Chef Aaron Obregon Brings His Culinary Vision To The Coronado Marriott’s ALBACA Restaurant - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Coronado Home And Business

Chef Aaron Obregon Brings His Culinary Vision To The Coronado Marriott’s ALBACA Restaurant

by David Axelson | Posted: Friday, October 18, 2019 3:09 pm

Now open for five months, ALBACA Restaurant in the Coronado Island Marriott Resort & Spa reflects the training, cultural background and artistry of personable Chef Aaron Obregon. A native of Mexico City and a graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, Obregon returned home for six years, “To learn the background and culture of my country. I worked at Biko Restaurant there and I wanted to come back to San Diego because I have family here.”

Prior to joining the Marriott, Obregon worked at Beer Fish in San Diego. “I opened that from scratch, from the front of the restaurant to the back of the house. Beer Fish focused more on the East Coast, but my passion all the way is seafood. When Executive Chef Michael Poompan told me about the concept of Currents & Tides, I decided to jump into the project.”

Currents & Tides is the former name of the restaurant in the Coronado Island Marriott, which became the launching pad for ALBACA. The restaurant’s name is a contraction of Alta Baja California, the historic name of this region when it was under Spanish rule.

“When I started working here and we did an interview in 2017, we knew we wanted to open a new restaurant,” Obregon explained. “We worked a lot to change the cuisine to see what the customers wanted. We did a seafood focused menu, which made people happy and upset as well. They still wanted to have steak and chicken options. We were given a lot of time to research and find the perfect theme. We had a restaurant that was missing a soul. I compiled a diary with 120 pages of information and data from those Currents & Tides menus, the good and the bad, and many times the concept of comfort food popped up. We closed in November 2018 and during the remodel we saved one big wall in the kitchen and wrote out the 120 pages of information. And then we started to develop the menu for ALBACA. It was funny, this was my seventh restaurant opening, but this one takes a nice piece of my heart. The name of the restaurant comes from our Banquet Manager Pepe Aparicio, who lives in Coronado two blocks away and still drives to work. Pepe also designed the restaurant’s logo, which is unique and represents California to the culinary world.”

As for the overriding concept of ALBACA, Obregon said, “People love comfort food. This isn’t an upscale restaurant, it’s a restaurant for families. Starting with the dining, we are 100 percent California, not only San Diego, but our products come from no more than a 90-mile radius from our property. The seafood is from San Diego and Baja. The shrimp is from the Sea of Cortez and our fish is from local vendors in San Diego, who are second and third generation fishmongers. The main focus is we wanted to showcase San Diego. Our main focus when we were designing the restaurant was, we wanted to be a hotel inside of a restaurant, not a restaurant inside a hotel.”

If you haven’t been in the Coronado Marriott lately, it’s worth the trip. The facility underwent a $6 million renovation, with the entire lobby being re-designed, including modernizing and creating a beautiful view corridor from the front entrance to and including San Diego Bay and Downtown San Diego. The restaurant décor has been described in their promotional literature as ‘Bohemian,’ which I’m not sure does the eatery justice. “It’s a relaxed restaurant,” Obregon said of ALBACA. “It’s a chill place to come sit down and stay all day. That’s how we approached the menu.”

Obregon is justifiably proud of his Mexican heritage and dishes from his upbringing can be found on the ALBACA menu. “I was designing the menu and thinking about memories of mine when I was growing up and that had a big impact. For example, the meatballs contain pork and veal, served with a Morita Salsa and comes with rice and beans and a side of tortillas. That was a Sunday evening dinner at my Grandma’s house. I grew up with a big family that loved to eat. We have a Squash Blossom quesadilla, where the masa is made by hand, then we take stuffed squash and fry them a bit, like at my Grandma’s house on a Saturday afternoon.

A universal challenge faced by chefs is to make good food that finds acceptance with diners. Two and a half years ago, while Currents & Tides was still operating, I ordered and thoroughly enjoyed a Clam and Bone Marrow Sopa which was a creation of Chef Obregon’s. When asked if the dish made the jump to ALBACA, Obregon said, “No, it was a really good dish that people who tried it became obsessed with. Other diners were scared to order it. Sometimes being creative doesn’t mean it will be a successful dish. That was part of the project and the research and development.”

