The Grand Del Mar – Mediterranean Splendor in North County San Diego

The Italian aesthetic has left its mark in various arenas: opera, cuisine and architecture most notably. As to the latter, its prevalence as the ‘go to’ mindset when designing elegant and comfortable buildings is noticeable wherever luxury is paramount.

gdm 1When the Grand Del Mar opened in 2007 it was evident that the Mediterranean influence was again the smart choice. Set in the center of one of the most biodiverse counties in America, the resort benefits from an amazing location several miles from the Pacific. The array of inlay marble in the lobby, from floor to ceiling, signaled that we were in for a delightful visit.

Indeed, artisanal craftsmanship was evident throughout the resort. The ceilings in the lobby have a fabric inlay surrounded by a near-Baroque layered picture frame. The fine woods, tiles and fabrics chosen for the interior décor were impressive.

We shared adjoining rooms with our daughters, who delighted in the spacious bathroom and the view over the garden lawn. Our room’s king bed was made more blissful with the high count sheets and duvet. Nespresso machines offered a morning cappuccino while we mingled on the porch.

A bocce bag was tossed suggestively on the lawn in the courtyard outside our room, and we would have partaken had we not lingered in the Jacuzzi.  My daughters pointed out the recurrent emphasis on tiles, both at the pool and framed in the hallways.

Dinner at the Amaya was also a Mediterranean delight. Chef Matthew Sramek has assembled a fine menu, blending textures and tastes in unexpected fashion. We started with Catalan-style shrimp, in chile and lime broth that was perfect for dipping the accompanying baguette. A Mediterranean tuna tartare has laced with cucumber vinegar, for a crisp fresh taste that was coolly refreshing after the shrimp.

gdm2 amayaWe shared a Tuscan kale and cashew chopped salad, which was accompanied by pole beans, mozzarella marinated tomatoes and a slightly tangy mint vinaigrette.

Among the bevy of entrée choices, we settled on a nice variety. My wife’s lobster and crab pappardelle was spiced with tarragon and paired with mushrooms, all under a parmigiano-reggiano sauce.  She let us each have a bite, and it will be cause for a return visit.  My younger daughter’s Aspen Ridge rib-eye was less than perfect, but the gorgonzola bordelaise was excellent. My older daughter’s housemade ricotta gnocchi was just about perfect, a blend of fresh vegetables, manchego and piquillo pepper bouillon. I am always a fan of salmon, and Chef Sramek applied a bold barbecue spice rub and sherry glaze. Spanish chrizo added a clever crunch.

Alex, our attentive yet unobtrusive waiter, astutely paired our entrée with a syrah bottled exclusively for the Grand Del Mar. The wine accompanied well both the salmon and the pasta.

We were a bit flummoxed about our desert choices, but Alex saved the day with a sorbet selection, a chocolate peanut butter concoction and a key lime cheesecake with blueberry-lime compote and coconut sauce.

As we watched the twilight outside the restaurant, we marveled at the Moorish pink design of the portico across the lawn.  That led to a discussion about how “Mediterranean” can encompass more than strictly Italian architecture.  Indeed, as we discovered more of the resort we noticed the clever blending of influences from Spain, Portugal and Morocco.

We meandered toward our rooms after dinner, and lingered in the lobby where a solo musician moved from sax to piano.  Rose petals were gingerly placed around our room by the turndown maid.

We had an invigorating guided hike the following morning through Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, a 4,100-acre expanse of land with 37 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails. Our guide pointed out the amazing flora, fauna and geological formations locals probably taken for granted by the locals.

gdm trailThe highlight of brunch the next day was Dungeness crab benedict, although my daughters loved their French toast brioche.

I was able to try my skill at the Tom Fazio-designed golf course.  Although I hit the ball often, I came to appreciate the guidance of Clinton my forecaddie who saved me from my many misperceptions on the greens. With play limited to 150 memberships and resort guests, we indeed had a brisk rate of play.

gdm golfThe Grand Del Mar represents a glorious yet elegantly understated resort.  With many opportunities to spill over into ostentatiousness, the resort instead has earned its status by Forbes Travel Guide as one of only ten triple Five-Star resorts in the world.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.