SAN DIEGO - The chef who's turned an otherwise largely unknown, tucked-away golf resort into a dining destination pauses in mid thought. William Bradley's been talking about what a bad eater he was as a kid, how he wouldn't try anything, but something's bothering him.
This has nothing to do with food. It's all about bass.
Specifically the amount of it in one of the songs playing in the bar of Addison - the signature restaurant at the new Grand Del Mar Resort, the one that's in the same building as the clubhouse for the Tom Fazio-designed The Grand Golf Club, the one that looks like it came straight from someone's version of the Tuscan countryside. But back to that bass beat.
Which Bradley cannot get out of his mind at the moment.
"There's too much bass in that song," Bradley says to the bartender. "It doesn't fit at all. Please get that song out. Can we get it out tonight?"
The song will be lifted from the restaurant's rotation within minutes, never to be heard from again in Addison no doubt. When you've helped create a restaurant from scratch, one built (reportedly for close to $30 million) around the premise that your name will lure foodies away from getaway ocean trendsetter La Jolla and downtown San Diego to a landlocked locale with no view of the water, there's no such thing as a small detail.
So William Bradley orders out the bass.
And a few minutes later, he's asking for a broom and knocking a spider web off a high corner of the outdoor balcony's entranceway himself. This is your James Beard "Rising Star Chef" award candidate at work.
"At the end of the day, we're cooks," Bradley says moments later, his eyes still scanning the room, searching for some other little thing he can perfect. "It's not about being the 'chef,' or the celebrity chef, or any of the other factors that can go into it these days. We're cooks. We cook for people. And that's what I want to do.
"To me, that's what I love."
It's a love that keeps bringing William Bradley to golf resorts. He really made his own name at Vu, the hip, inventive Scottsdale restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch - a resort geared around its 27 holes of semi private golf. Now, Bradley has Addison at the Grand Del Mar, a new luxury spot trying to capitalize on the fact that it's the only Tom Fazio design in San Diego.
Not that the 33 year old who got his big break as the sous chief at Arizona institution Mary Elaine's - located at the Phoenician, another well-known golf resort - dwells on this connection all that much.
"No, I'm not much of a golfer," Bradley says unapologetically. "I have a lot of respect for golfers and what it takes to be good. I used to go out and play a little, but not lately. It's a game that doesn't always go well with what other people have labeled my perfectionist tendencies.
"Maybe when this is all over, I'll play a little more golf."
This may be the most ambitious restaurant that's ever been associated with a golf course.
The Grand Del Mar is all about extravagance, boasting huge guest rooms with plush furnishings and views over the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve. It's geared for those who want something a little better than a Four Seasons or a Ritz Carlton resort. Which may make Bradley's food even more important to the resort's success or failure than the renovated Tom Fazio course.
You can get good, scenic golf in a lot of locations. But the Grand Del Mar's bet - and with no major hotel chain behind it, it's no small wager - is that you will not be able to get this type of golf with all these distinct luxury extras anywhere else.
Shirt sleeves rolled up, white apron on, William Bradley routinely makes a sweep of Addison's dining room to ask tables how the night is treating them. On this night, when someone mentions they like the food even better than they did at Vu - which is the reason they were drawn to Addison in the first place - Bradley nods in apparent enthusiastic agreement.
"It's a lot simpler," Bradley says. "I think it is better. I hope. I'm over my crazy phase."
The dishes that came out of Vu's kitchen (some with plenty of creative, colorful foam) is why Bradley has Addison, the reason he was put in charge of every aspect of its day-to-day operations, including even providing his input on the design of the place. Esquire named Vu one of its "Best New Restaurants for 2005" - something Addison matched in 2007. Vu earned a Mobile Four Star award.
Still, Bradley doesn't have time for sentiment, not with a $95 price fix four-course menu (you get a few choices for every course) to produce six nights a week.
The son of a fire chief in the San Diego area, Bradley's worked in high-class, major-pressure kitchens since he was 16. That's the age he began cooking under Chef James Boyce at Azzura Point, the fine dining restaurant at Loews Coronado Bay Resort. He disputes the Gordon Ramsay TV-show-fueled image of the best dining rooms being places where tyrannical chefs drop more F-bombs on brow-beaten underlings than Lou Piniella delivers in an umpire tirade.
"That's Hollywood," Bradley says. "That's not productive. As long as you demand the best out of yourself every day and your staff can see that, they'll come along and do the same."
Bradley also rejects the idea of becoming a celebrity chef himself - one of those guys who gets the really big bucks with his own TV show, string of restaurants and cook books. Even though Bradley seems tailor made for that spotlight with his sound-bite friendly back story (the wonder kid chef!), his youthful skinny TV-friendly frame and his appreciation for fine clothes.
"That's just not me," he says. "Someone who I respect very much in the business - someone who I can't name - told me a long time ago that if you have more than two restaurants, you've made yourself a chain. I have no interest in being a chain."
Bradley cites a chef with his own little restaurant in France - one who's not known much at all outside of the tight culinary world, one Bradley himself had never met, even as he followed the chef's cuisine, until a recent introduction - as a major influence. He talks of wanting to cook his "simple" menu at Addison.
Of course, Bradley's idea of simple is probably a little different from yours. On this night, the scallops come out with truffles sprinkled on them and the tender lamb is slathered in a green sauce.
Bradley laughs when asked if it feels good to be back home.
"I never lived anyplace like this in my life," he says, sweeping his arms out toward the scene over the balcony - trees stretching everywhere into the canyon, the sun coming down low to add a glow. "This is not any way similar to where I grew up. This is special."
Only if William Bradley can keep bringing people here with what's coming out of his kitchen - while policing that troublesome bass.
July 17, 2008