Bella Vista Social Club & Caffé’s Executive Chef Kevin Barry brings new flavors to the piazza.

Photos BY Noushin Nourizadeh

Kevin Barry is a perfect fit for Bella Vista Social Club & Caffé.
Here, where the campuses of UC San Diego, Salk Institute, and The Scripps Research Institute connect, he has found a sophisticated atmosphere where guests are excited to try something new. When he came on board in February, Chef Kevin literally hit the ground running. He feels deeply grateful to his new boss, Bella Vista Owner Amanda Caniglia, for encouraging him to go out in search of the best local sources for the ingredients on his inventive menus. Thanks to her full support, The Bella Vista Sunset & Tapas Bar menu was an instant hit. Now, Bella Vista Social Club & Caffé is the place where the intellectual neighborhood gathers to toast the sunset, try something they’ve never had before, and meet a chef whose passion for ceviche and cooking started in Peru.

Your career as a chef has had a circular path. Can you tell us about it? I started as a dishwasher/line cook at Pernicanos in La Jolla and graduated from La Jolla High in 2002. After several years of splitting my time between school and restaurant work, I got adventuresome. I went to Peru to surf and I was teaching English. But I was distracted by the local markets. They were so cool with their amazing ingredients! I started experimenting and cooking for pop-ups, hotels, and hostels. Then, I went to Nicaragua and became a sous chef at Magnificent Rock, a stunning beachfront restaurant; followed by Rancho Santana, where we sourced all we ate from the land around us. We raised goats and pigs and made our own dairy products. Each of our four cows produced a different type of milk, so I blended them based on what I needed for a recipe. By the time I returned to San Diego, I’d had a pretty unique culinary education.

Do you have a particular passion as a chef? Ceviche. Peruvians invented ceviche. The basic recipe is simple: lime, salt, chili, cilantro, and red onion. The secret of its flavor lies in the quality of each ingredient. Most people emphasize the fish, but as I learned when I moved from Peru to Nicaragua, the flavor of the limes is most important. Nicaraguan limes were bitter and had to be sweetened a bit with orange juice. Fortunately, I get good limes here.

Besides ceviche, what should we be watching for on the menus? You won’t see many changes in the breakfast and lunch menus. We have a lot of regulars who are major fans of our quiches, paninis, and pastas, for good reason. My first focus is on the fare for Sunset Hour & Tapas, offered Tuesday through Friday evenings from 4 to 8 pm.

Instead of a Happy Hour, you have Sunset Hour. Please tell us more! We have a beautiful deck here with a view of the Torrey Pines Glider Port and the ocean in the distance. Actually, it reminds me of the restaurant I worked at in Nicaragua. People circulate, lounge, converse, and let go of the day’s pressures. For me, this calls for a sharing of flavors and a passing of plates. It means lighter dishes that are acidic, citric, and fresh. We want people to hang out and enjoy each other while they taste good foods and craft cocktails. Our tapas include raw items like poke on a jicama taco shell and steak tartare. There are lots of veggie items including plantains prepared as both a chip and tostone-style. We also offer anticuchos (Peruvian steak heart) with Yucca fries. People are actually ordering beef heart. I’m honored and impressed!