Why It Should Be Your Mission To Eat This Food
or many, it is a glance from a window. A weathered welcome sign and a quick exit from the highway often disregarded as focus shifts back to merging traffic and taillights. A short respite from driving, bookended by the definitive California military installation or the check marks of city names on the way to San Diego. However, for Chef William Eick, Oceanside is where he calls home and the location of the kitchen where he and his team are creating some of the most exciting food around.
Oceanside itself is no longer up and coming, but a dining destination hosting some of the most exciting kitchens in Southern California. Chef Eick has helped to shape this fact alongside a few other chefs, and now, recently taking over the kitchen at Mission Avenue Bar and Grill, is positioned to help develop not just an exciting new menu for patrons, but the design of what he calls San Diego cuisine to the forefront of diner’s minds. Relaxed, wearing the winds off the ocean as its cologne, but for years, no more than the fleeting glance in the eyes of serious epicureans, Oceanside has never been more exciting than now to stop and taste.
Hailing from Northern California, and starting to cook at an early age, Chef Eick was raised in the kitchen. Moving quickly from need to infatuation, his career took him to Southern California in the form of Tomiko restaurant in Encinitas. Eventually, this led to Bistro West in Carlsbad, and after another highly successful few stops, Eick moved to Mission Avenue Bar and Grill. The Grill has been around for some time, but there was no time wasted in the skill of this young chef making an impact.
The restaurant is open to the ocean breeze swerving its way up Mission Ave, and if you didn’t know his face, you may not take Willy Eick to be the chef that he is. Sitting on an outside patio chair, sifting through business emails before the lunch service kicks into gear, his demeanor is relaxed but invested in thought. Soft-spoken, but sharp and attentive, his passion for detail and his food are tangible. His experience in Japanese kitchens early in his career is beautifully clear. There is no shame in his bias towards seafood vs. other proteins on his menu, nor his subtle inclusion of flavors usually reserved for adept Japanese restaurant chefs into his dishes.
For Eick, it’s not about what California cuisine means to him, but what San Diego cuisine means to his customers, “When you think of food in San Diego, your first thought is what? It’s fish tacos,” Chef asks, knowing the answer before I can even formulate a reason to justify it. For many, that would be their answer as well, but as chef points out, there is an intense mixture of cultures that have generously introduced not just flavors, but techniques to the area. Chef knows that there is no reason to shock his diners for the sake of introducing new flavors, but, as chef puts it, he wants to “keep their comfort zones, but make it exciting.” An example of this is a short rib, which on the surface sounds like most short rib menu items until you taste the coconut milk curry it sits in, as well as the Asian flavors like mirin and soy that percolate the meat during its cooking process.
Chef Eick has an uncanny understanding of flavor and a natural deft hand in his ability to introduce new worldly flavors into community favorites.
He wants to add new and exciting flavors, but never at the expense of his clientele’s experience. While we sat, discussing the hundred plus bourbons that grace the shelves, chefs who inspire him and favorite foods, an off-menu appetizer of sashimi style tuna glazed in mirin, soy, ginger, rendered chicken fat and more is delivered. This is one of the simplest and best items I’ve eaten in Southern California in a long time, and it was something chef “just put together.”
This is who Chef Eick is and a glimpse of what Mission Avenue Bar and Grill can be. He is a talented young chef with a silently wild ambition and passion for his food. His sense of flavor and subtlety is incredibly well complimented by his easy-going nature and understanding of his community needs with his menu. He isn’t looking to change the status quo, just make it taste better. If you enjoy food, even a little, then you have no excuse anymore. The next time you glance from the window, make sure it is to get off at the correct exit, because no longer is Oceanside just a fleeting green California highway sign, but a budding culinary destination helmed by one of the most exciting young chefs around.