny pearls of corn. A familiar sweet aroma reminded me of powdered sugar, funnel cakes, and childhood bliss. The captivating smell was the Tahitian vanilla, the dish’s star ingredient. A spoonful of the broth evoked memories of melted ice cream on warm summer evenings—it was the most astounding taste of the entire meal. No bite went without some of the sweet vanilla cream—each piece of tender, succulent lobster, each crisp pea, each slender porcini mushroom and delicate baby Yukon gold potato. Sweet and savory, delicate and determined, it was no wonder this dish had remained on the menu for years.

With the last of our Latour Chardonnay dwindling, we moved to a glass of 2000 Bridgeview Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir from Oregon. Served chilled, the wine’s subtle fruitiness burst forth, tempered by light tannins and a long, complex finish.  It paired perfectly with our last entrée, the Confit de Canard.

The Duck Confit was classic where the lobster was creative. A plump, bone-in duck leg, which had been slow cooked for six hours, rested on a boneless thigh, towering beside a pool of deep-red port wine sauce, a medley of haricot verts and chanterelles, and a mash of Yukon gold potatoes sprinkled with corn. Thin, perfectly crisp skin gave way to tender meat that pulled apart effortlessly—it was intoxicating, almost smoky, in flavor.  The accompanying port reduction was sweet and tangy, adding complexity to each bite. The corn mash—a blend of sweet corn kernels and buttery mashed potatoes, resonated with the freshness of in-season corn, filling the otherwise starchy potatoes with rich flavor. The chanterelles were dense and earthy and a perfect antidote to the sweet, flavorful sauce. There was not a bite that was anything less than captivating.

In fact, there was not a bite of our entire meal that had not been captivating, satisfying, and pleasurable. Content and delighted, dessert hardly seemed necessary. Yet, the excitement in Maitre D' Ludovic Mifsud's eyes was enough to convince us to sample some of Pastry Chef Jerome Maure's creations. Indeed, dessert proved irresistible, even in our sated state.

The Declinaison de Fraises et Rhubarbe was summer at its peak.  A white egg-shaped form of pistachio and white chocolate ice cream set atop a cylindrical tower, a cookie crust surrounding a medley of chandler strawberries and rhubarb.  The tart fruit blended perfectly with the creamy ice cream, both serving to keep the other in check. The surprising brilliance of the dish was the inclusion of fresh basil amid the fruit. Its earthy freshness kept the otherwise rich dish somehow grounded, awakening the palate after each bite.  

We were bid farewell with silver tray of petit biscotti and almond cakes, affording us one last bite of sweet pleasure before departing.  As we stood, reluctantly leaving the lively space for the world beyond, I knew that Tapenade had just found itself another loyal customer. I was already looking for my next excuse to return.

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Deals & Special Offers

Deal:   From the traditional "Marinières" to "Exotic" curry flavored enjoy mussels, French fries, European beers, classic cocktails, a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc

Valid: Oct. 6, 2014 - Dec. 31, 2016

Days Available: Daily

Time Available: Anytime

Rules: Offer may not be combined with other promotions or special offers. Offer not applicable towards group reservations. Gratuity should be calculated on the full amount before discount.


Restaurant Info

  • 7612 Fay Avenue
    La Jolla CA 92037
  • Address: 7612 Fay Avenue, La Jolla CA 92037
  • Cross Street: Kline Street
  • Location: La Jolla & UTC | La Jolla Village
  • Cuisine: French | Continental |
  • Cost: $$$ | Moderate | $50 - $75
  • Category: Fine Dining
  • Star Rating:
  • Reservations: Recommended
  • Dress Code: Business Casual
  • Meals Served: Lunch | Dinner |
  • Parking: Street | Private Lot |
  • Payment Options: VISA | Amex | Mastercard | Discover | Diners Club |
  • Corkage Fee: 25.00 | Per 750ml bottle.
  • Staff: Jean-Michel Diot | Executive Chef
    Sylvie Diot | Event Coordinator
    Michael Connelly, Ludovic Mifsud | Matre D'
  • Phone: (858) 551-7500

Business Hours

Monday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Tuesday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Wednesday
Main Dining Room | Lunch 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Thursday
Main Dining Room | Lunch 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Friday
Main Dining Room | Lunch 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Saturday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Sunday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.

