Frank Sabatini Jr. | Downtown News
A rolling cheese cart, a pianist and fresh roses on every table are among the high-frill elements that kick off a champagne brunch unlike no other in San Diego. Add to the picture a heavy classic interior design that feels part Versailles and part something else and you’ve landed squarely inside The Westgate Hotel.
For nearly four decades, the Sunday brunch at Westgate has lavished guests with a cornucopia of dishes that currently total about 100. From caviar and crab claws to leg of lamb and made-to-order crepes, the smorgasbord spans multiple stations throughout the roomy second-floor lobby of the hotel’s uber-pastel Le Fontainebleau dining room.
Wait service is minimal. After you’re seated, an attendant brings around bottomless champagne, bloody Marys, mimosas, margaritas and coffee. Artisan cheese follows, wheeled over on a vintage liquor cart stocked with smoky, aged Gouda and rich Gorgonzola. From there, you wander over to a meticulously arranged food spread that looks like something from the concluding scene of Babette’s Feast.
Odds are that a buffet this large, regardless of its panache, will harbor a few imperfect dishes. We found that some of the seafood constructs sitting in ramekins became victims of the heat lamps, such as wahoo over saffron risotto and Pacific rockfish with leeks. Fine concepts, but parched by the time we got to them.
From the iced shellfish table, marked by a dramatic bouquet, the peeled medium-sized shrimp were irresistibly sweet and tender. Alaskan crab claws took some work with the shell crackers for extracting the meat, which turned up wet and icy at times because the claws weren’t fully thawed. But they were luxurious anyhow.
Oysters from Mexico tasted freshly shucked and appeared also in shooters. The manila clams, however, showed little signs of recent life.
The table was stocked also with decent sushi rolls, fresh sashimi and black caviar accompanied by mini pancakes and various garnishments like sour cream, chives and chopped eggs. If you gorge only mildly on these oceanic items, the $45 adult admission is easily fulfilled.
Salads of every kind winked from another table. The greens were crisp and fresh and the fixings aplenty. We were especially fond of the chilled “summer corn salad” speckled with cotija cheese and cilantro. The corn was perfectly par-cooked and tasted as though it had been cut from the cob moments before we dug in.
Steamed pork dumplings were an unusual fit to the table, but remarkably delicious with their substantial cores of mildly seasoned meat.
Skipping over the omelet station entirely, we eventually made our way to the carving station, where prime rib, Colorado leg of lamb, pork roast and salmon Wellington stood lusciously before a row of chaffing pans harboring various side dishes. Every one of the meats was moist, flavorful and gristle-free, including the end piece of pork I requested because of its crispy, seasoned crust.
The salmon was rich and flakey, although their pastry casings were soggy and deflated. Wellington recipes typically fail in that respect unless they’re served immediately from the oven. For a buffet, I’d vote for the fish to be served without the fancy attire.
Further down the trod were cheesy (but non-gooey) au gratin potatoes, steamed veggies, tasty pork sliders and grilled beef ribs with chimichurri sauce. There were also oysters Rockefeller that appeared withered. Nearby was an unexpected heaping of lo mein with chicken breast that looked promising had we not fallen into temptation with so many other dishes.
In addition to a chocolate fountain rising above a display of marshmallows, strawberries and biscotti, a separate dessert table features a crepe station flanked by lemon meringue tarts, orange crème brulee, chocolate mousse pyramids and more. All of the confectionary bases are covered with flair.
So are the overall finer details that you don’t normally find at big buffets. Here, the lemons for seafood are halved and wrapped in mesh nets; mint jelly is set out for the lamb; precious jus accompanies some of the roasts; and wasabi and fresh ginger parked alongside the sushi are contained in decorative Asian boxes.
More appealing is that the food stations are kept clean and spaced generously apart so that you never feel as though you’re caught up in an unruly stampede. Such high formality is so rare these days, but it certainly has its perks.
—Frank Sabatini Jr can be reached at email@example.com.