During the changeover at ALBACA, Marriott Executive Chef Poompan left to go to the Ritz Carlton Denver. New Executive Chef Rafael Corniel, who came to the Coronado Marriott after being the senior banquet chef at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, arrived while Chef Obregon was in the final stages of creating the ALBACA menu. “We were pretty much done when he arrived, but it was at a pivotal moment, about six weeks before opening. Chef Corniel was a key person to finish the last little tweaks to the menu. That was important to me and it was important to have someone who understood me in a culinary way. He helped refine some of the menu selections, which was a key element to the teamwork.”

The Better Half Sharon and I ate at ALBACA last Saturday evening and caught a great night to eat outdoors. Typically we’re not big fans of outdoor dining, but the views were fantastic. Unbeknownst to us, ALBACA has music Friday and Saturday evenings. We listened to several sets performed by a Flamenco Guitar duo who were really good and played a wide variety of music offerings from ‘Volare’ to ‘Hotel California’ and several stops in between.

Our five favorite food-related parts of the evening started with the Red Mojo Seafood Ceviche with Mexican shrimp, fish and octopus. It was brilliantly spiced, absolutely fresh seafood, which includes the Red Mojo sauce, the branding sauce at ALBACA. The sauce is bottled and sold at the restaurant. The ceviche portion was very generous and made for a great beginning to the evening. Obregon said, “It’s a dish that represents San Diego.”

While I was avidly and rapidly consuming the Seafood Ceviche, and to be honest sharing it with Sharon, she was occupied with a salad comprised of Roasted Seasonal Vegetables, including an avocado mojo, peanuts and coffee nibs. Sharon said of the dish, “The vegetables were roasted to perfection, including asparagus, broccolini, and carrots.”

Next was the Seafood Pasilla Rice, which contains squid, octopus, wild Mexican shrimp, local fish, aioli and chimichurri. All the components work together in harmony, with the rice bringing it all together. Served really hot it truly exemplifies the comfort food combined with fresh seafood culinary approach Chef Obregon strives to achieve. According to Chef Obregon, the dish traces its roots back to when the Spanish conquerors came through Vera Cruz and combined all the ingredients into a paella style dish. “It’s one of my favorite dishes,” Obregon said. “It represents a lot of my cuisines, with a touch of ALBACA.”

For dessert we selected the Oven Baked Cheesecake, which came with berries compote and cinnamon whipped cream. As the name implies, it arrived warm, and looked like an individual cheesecake and was very tasty.

And our fifth food component was the after dinner drink, ‘What the Chef Drinks.’ “It’s a traditional drink, after a nice meal, to have with good company, family and friends” Obregon stated. “It contains Liquor 43 from Spain, which has 43 different spices, a shot of expresso, with cinnamon foam and served with an orange wedge. It’s a finishing drink and has become really popular with friends and local chefs and restauranteurs.”

ALBACA is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with the dinner menu available from 5 to 9 p.m. weekdays and 5-10 pm on weekends. Obregon elaborated on the dining concept, “We not only have comfort food, but we also have a lot of healthy food. That comes with me being a Vegan. We have dishes that are 500 calories or less. For breakfast we have gluten free pancakes and waffles and a lot of nice fresh fruit salads. We have a Vegan Benedict which we make all in-house with a Vegan biscuit, with a braised tofu that is marinated in some vegetable stock, chilies and tomatoes. We also have a Vegan Hollandaise sauce made from almonds, which is really, really good. I created that myself. The Red Mojo Ceviche has a Vegan option that uses beets rather than seafood and is really good. And for lunch we have a casual menu where you can get a chicken torta or some other quick bites.” ALBACA which officially opened May 16, 2019, also has a Happy Hour that runs from Sunday to Thursday, from 3 to 6 p.m.

Saturday, November 2, 2019, ALBACA and Chef Obregon will be holding a Dia De Los Muertos Dinner, featuring his cuisine, including regional specialties. “It will be a nice dinner that represents the different regions of Mexico. It will be family style with a variety of dishes. We are partnering with Origen Raiz Mezcal, who we work with for our dinners on Tuesday nights. Dia De Los Muertos is both a sad remembrance of loved ones who passed away, and also a celebration of their lives.” Tickets to the event are $70 per person and can be purchased through Eventbrite.

For a taste of food with a different spin, located nearby and made with fresh, local ingredients try ALBACA Restaurant. And the exquisite scenery is free of charge.