Trust the Chef – My First Date at Jolie with Chef Jason Witzl

Ever gone on a blind date? Stepping into the unknown with no expectations can go either way. You always hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Such was the case for me with my dinner at Jolie, the newish little restaurant in town on the one hundred block of Orange Avenue. It is hard to believe that I had not been to Jolie already. It is even harder to believe I had not heard anything about it. I thought it was a butcher shop; boy, was I wrong. Coronado has very few culinary surprises; Jolie is one of them. This was an authentic experience disguised as a meal. It was a marvelous first date, but I will see more of this restaurant and Chef Jason Witzl.  

The Chef and I halfway through our date just before I stopped taking notes.

Who is the chef putting out all this mind-blowing food in our backyard? He is a well-known LA restaurateur who cooks for us here in Coronado five days a week. Jason owns several spots in the Long Beach area, Ellie’s, and the 12-seat private dining restaurant next door, Ginger’s. This is no small undertaking; despite this, he drives down and works his craft at Jolie. What started as a butcher shop has morphed into so much more. This is a sit-down space where an alchemist works his magic. This food will impress even the most refined palate.  

The Alchemist hard at work.

Don’t let the white walls fool you. This space is not lacking color. Jolie is like a blank canvas open to many possibilities, and Chef Witzl paints beautifully. 

What he does with two induction burners and a small countertop fryer is just short of impossible. I recently sat down for what he refers to as the “Trust the Chef” tasting menu,  an Omakase format. If you are unfamiliar with this term, Omakase is a meal consisting of chef-selected dishes. In Japanese, it literally means “I’ll leave it up to you.”

Jolie’s version features five to seven courses with an optional wine pairing. I went all in and did both. 

First Course: Oysters with soy, lemon, and Kaluga Caviar, and Peruvian scallops with a coconut vinaigrette, masago, and pickled Thai chili. The oysters were briny with just the right touch of acid, while the scallops were bright with a touch of heat from the Thai chilis. This opening course was a burst of flavor on the half shell; it wowed and excited me about what was coming next. The wine they paired this with was a 2021 Riesling.

The oysters and Peruvian scallops got my attention.

Second Course: Yellow Tail Crudo, Hamachi with capers, shallot, and red chili flake. The Hamachi was cut thicker than most versions I have had, which gave it a marvelous toothiness. There’s more of the good stuff in every bite. The wine a Domaine Fevre 2021 Chablis.

Hamachi (Yellow Tail Crudo)

Third Course: King Salmon Crudo, buttermilk vinaigrette, grapefruit, and fennel pollen. The salmon melted in my mouth. I had to tilt the plate to get all the wonderful sauce. I was tempted to put the plate to my mouth and drink it, but I felt my mother’s disapproval ringing in my ear. The wine, Green and Red Vineyard 2022 Sauvignon Blanc. Note from the chef: this was the house wine for Chez Panisse for years.

King Salmon Crudo

Fourth Course: Steak Tartare, prime filet, crushed tomatoes, and a parmesan emulsion, served on the most delightful country sourdough from Cadoro Bakery in Inglewood. How are we getting this bread in Coronado? The chef drives it down each week when he comes to the island to cook for us. The wine was a Domaine des Perelles Moulin à Vent 2020, one of Jason’s favorite wines. 

Fifth Course: Iceberg Wedge, smoked blue cheese, heirloom tomato, thick-cut pork belly, and everything spice. This was no ordinary wedge. What makes a hunk of flavorless lettuce sing? The answer is a talented chef and pork fat; the balanced dressing didn’t hurt either.

The Best Wedge comes with a hunk of pork belly on top.

At this point in the meal, I lost track of what wines were being served. My notepad remained glued to the stool next to me while I slipped into what was to become a food and drink coma that I was in no hurry to wake up from. 

Sixth Course: King Salmon, Israeli Couscous, golden baby beets, and avocado. Like the king salmon crudo, the fish was so fresh. The chef seared it to form a crust but left the inside pink and perfect. The finished product played beautifully with its accompaniments. 

King Salmon indeed!

Seventh Course: Cacio e Pepe Arancini, tomato vinaigrette, pesto, black truffle. This was a true delicacy. Cacio e Pepe is by far my favorite pasta but done as a fried rice ball and topped with black truffle, this was a heavenly sponge I used to clean up the dressing and pesto with.

Cacio e Pepe Arancini.

Eighth Course: Garnet Yam, black garlic BBQ sauce, sesame and peanuts. The garnet yam was roasted much like you would a baked potato. The sweetness of this tuber and the umami of the black garlic BBQ sauce played well together, while the peanuts added a fun crunch. Don’t let those Thanksgiving yams keep you from ordering this. 

Ninth Course: Pan-seared gnocchi with pork neck, cracked pepper, and saba. I have not experienced pork neck meat since my favorite Meat & Three, Deacon Burton’s. This soul food joint in Atlanta was a favorite of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The meat of the pork neck is full of flavor and adds richness to this dish. 

Dessert :Butterscotch Pana Cotta. What can I say about this, except butterscotch brings back fond memories of Jell-O pudding? This, of course, is a more sophisticated adaptation and a perfect end to a fantastic meal. 

I said five to seven courses, but the chef kept them coming and I was not leaving without experiencing the iceberg wedge with the pork belly, which wasn’t in the chef’s intended lineup for us. I would return just to have that salad and any glass in their delightful wine selection. Make sure to wear your food pants, the ones with the elastic waist. 

I cannot stress enough the need to run, not walk, to this oasis of culinary delights. Plans are in the works for its next phase and I can’t wait to see what Chef Witzl has in store for us. I will be heading in as often as I can. I know more than most how special it is to have a chef like Jason cooking and serving food in such an accessible venue.

Jolie is closed Monday and Tuesday so the chef can return home to his family, I would recommend a reservation so you are sure to get a spot. The show starts at five and ends at nine. I hope to see you there.

Even as a chef of twenty-some-odd years, I still have to look up or ask the waiter about a few terms on any given menu. For this reason, I have included a glossary covering Jolie’s menu and my descriptions.

Glossary of Culinary Terms

Kaluga Hybrid Caviar has a rich, buttery flavor with a slight hint of the sea.

Masago, also known as capelin roe (fish eggs), has a seafood-forward flavor.

Crudo is Italian for raw and usually refers to fish, shellfish, or beef.

Hamachi, yellow tail tuna famous for sushi and sashimi.

Black Garlic is garlic that has been aged in a controlled environment over several weeks, imparting flavors of licorice, tamarind, and caramel. This is also considered a super food packed with nutrition. 

Everything Spice is the blend you would find on a bagel consisting of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, dried garlic, dried onion, and salt. 

Saba is an ancient condiment known since the Romans. It is made by cooking grape musts (skins) over flame. It is one of the main ingredients in Balsamic Vinegar.

Peruvian Scallops, also known as the “Golden Nuggets of the Sea, ” are raised off the coast of Peru in Sechura Bay. 

Meat and Three restaurants are popular in the south. The format of a Meat and Three allows you to pick one meat as your entree and three sides. The choices are usually soul food favorites like chicken, ribs, mac and cheese, collard greens, and other southern delights. 

Umami or savoriness is one of the five basic tastes along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

Arancini are Italian rice balls that are coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried.

Cacio e Pepe is a famous Roman pasta dish which simply means cheese and pepper. The cheese is most often Pecorino Romano.

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Clyde Van Arsdall