Finding a parking place in downtown Del Mar is considerably more complicated than pinpointing the location of Americana, a little gem of a restaurant that has staked a claim to the prime corner of 15th Street and Camino del Mar with a collection of comfortable sidewalk tables. At night, the spotlighted Star & Stripes that has hung under the awning since mid-September, 2001 guides guests like a red, white and blue beacon.
The flag is a permanent feature according to former New Yorker and fourth-generation restaurateur Randy Gruber, who migrated to California in the late 1990′s and designed Americana as a dual-purpose eatery. It functions as a casual breakfast and lunch café in the daylight, and becomes atmospheric after sundown, when the pace slows, tables acquire cloths, and votive candles in miniature tin buckets flicker across oil portraits of jazz musicians in full cry.
The menu progress from buttermilk pancakes and sandwiches stacked with roasted-on-premise beef listings of top-quality American ingredients infused with Mediterranean flavors.
Garlic is used plentifully, to the point that Gerber remarks “this is not a date-friendly restaurant.” But garlic and fresh, locally grown herbs create terrific effects in such dishes as the explosively flavorful entrée of Greenlip mussels steamed in crisp pommes frites; these unusually delicious French fries also star alongside a New York steak with pungent Argentinean chimichurri sauce. Salads include a robust tumble of roasted beets and goat cheese with bitter endive and radicchio, but the nicest starter may well be the trio of grilled baby lamb chops arranged over a superb roasted eggplant. The parade of bold flavors continues with seared duck breast with raisins, dried cranberries and pine nuts, and sesame-flavored salmon atop “summer succotash” of vegetables, diced bacon and potato.
The menu offers seven desserts and six dessert wines, and it’s a pleasure to pair the plate of gingersnap cookies, Stilton cheese and fruit preserves with a glass of port. And the caramelized banana tarte Tatin, served with warm dulce de leche ice cream almond brittle, melds international flavors in a way that is both uniquely American and typical of Americana.