When considering on-site dining in terms of two- and three-star hotels, images of heat lamps, plastic cups and a one-page laminated menu probably reside somewhere at the forefront of the brain. Every once in a while, however, there emerges a restaurant the very existence of which shatters all previous stereotypes and preconceived notions, and serves to pleasantly surprise both brain and palate. Enter The Great American Grill (soon to be renamed either Bistro 39 or Bistro Thirty-Nine) in the Hilton Garden Inn Del Mar. While the establishment currently shares the same name as each of its siblings housed within Hilton Garden Inns across the nation, it should very well be considered the best of the brood. Hoteliers Bob and Linda Rauch made a concerted effort to provide five-star dining to all loyal guests, despite the hotel's three-star designation. To achieve such lofty status, they not only hired Chef Larry Difolco of the Culinary Institute of America, but also added a pastry chef. Say goodbye to day-old desserts ordered from an outside company. The Hilton Garden Inn serves some serious sweets, with crème brulee and hazelnut cheesecake among local favorites.
Chef Difolco has created a number of delectable dishes, however, one that is rapidly becoming the talk of the town is his crème brulee-stuffed French toast, available at the daily $10.95 breakfast buffet. The $12.95 (soon to be a still-affordable $14.95) Sunday champagne brunch is also a favorite, as is the sumptuous three-course prix-fix dinner menu for only $19.95. The menu itself is a veritable booklet in terms of three-star hotel dining, and offers such delicacies as mushroom risotto cakes, filet mignon with a green peppercorn sauce, and gourmet pizzas with such toppings as lime shrimp and cilantro. An extensive wine list rounds out Difolco's creations, with both wine flights (a mere $10 gets you three, two-ounce pours accompanied by fine cheese and crostini) and wine tastings available on a regular basis. The next tasting event is slated for March 14, 2009 and will host Drew Dixon of the Andrew Lane Winery. For $39.95 you can enjoy a five-course meal paired with five specialty wines. For reservations and more information visit The Great American Grill. Learn more about the San Diego Hilton Garden Inn here.