Falling for Favorites

Quintessential fall dishes from local chefs

By Wendy Lemlin   |  Photography By noushin nourizadeh
Harvest dinners and holiday traditions, food that comforts as temperatures drop, and robust flavors that celebrate the season’s ingredients—that’s what autumn dining is all about. Here in San Diego, the last vestiges of summer dwindle into October, and November has us snuggling into sweaters and turning our attention to the upcoming holiday season. Thanksgiving through December hits full-on with celebrations in which fabulous food takes center stage. We asked several of San Diego’s favorite chefs and restaurateurs to share a quintessential fall dish with us, and what it is about that dish that epitomizes the season for them. Some chose to shine the spotlight on ingredients, which are at their peak this time of year, for others it was a dish based on family customs, and still others highlighted preparations that warm and comfort.

Percy Oani,
The Shores Restaurant

“Braised meats ‘speak’ to me in the fall and winter,” Chef Percy says of his Natural Pork Osso Buco, featured on The Shores’ newly updated menu that highlights many family-friendly selections, in keeping with the chef’s own family-centered lifestyle. The luscious pork is colorfully complemented by golden orange pumpkin purée, emerald wilted greens and broccoli florets, and ruby-hued preserved cinnamon cherries. A port wine sauce enhances the meat with additional depth of flavor. “The process of slow cooking meat warms up a cold house,” Oani muses. “A layer of cinnamon announces that winter is around the corner. This, to me, is food that fills the soul.”

Bernard Guillas,
The Marine Room

Chef Bernard dubs autumn the “bridge season” between the generally dry, warm summer and the rainier, cooler weather to come, and sees mushrooms as the culinary link between the seasons. “They are the jewels of the earth,” he pronounces of his Hokto Kinoko Organic Mushrooms, with butternut squash, Spanish chorizo, Lillet truffle essence, and sage fig biscotti. “Kinoko means mushrooms in Japanese, and these local sustainable specialties are organically grown in San Marcos. In celebration of fall, I’ve combined all of the delicious varieties that the farm has to offer. Roasting the mushrooms with Plugrá butter, Spanish chorizo brunoise, fennel and thyme creates layers of flavors in perfect harmony. The Lillet and truffles celebrate the upcoming fall and winter festivities.”


Nicolas Caniglia, Bella Vista Social Club & Caffé

Memories of home are invoked by Beef Braciole for Bella Vista owner Nicolas Caniglia. “A traditional holiday plate that’s famous in the south of Italy, it’s usually a family dish, rarely found in restaurants. This recipe is based on one from my heritage,” Chef Nico explains. His version, which will be available as a special at the restaurant from time to time, is created from lightly-fried sirloin, and then rolled around pieces of applewood bacon and garlic, before being slow-cooked for two hours to exquisite, flavorful tenderness. It is served atop a bed of creamy polenta and finished with marinara sauce. Caniglia observes that “it is a meal that is both heart-warming and belly-warming, just what you want at this time of year.”

Mareyja Sisbarro, Brockton Villa

Speaking of fall holidays, Chef Mareyja Sisbarro calls her Turkey Meatloaf Sandwich “Thanksgiving on a bun.” The oversized sandwich has all the elements of everyone’s favorite holiday meal—an ample portion of tasty turkey meatloaf, layered with a slathering of cranberry, ginger and orange chutney, and sage aioli, all on a rustic ciabatta roll. “I love the way the zestiness of the cranberries and ginger balances the heartiness of the meatloaf,” Sisbarro says. “And what is more emblematic of the season than turkey and cranberries?”


Kyle Wiegand, The Grill at The Lodge at Torrey Pines

Who doesn’t crave a steaming hot bowl of soup when an autumn chill is in the air—especially when the soup encapsulates all the quintessential flavors of fall in one bowl? At the newly remodeled restaurant at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, Chef Kyle Wiegand’s Roasted Butternut Squash Soup pays homage to the season by accenting the golden-colored squash with candied pepitas, fried sage, pumpkin seed oil, and fragrant fall spices. The chef calls it “a great representation of fall flavors.” He continues, “As winter squash begins to come in for the season, the weather gets a little colder and all the warming autumn spices make an appearance. It is a light, but still satisfying, soup that is perfect for an appetizer and is a regular item at my family’s Thanksgiving table.”

Fabio Speziali,
Osteria Romantica

For Fabio Speziali, nostalgia is cooked into his Stinco di Maiale (Oven-Braised Pork Shank). “In the northern region of Italy, where I’m from,” he shares, “this is the most popular meat dish in the fall. The pork is usually harvested in October and November, and, in my family, we make all our sausages and cured meats at that time. Hearty dishes like this are family favorites as the weather turns colder.” Oven-braised with herbs and vegetables such as carrots, celery and onions, the pork shank is served in a mixed wild mushroom port wine sauce, giving the meat a natural sweetness which pairs so well with the saffron risotto on which it rests. “The mushrooms in the sauce add another layer of fall flavor,” Speziali adds. “I taste this dish and I’m transported home.”


Paul Arias, The Fishery

Chef Paul Arias turns to the cold autumn waters of Maine that produce what are probably the country’s sweetest, plumpest scallops to star in his Scallop Appetizer. With a supporting cast of parsnip purée, shaved pear, and brown butter walnut vinaigrette, Arias sees this dish as glorifying the ingredients of fall, while conjuring up the continuity of family holiday traditions. “Pears are wonderful fall fruits, and shellfish is at its most delectable peak at this time of year. Parsnips taste like the holidays to me, with a mild, pleasant spiciness that I find so interesting. But it’s the walnuts that really make me think of Christmas. As a kid, they were always in my stocking; in fact, my dad still gives me walnuts, and I’ve passed that custom along to my own son.”

Jason Knibb, NINE-TEN Restaurant & Bar

What he deems “classic fall flavors” are at the heart of Chef Jason Knibb’s Carrot Agnolotti. The small crescent-shaped pasta pockets take their beautiful, burnished orange color from the carrot incorporated in the dough, and more carrot essence is found in the puréed filling. Mixed among the agnolotti on the plate is a mélange of sweet, roasted carrots, hazelnuts, roasted pear that adds a fruity autumn element, smoked ricotta and sage, for a festival of texture and taste. “These are ingredients and colors that represent this time of year to me,” Knibb points out. “This could be a side dish that accompanies a roast, or even stand alone as a very satisfying vegetarian dish.”


Alex Emery, THE MED Ocean View Restaurant

A signature item on THE MED’s fall menu, Braised Beef Cheek with Butternut Squash Purée “totally says ‘fall’ to me,” says Chef Alex Emery. “It’s stick-to-your-ribs hearty, yet elegant and celebratory. The beef is braised in Barolo, often called Italy’s finest wine, and the squash purée is floral and fragrant with a hint of orange blossom.” Roasted Maitake and chanterelle mushrooms impart umami, while pickled shallots and green garlic convey a touch of aromatic acidity. Shaved celery garnish brings in the green factor, adding a light crunchy texture, and hints at the newness of the coming year ahead.

Fall often seems like the most ephemeral season of the year, especially in our area. One minute we’re walking around in shorts and flip flops, the next we’re sending out season’s greetings and planning holiday gatherings (sometimes still in shorts and flip flops!). But take it from these chefs, autumn has its own culinary identity, and it is certainly full-bodied and luscious!