Features

  • Full Bar
  • Late Dining
  • Catering Services
  • Live Entertainment
  • Outdoor Seating
  • Private Room
  • Prix Fixe Menu
  • Smoking Area
  • Takeout Available
  • Tasting Menu
  • Winning Wine List
  • Wheelchair Access
  • Happy Hours
  • Personal Wines Allowed
  • Healthy Options

Occasion

  • Child Friendly
  • Romantic Dining
  • Dining Alone
  • Business Dining
  • Meet for a Drink
  • People Watching
  • Quiet Conversation
  • Special Occasion
  • Vegetarian
  • Quick Bite

 


F.A.Q. - Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, It is $25. Personal wines welcome

Menus

Lunch Menu

Appetizers - Riviera Menu

Main Course

Desserts

Tapas Bar Menu - Perfect for Sharing - Happy Hour

Tapas Bar Menu

Dessert

Dinner Menu

Appetizers Les Classiques

Appetizers Season Flavors

Entrees Les Classiques

Entrees Season Flavors

Side Orders

Vegetarian Menu

Appetizers

Main Courses

Children's Menu

Appetizer

Choice of Entree

Dessert

Beverages

Sunset Menu

Appetizers

Main Courses

Desserts

Dessert Menu

Les Fromages Et Desserts

Tasting Menu

Mussels, Fries and Beer

Mussels & Fries

Selection of Beers


User Reviews

San Diego Top Restaurant  

I align myself with those who place Tapenade in the 'Top 10' category (See SD Reader or any other rating guide - Tapenade is a consistent winner). Service is caring and impecable, food is a exquisite, and ambiance is subtly eccentric. Sylvie will welcome you with a smile, and in many cases on your return visit the staff will remember your name. Tapenade is at the TOP of my list for food/experience/value. It is expensive, but is worth the experience. Some of my favorites include seared fois gras, venison or tenderloin medallions, plus they have a great champagne and wine selection - at good prices. I wouldn't recommend it for 'people watching' - this is a place to sit down, with your partner or friends, and engage in a shared and fulfilling dining experience. As a side note, I used their catering services on New Year's 2003, and couldn't be happier. Were Michelin to rate them, they would certainly be 2 star (The top rating, 3 stars requires an attached hotel). Here, I give them 5 stars - the top compared to any restaurant in any city (even Paris). I am curious to know what is required for 5 stars in your rating system - and why they only received a 4?

As good as San Diego gets  

There may be restaurants just a tick above Tapenade -- I have never dined at Mille Fleurs or Azzura Point, for example -- but for classic French cuisine with a California twist, look no further. Service (sometimes an Achilles heel here in town) is first rate, professional yet affable, wine list is outstanding, and both the presentations and the cooking are stellar. It's possible to dine relatively affordably, too, but the tasting menu is worth every penny. Very highly recommended by a someone who's dined in SF, New York, Paris, London, and many points in between.

Pleasant surprise  

I took the advice from the other reviews and was glad I did. My girlfriend and I chose the specials for the day and were delightfully enjoying the entire lunch. The decor was simple and very well chosen. The hostess and the waiters were all very helpful and thus the service was excellent. From the main course to the dessert, very satisfying from the taste to the pricing. Tapenade looks to be a dining spot permanently on my short list of places to visit again in the future.

A Classy Place  

The food was excellent, service professional, but not warm, nice atmosphere. For the most part, more than what I had expected.

Much better!!  

OK, I'm happy now. After some issues with the service on my previous (and first) visit, my wife and I returned to Tapenade tonight and had the experience we expected. It was superb! Each unique and creative item on their (highly recommended) "Tasting Menu" was matched by a prompt and knowledgeable description of its preparation as it was placed before us. The service was attentive but unobtrusive, as it should be. They never missed replacing a used knife or fork, and waited until both my wife and I were finished before clearing our plates (I HATE the common practice in so many "fine" restaurants of grabbing my plate while my wife is still eating!) We went early, and it was still light out - I think the ambience would have matched the food a little better after dark. We'll just have to go back soon to check that out... First rate!

First  

First class  

Wonderful, wonderful food! Really exquiste flavours. Excellent service and the lunch menu is very affordable ($19 for 2 courses). Lacking a little in atmosphere (was certainly not buzzing - we were the only people under about 65!). But probably the best food I've tasted in San Diego.

Cheers!  

This place is our new secret! Great food, and excellent service. We even enjoyed the jazz last Thursday.

Great Food and Service  

My wife and I went there to celebrate our 14 year anniversary. We picked this restaurant over several others that were rated the best in San Diego. Though we expected it to be good, we were really surprised at how great the service and food was and I was even more surprise at how reasonable the prices are. I highly recommend this restaurant.

Tapenade ROCKS  

Just make a reservation and go!!

Great Great Great  

I totally recommend this restaurant. The food was outrageous.

Our favorite restaurant  

Tapenade has been our favorite restaurant for the nine years we have lived in San Diego. The food is always excellent, varied, seasonal and interesting. We have enjoyed introducing friends and our grandaughter to Tapenade. Tapenade is always a wonderful treat and is resaonably priced for the quality and type of food.

5/5 stars  

Excellent service, delicious food, great atmosphere.

Visitor from Oklahoma City  

Outstanding food and outstanding service. Everything was superior. Striped bass prepared to perfection. Asparagus soup was excellent. Paired nicely with Vouvray. Delightful amuse bouche at start and finish of meal. You won't regret having dinner at Tapenade -- a very special dining experience.

Great food, great service  

I went to Tapenade with my girlfriends for a college graduation dinner. We did feel a bit strange, seeing as we were most likely the youngest table there. But both the food and the service was fantastic! I recommend the Tasting Menu. It gives you a little bit of everything. I'll tell you, I don't have a super huge stomach, but I ate the WHOLE meal! It was perfectly spaced out. Perhaps the only thing a bit lacking was the atmosphere, but that's probably due to my tastes. Very business casual, a little bland, but still unique.

