SAN DIEGO ( TheStreet) -- At first glance, it looked like a slimmed-down version of eggs Benedict. But for dinner? After one bite, however, I knew my taste buds had landed on one of my favorite new spring dishes in San Diego. BiCE Ristorante's thinly sliced Ahi Tuna -- served in a delicious stacked arrangement that includes zucchini, warm, creamy shallot sauce, a quail egg and lemon olive oil -- is a light, delicious and a totally original creation for the season from executive chef Mario Cassineri. BiCE, an upscale Italian restaurant in downtown San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, is just one of the many luxury restaurants in San Diego where chefs have been busy unveiling spring menus or select spring menu items, capturing trends we're seeing nationwide. The big trend for spring, according to many chefs, is creative use of local produce each day. Several are also maximizing their use of seafood that's more readily -- or only -- available this time of year, such as wild salmon or fresh shad roe. "Every day the dishes on the menu will come with some of the special seasonal produce items," says chef de cuisine Stephane Voitzwinkler of Bertrand at Mister A's. "Especially corn and tomatoes. Chino Farms' corn is 6 feet tall now, as tall as I am." No visit to San Diego -- culinary or otherwise -- would be complete without a meal at Bertrand at Mister A's; getting a sit-down with Voitzwinkler to hear his explanation of menu choices is even more satisfying. Besides oozing charm, Voitzwinkler seems to thoroughly enjoy talking about food and the thought he has put into the spring menu. Among the two most tasty and vibrant dishes on his menu are the Mediterranean Black Mussels Gratin and the Seared Maine Scallops with Sweet Pea Ravioli.
The mussels include Pernod, shallots and garlic. The scallop and ravioli dish is made with a hazelnut brown butter and crispy sage. The other reason Bertrand at Mister A's is a must: the unparalleled view. Perched atop a skyscraper on the edge of downtown San Diego, it's one of the best ways to take in the city's skyline, harbor and surrounding neighborhoods.
La Jolla -- one of San Diego's most upscale beach communities -- is also a great stop for foodies. One of the best way to take in La Jollais sitting on the porch of Brockton Villa, which is across the street from the ocean, and dining on some of chef Mareyja Sisbarro's spring creations. "You eat with your eyes, I think," says Sisbarro, describing how she came up with some of the new dishes on her spring menu. Here you'll definitely want to try the Summer Shrimp Wraps or the Baby Spinach & Tri-Colored Quinoa Salad -- great examples of the trend of using produce creatively to accompany daily menu items (and of Sisbarro's thoughts on eating with your eyes).
The shrimp wraps include a mango salsa, avocado Jicama salad and cucumber and shallot salad. The resulting color of the dish is stunning. But this is outdone by the colors in the presentation of the quinoa salad, which includes tangerine segments, red grapes, blackberries, watermelon radish and toasted pistachios. "Everything is fresh and crispy, and has many colors," Sisbarro says. "Like San Diego, which is always sunny, and all the colors here." "You have so much more range in spring," she adds. "I don't like winter as much; the foods are a little heavier. And again, with spring, there is so much more color to work with." And finally, if you have time for a drive slightly outside of San Diego, Mille Fleurs in charming Rancho Santa Fe is one of the best ways to sample San Diego's seasonal produce. That's exactly how chef de cuisine Martin Woesle approaches his spring menu: No big changes, he says, just the incorporation of lots of fresh produce each day from nearby Chino Farms. One must-try item here -- the Chino Farms Stuffed Zucchini Flowers. This dish combines seasonal fresh zucchini flowers and a seafood mousse made of scallops, shrimp, lobster, champagne sauce, fresh peas and olives. Happy spring eating!