atermelon — quick, what picture pops into your mind? A thick wedge of juicy red fruit served in a summer supper? If you order the watermelon salad at Salt Creek Grille, you’ll get a few wedges of the summertime staple — except it might just be yellow instead of ruby red. Unusual, perhaps, but it’s deliciously sweet and pairs so perfectly with the accompanying slivers of cucumber, tangy feta and peppery arugula, all of which is dressed in a zesty lime vinaigrette.
Yes, summer is on, and David Fune — the culinary talent who took over as corporate executive chef for Salt Creek Grille in the spring — has been busy with his team creating dishes to satisfy appetites on these long, sunny days. And the watermelon salad is just one of them — an offering you’ll find at both the Dana Point restaurant and its sister spot in the L.A. beach town of El Segundo. (There are five Salt Creek Grilles in the chain, including a third California location in Valencia. The other two outposts are in New Jersey.)
Also on the menu: a steak salad teeming with crisp bell peppers and cold rice noodles that you’ll fight to keep all to yourself. Trust me; you’re not going to want to give up a bite — at least not of the mesquite-grilled flat iron steak. It’s allowed to rest overnight in a house-made soy-ponzu marinade (Salt Creek Grille is known for its from-scratch sauces), so the flavor penetrates through. “It’s kind of Hawaiian,” Fune says of the flavor. “The trick is to give it enough time (soaking up that marinade).” On par with that dish is the grilled shrimp — light and bursting with flavor.
For warm and heartier options, the meatballs and the mac-and-cheese will get you there. First, the meatballs: The team butchers all of the meat in-house and, in turn, also grinds it using prime cuts. So these savory orbs are fresh and delicious, and smothered in a mildly spicy marinara (it strikes a beautiful balance of richness and acidity) with dollops of melted cheese to gild the lily. A few slices of toasted herb-buttered bread accompany the dish, so you can soak up all of that sauce. And the mac-and-cheese? Expect a generous helping of ditalini pasta in a mornay sauce with tiny bits of fried prosciutto, caramelized shallots and fresh herbs in a prosciutto gremolata. It’s a pleasantly unexpected twist to the more familiar gourmet preparations of the dish — herbacious and savory.
And we mustn’t forget about the Brussels sprouts — crispy sweet from a bourbon caramel glaze and tossed with tavern ham (its made from a lean cut of Canadian pork that’s slow cured and then hickory smoked), with a sprinkling of sunflower seeds to create layers of taste, texture and bite.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about that yellow watermelon, the variety originates in Africa, and its yellow color is the result of the low- or non-presence of lycopene, which gives fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and the more common types of watermelon their rosy color.
Now, go ahead and take a bite out of summer!