Wonderful place to dine.  

Great food wonderful service would recommend it to all my friends.

Tapenade  

My wife ordered the sea bass $32 for her valentine dinner was ok but the size of here fish was 2 small bites on the whole plate. Smallest micro fish dinner we have ever seen. We know that french places have smaller portions but this was ridiculously on the small side Nice place to dine but hard to find since sign outside does not light up at night is only a fabric material sign....

Good meal.  

Good fresh and NATURAL oysters and delicious snails (escargots). Also the ravioli are an excellent choice and veal if you are still hungry! Be patiente with the service, and do not espect prime quality customer oriented one. Enjoy the wine (look first for the best price: Luois Latour always pays) or better off, bring your own bottle.

Everyone has a bad night...  

I love french food. I have made several trips to France just to tour Michelin 3-star restaurants. I visited Tapenade Restuarant tonight for the first time, with great anticipation. I was let down. For over $100 per person, one should leave feeling that they just had an amazing experience. The food at Tapenade was excellent, but the service had serious problems. I ordered the tasting menu, with wine. My first course came out without the wine, and I almost finished it before I could catch my waiter to request it. The third course on my menu came out before the second, and so the wine that had been brought out was mis-paired. At the same time, the table next to us noted that they had received a dessert they hadn't ordered. After I had been served three courses of the five on my tasting menu, our waiter realized that my two guests hadn't recieved their appetizers - no food at all. The waiter was very nice, and apologetic, and we eventually recieved all of our food, and it was very good - but this is not acceptable for a place like this, and it doesn't make me want to return. The chef/owner was not to be seen, probably part of the problem. He has a distinguished history and reputation, and I am sure this is not typical - but that didn't make my experience any less disappointing. I will keep my ear to the ground for signs that this may be under better control in the future.

Excellent Food - Arrogant Service  

I had dinner at Tapenade this past Saturday. The food was outstanding, everything was cooked to perfection and the timing was solid. Great job Chef. The server was right from the get-go expremely arrogant and it did not change much throughout the night. I don't know if it was because I was not wearing a jacket that he took me for a table that would not make him much money, but his condescending initial approach had me very close to getting up and leaving. I do not understand why a restaurant of this caliber feels it necessary to have a snooty waiter because it really kills the overall experience. I would have loved to share my feedback with a manager or a Maitre d', but there was no one coming around to talk to tables. I do not know if at this point I will return to Tapenade, the food was well worth its price, the winelist was a little limited but had good selections ( I enjoyed a great Cornas), but I hate having to tip a server who believes he is way above everything else.

Moments of praise, but over all lacking  

I took my fiancee to this restaurant to celebrate an anniversary, and made sure they knew that in the reservation. They stuck us in the corner right next to another party. Ruined any hopes of a romantic dinner. The service was scattered, and the waiting staff relied too much on eachother for us to even know who our waiter was. The food was alright overall, there was some dishes that were fantastic, but others fell short. The bill was what I expected, but I would rather spend that kind of money on a better overall experience.

Good Food, Poor Service  

First off, let me say that the chef at Tapenade has it figured out, the wait staff doesnt. From uncharged wine glasses throughout dinner (purchasing by the glass) to mistaking the orders for all four of our guests, the service at Tapenade was slightly above what you would expect at the local Denny's. I got accustomed to requesting special items, such as a steak knife for my fillet and pepper for my salad. Considering the prices ($10 for a 5 oz glass from a $12 bottle of wine or $48 for a $15 bottle of wine, $30 for a steak w/ fries, $10.50 for a tiny cheese plate, etc) one would normally expect the service to be exceptional. It wasnt. Definitely not recommended.

disappointing  

I love french food and was was expecting to be impressed. The service was disappointing. The waiter was arrogant and rude. The main dish was okay, dessert was "degoutant" poched pear with extremely salty caramel sauce.

Skip it  

Fish entree was not fully cooked. See details below. There are better choices in te area.

Disappointing  

I took my husband for a surprise birthday weekend to La Jolla. This restaurant came highly recommended so I was looking forward to a really elegant, quality birthday dinner. I was very disappointed. The food we had, mushroom ravioli for a starter and a lobster mix in a broth for the entre, both left me feeling that the chef was letting creativity get in the way of good flavors. Also, for such an expensive restaurant I found the decor much too modest, nothing exciting or elegant. I must say though that our waiter, a young man with dark hair, provided very good service. Because this restaurant came so highly recommended, I have to believe that ours was just an off night. However I won't be going back to find out.

If you want arrogance...  

If you are seeking a dining experience with a staff that is pompous and/or arrogant this would be the place to go! Can't comment on anything else as the minute I walked through the door my evening was ruined. I am wrong, or are you not supposed to be treated as an honored guest, rather than you should be honored to be here?!

THIS SITE IS A SCAM  

SPAMMERS