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Poseidon rises from the sea

San Diego is famous for having many restaurants that offer spectacular ocean views, but only a few offer a dining experience right on the beach. Poseidon Restaurant is one of them.

Poseidon is located in Del Mar, across the street from what used to be one of the most picturesque Amtrak train stations in the nation. A large parking lot in front of the entrance is very convenient in this popular beach area. The restaurant's dining room and bar area leads to the restaurant's patio, which abuts the sand. One may sit on the patio and practically build sand castles between food courses.

I can't count the numbers of times I've enjoyed dining at Poseidon. It is one of my favorite places to bring out-of-town guests, who turn green with envy over my living near a place of such sheer beauty.

Tom Ranglas opened Poseidon Restaurant in the 1960s. He recently turned over the torch of management -- in this case, "Poseidon's trident" -- to his son and daughter, Tom Jr. and Nikki. With the help of general manager John Sayer, they soon created more changes.

The restaurant closed at the end of last year for a complete makeover. A well-known local restaurant designer was brought in to come up with new concepts. The existing building was gutted and rebuilt from the ground up. Poseidon reopened two weeks ago, like "Poseidon rising from the sea."

I was overwhelmed when I saw the new design. It looked so different from the old while retaining its most important feature -- stunning views of the ocean. The new entrance -- heavy glass doors covered by a deep blue awning -- reflects the sea beyond. The hostess desk has been relocated to just inside the entrance, backed by a modernistic, multipaneled photo of the ocean.

A large fire pit that dominated the bar area has been removed. The bar has been turned around and expanded, so that guests sitting at the bar can comfortably enjoy the ocean view.

The dining room has been redesigned and rebuilt on several levels, so that each level looks out unobstructed to the sea through the clear glass windowpanes that now make up one wall of the restaurant. "There isn't a bad seat in the house," Tom Ranglas Jr. said proudly.

On summer days, the windows can be retracted so that the restaurant is filled with balmy ocean breezes. Soft lighting in the dining room gives it a romantic glow after a sunset. The patio has been rebuilt, with a sand-colored wall that seems to disappear into the background. Rooftop heaters adjacent to the patio unobtrusively glow with warmth on cooler nights.

A change of chef and menu coincided with the new construction. The new chef, Timothy Gutmann, trained in Oregon (he's originally from Orange County) and then mentored locally with the famous Chef Jeffrey Strauss at Pampelmousse Grill and the good chefs at L'Auberge Del Mar and at Bali Hai. He brings fresh ideas to the menu while retaining old favorites.

I'm delighted that Pojo Burger is still available. Named after "Poseidon" and "Joe," a former cook, it is one of the restaurant's signature dishes -- a half-pound burger topped with onions, mushroom, bacon and cheese. Totally filling!

The menu also offers many seafood dishes. "We keep an employee out on the sand fishing all the time," Ranglas joked. Starters include Sesame Seared Ahi, Steamed Clams, Salmon Cakes and Ceviche.

I particularly enjoyed as a starter the Fried Pistachio Crusted Brie Wedge, a large wedge of cheese topped with nuts and then fried. The wedge has a crunchy top while the inside is delightfully gooey. It spreads easily on crackers and goes well with the chilled grapes. Another starter, Butternut Squash Bisque, was a wonderfully creamy, all-vegetable soup.

Salmon, Ahi, Swordfish and Halibut -- all fresh -- dominate the entr?e selections. They are all prepared to bring out the full-bodied unique flavors of each fish. Ciopinno was an impressive "stew" of fresh fish and shellfish in a tomato base, with an incredible "nose" of fresh herbs.

Desserts include a yummy, crunchy Granola Apple Dessert, topped with a vanilla bean gelato. Bananas Foster, a classic but hard-to-find dish, combines brown sugar and heady Meyers Rum with roasted banana gelato.

The new Poseidon Restaurant epitomized the California lifestyle -- casual, yet tasty and always oriented toward sand and sea. The new building, menu and chef are certain to delight old and new customers. Prices are moderate.

Poseidon Restaurant is located at 1670 Coast Blvd. in Del Mar. Call (858) 755-9345 for reservations.


Rottenberg is editor of Dining San Diego Magazine and member of the California Restaurant Writers Association.

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