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Since Kettner Exchange restaurant opened in Little Italy in 2014, chef Brian Redzikowski has made a national name for himself. In 2016, he was invited to cook at the James Beard House in New York. In June 2019, he earned a coveted Michelin Bib Gourmand award with Kettner owner Matthew Spencer, and three months after that, Redzikowski cooked his way to the “king of pork” crown at at the national 2019 Grand Cochon competition.
As corporate executive chef for Spencer’s SDCM Restaurant Group, Redzikowski has also helped open several more culinary concepts in recent years, including a gourmet doughnut brand, a poke shop and a tiki bar. But since the pandemic began, he has focused on designing the menus at two new SDCM properties that step outside Redzikowski’s usual focus of progressive American cuisine with French and Asian influences.
In October 2020, SDCM opened The Waverly, an all-day European-style café in the former Rimel’s Rotisserie space in Cardiff. And in August of this year, it opened Camino Riviera, a Yucatán-inspired Mexican restaurant, bar and nightclub in the former El Camino space in Little Italy. Here’s a taste of both:
The concept: Redzikowski had no experience creating Mexican food, but when Spencer and El Camino owner Mauricio Couturier teamed up to collaborate on a new vision for the Little Italy space, the chef wanted a shot at it. To distinguish the restaurant from other Mexican restaurants in San Diego, Redzikowski hit on the idea of wood-fired, seafood-centric cuisine from the Mexican Riviera. He flew to Tulum, Mexico, and dined several times at the acclaimed Yucatán restaurant ARCA, among other places. He also explored the food in other coastal cities, including La Paz and Cabo San Lucas. The result is a hybrid menu of traditional Mexican and Central American dishes like birria, salpicón, aguachile and anticuchos with whimsical and unexpected American twists. “Camino is firing on all cylinders right now,” Redzikowski said of the menu. “It’s the best food we’ve got here in our restaurants right now.”
The vibe: This 170-seat indoor-outdoor restaurant and bar offers live music on weekend nights. The mood-lit experiential décor has the feel of a wooden hut with bamboo and tree branch walls and ceiling, wood tables, rattan chairs and swirling disco balls. The background music is loungified ‘80s pop songs and the bar serves micheladas, wine and 10 not-too-sweet Latinesque cocktails developed by bar managers Eric Johnson an Leigh Lacap. Service is friendly and relaxed.
The Taco: To appease Spencer’s passion for tacos, Redzikowski created this Instagram-friendly $14 dish. It’s a tempura-fried filet of seabass served with house chipotle sauce on street-size corn tortillas with a garnish of edible gold leaf. The fish melts in your mouth with the surprise flavor finish of bitter orange.
7X Wagyu Beef Salpicón “Gordita Crunch: Playfully named after Taco Bell’s flatbread-wrapped hard shell taco, this dish upscales the Latin cold beef salad dish of salpicón with Wagyu beef that’s been brined pastrami-style and dressed with the house “chiu chow” hot sauce. It’s served on one of Redzikowski’s house-made Cantonese steamed bao buns topped with cheese and a hard tortilla. It’s tender, crunchy, rich and creamy, spicy and fun to eat. It’s also the restaurant’s top-seller.
Brentwood corn ice cream: Don’t miss this eye-popping and luscious dessert of fresh sweet corn ice cream molded in the shape of an ear of corn and served in a real corn husk, with garnish of crunchy baked corn flakes, popcorn and caramel corn. Serves two or more. $14.
Also worth a try: The Girl & Dug farm Squashini tart — fresh squash with avocado, onion, basil and Cotija cheese and aji amarillo pepper on a baked tortilla — is simple, delicate, tender and delicious. $12. The Creamed Yucca is a savory twist on chips and dip, with oversize tortilla chips to scoop up a creamy, rich skillet-warmed yucca dip with caramelized Parmesan cheese on top. $12. The Sonoma lamb shoulder barbacoa is a hearty, shareable build-your-own taco plate with fork-tender, marinated lamb, tortillas, veggies with sides of rattle tail chili aioli and salsa borracha. $30.
Camino Rivieria, 2400 India St., San Diego. (619) 684-3881. caminoriviera.com.
The concept: When SDCM took over a Cardiff strip mall rotisserie last year, Redzikowski said it didn’t have the right feel for an Asian restaurant. With its ocean view and casual indoor-outdoor environment, it seemed a better fit for a Spanish-Italian-style all-day sidewalk café. Raised in Long Island by parents of European heritage, Redzikowski said the Mediterranean menu he created from his childhood memories came together quickly and 99 percent of the dishes have remained unchanged since opening day. The menu includes several Kettner Exchange dishes with a twist, like the duck meatball and pig mac bao, as well as a broader mix of seafood, roasted meats, salads and shareable plates.
The vibe: The 162-seat restaurant has walls of windows that open up to capture the sea breeze, with islands-inspired décor and vintage art deco accents. Bar managers Eric Johnson and Leigh Lacap have created 13 sunny cocktails that are mostly light, refreshing, citrusy and sparkling, with a few twists on old classics and a good-size mix of non-alcoholic options for younger diners. Where Camino is dark and atmospheric and adults-oriented, The Waverly is bright and family-friendly.
Gioia burrata “donuts”: Redzikowski created the starter dish of fried savory doughnut holes made with a burrata cheese-based batter, topped with melt-in-your-mouth San Daniele prosciutto and served on a bed of tomato fondue with basil leaves. $15.
Roasted baby carrots: Farm-fresh carrots are tenderized with a soak in a house carrot vinaigrette, then gently roasted and topped at Waverly with avocado, pea tendrils, sunflower shoots, melted Humboldt Fog cheese and a generous sprinkle of cumin. $14.
Hamachi ceviche: Cured white fish is served on slices of avocado and topped with crispy-tart radishes, cilantro, red onion, pea tendrils, house-baked shrimp chips and a tangy yuzu vinaigrette. A generous mix of flavors, textures and temperatures all in one bite. $21.
Also worth a try: The rich and tender Seabass “en papillote” is steamed in a bag that diners cut open, pour over Carolina gold rice and top with beurre blanc. $39. The brown butter seared scallops are sizeable and served with rice, cara cara orange and shaved crouton. $19. Kettner Exchange’s famed salted caramel butterscotch pudding is also available here and at Camino Riviera. $10.
The Waverly, 2005 San Elijo Drive, Cardiff. (760) 230-1682. thewaverly.com