Kalua Pig, Fire Twirling and an Incredible View—What More Could You Ask For?
Written By: Matthew Black
Photographed By: Kambria Fischer Oceana Coastal Kitchen
San Diego is not only a vacation destination that’s rich in history, but it’s also diverse in culture and cuisine—and the residents of San Diego get the privilege of enjoying it every day. Some San Diegans spend their time going to the beach for a relaxing day or a surf session. Others are salivating as San Diego climbs into the realm of a foodie paradise. But who are we kidding? Everyone enjoys these activities! The Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa with its renowned restaurant Oceana Coastal Kitchen embodies the lifestyle of San Diego and requires us to look no further.
When Oceana Coastal Kitchen opened its doors in 2015, Executive Chef Steven Riemer wanted visitors of the Catamaran to experience San Diego. Now he wants San Diegans to get a taste of it too.
“San Diego is more of a lifestyle than a city,” Riemer said. “The restaurant is made to embody this spirit.” Riemer is originally from Southern California, and he’s not only captured what it is to live in San Diego, but he’s made it better. Not long ago the food scene in the city left much to be desired, but it’s getting better—much better.
Chef Riemer points out that restaurants here have a significant advantage; San Diego is largely agricultural, Mexico is at our doorstep and fresh seafood swims in the ocean under the falling sun. While Oceana Coastal Kitchen is seafood centric, there is still plenty of fantastic, locally sourced food for all palates.
“We’re a resort, so we cater to many different palates,” Riemer said. “But look where we are. Everything on the menu is meant to represent that.” The Catamaran rests on the beach in Mission Bay and reserves its best space for Oceana Coastal Kitchen. But if that wasn’t enough, the resort resides just a block away from the ocean.
Q&A With Executive Chef Steven Riemer
Q: What is your favorite dish on the happy hour menu, and what drink do you suggest pairing with it?
Steven Riemer: That’s like asking, ‘Who’s my favorite child?’ I love things about every dish on the menu. If I had to choose one, I’d say I love the Sea Bass Ceviche with mango and sesame. The acid from the mango works well with the fish, which has surprising flavors. When I make this dish I think about where I am; close to the border, a block away from the ocean and on the bay. And since we’re close to Mexico I’d pair it with a fresh lager. A hoppy beer, but not so much that it overpowers the fish.
Q: What are your three favorite ingredients to cook with?
SR: Are smoke and fire ingredients? It’s more of a technique than an ingredient, but it changes the product so much. Cold smoking pork chops keeps them soft. Hot smoking salmon or trout makes a difference in texture. For my third ingredient, I’d say olive oil. It’s a finisher.
Q: After cooking at restaurants in beautiful resorts, such as The Lodge at Torrey Pines and The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, what makes the Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa on Mission Bay special?
SR: We’re literally on the bay and a block from the ocean. We’re in a city that everyone wants to come to. San Diego is very much a lifestyle. And even though we’re by the sea, San Diego is still very agricultural, so we have access to many fresh ingredients. San Diego is awesome!
Q: You became the Executive Chef of The Atoll at the Catamaran, which later became Oceana Coastal Kitchen. How has the menu evolved?
SR: There was a long lead up to the change from The Atoll to Oceana Coastal Kitchen. My predecessor worked here for 25 years. When we opened Oceana Coastal Kitchen I designed the menu with ‘lightening’ and ‘flavoring’ in mind. For ‘lightening’ we wanted to add a lot of citrus and herb, and for ‘flavoring’ we wanted seafood with less cooking, and we put carpaccio on the menu.
We wanted to be seafood-centric, but not seafood specific. We have to be mindful of the fact that we’re a resort with guests from all over the world, and it’s important that we have a variety on our menu. San Diego has always been very ‘meat and potatoes’ heavy and we prefer more variety.
The menu itself reflects seasonal availability of ingredients. And not just seasons as we think of them in the traditional sense. There are short seasons for ingredients. For example, I might only have access to the right asparagus for six weeks, and after that I’ll have to change it up. It’s the same with seafood.
Q: What’s a dish that belongs on every happy hour menu regardless of the restaurant’s theme?
SR: In this area, if you have the materials, I’d have to say flatbread or pizza. It’s almost like having a hamburger on the menu. It appeals everywhere. But you can have far more creativity making flatbread than a burger. There’s a broader palate to work with. Whether it’s fast, casual or gourmet—it all works.
Q: Whose cooking do you enjoy the most?
SR: My wife. She’s a great cook. The best food always comes from someone that loves you.
Q: You’ve worked alongside farm-to-table chefs such as Chef Jeff Jackson, who is known for using sustainable ingredients. Tell us about your method for ingredient selection.
SR: It depends on the type of ingredient. I like to know which farms the ingredients are coming from because I know what each brings to the table. With seafood, I also need to know who it’s coming from. I usually call my friend over at Pacific Shellfish in Pacific Beach. Judd gives me the inside tip on what’s the best. I also like Santa Monica Seafood. Their sales reps bring things to your attention. I think it’s always best to work with what’s local.
I would also say that local includes the entire West Coast. I like shellfish from Puget Sound because it’s brinier and shellfish from Central California because it’s salty. I also like shellfish from the East Coast, but that’s not who we are.
I also like to use organic ingredients whenever possible. Our beef is bred, raised, butchered and packaged in California. Our eggs come from a family in California who’s been in the business for three generations.
I like to keep in tune with what’s in season by taking advantage of farmers markets. A lot of inspiration comes from the market truck that delivers directly to Oceana Coastal Kitchen. It’s a farmers market on wheels in that they collect the best ingredients from local farmers and visit different restaurants directly. It’s a great business idea.
Shake It Like a Polaroid Picture
Polynesian dancers shake their hips while you dine on Kalua pig, and when the sun drops, the fire twirling and energy rise like a storm. The price of admission gets you lei’d (ahem), a Mai Tai, an all you can eat buffet and a performance by local performers, the Pride of Polynesia.
Crafty in the Kitchen
Take a seat and enjoy the splendor of all the delicious food moving from kitchen to table. Chef Riemer has created the type of kitchen that thrives on creativity, and he’s not afraid to show it. He loves taking on new chefs and listening to their ideas.
Mentor of the Craft
Chef Riemer considers his kitchen a great place for young chefs to learn. Upon starting he encourages them to express themselves creatively with a dish of their choice. Often chefs will choose something they know and love, such as one instance when a chef chose stuffed peppers. Then Chef Riemer starts adding and substituting ingredients that make it a San Diego dish. Bell Peppers became Poblano Peppers and made it look like something out of Mexico.
Shake Your Worries Away
Starting June 30 to Sept. 1, spend your Friday nights shaking it Polynesian style as luau season kicks off in fantastic form. And if you fancy a weekday party, come out for Tuesday night luaus from July 25 to Aug. 22.