Kendra Dines at Eater San Diego’s Restaurant of the Year – Dija Mara
Over the holidays, instead of sitting home eating another portion of leftovers, I decided to take my parents out to Oceanside and try my friend’s new restaurant, Dija Mara. My friend Ryan Costanza has been a chef at many incredible restaurants around the world, so imagine my excitement when I realized that he had a new spot near my parent’s home in Southern California.
When we arrived in Oceanside two days after Christmas, the usually buzzing town was all but silent. Although the streets were quiet, Dija Mara was filled with smiling faces and the delicious smell of Southeast Asian cuisine. Dija Mara is known for their mix of Southeast Asian flavors with Western flair and Japanese cooking techniques, which basically means Balinese Californian food. Already sounds amazing, right?! All of their wine is natural, so this was my parents first time trying natural wine and we went with Ryan’s recommendation of the Vermentino. The wine was funky and paired perfectly with every single dish that was sent out. It’s a rare occasion that the wine matches such a wide range of food, but Ryan personally made sure that every wine in the restaurant pairs well with each dish, so no matter what you order, you’re in good hands. Once the Vermentino got the thumbs of approval from my parents, we knew we could just sit back and enjoy any dish that Ryan sent out.
The first dish that we received was the Grilled Flat Bread on Sonora Wheat Sourdough with roasted chicken curry. The flatbread was grilled like a traditional roti but maintained it’s moist and fluffy texture which made it perfect for scooping up the curry. Then we had the Charred Eggplant which was made with smoked tomato sambal, meyer lemon labne, thai basil and fried shallot. Next up was the Sea Bream Ceviche with kaffir lime, daikon, sambal matah, cassava, black sesame and coconut. This was probably the most shocking dish for me as I’m not one for raw seafood, but somehow, the way they prepare the sea bream, it’s not too “fishy,” but instead it’s light, bright and airy with a hint of lemongrass. Needless to say, we cleaned our plate.
The next dish was the Squash “Gado” which is Japanese sweet potato, variations of squash, persimmon, sunchoke and peanut ghee. This dish was not only beautifully prepared, but it also moved, which was funny to watch my parents react to. This was one of my favorite dishes as the peanut ghee added such an elegant flavor to the squash, and the variations of squash made each bite different from the last. We also had these incredible Corn Fritters made with heart of palm, mango mostarda, crème fraiche, lardo and prawn. Even the Chicken Thigh Satay was prepared in a way that was reminiscent of yakitori which mixed the traditional Balinese satay with Japanese cooking techniques. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more, they brought out the Grilled Octopus with Thai pork collar sausage, curried potato, pineapple vinegar and sambal ijo. I love octopus, so this dish was a highlight for me. The pork sausage and curried potato really gave the dish an incredibly authentic Southeast Asian flavor. The last dish of the evening was the Mie Goreng with tomato, sambal matah, cabbage, Chinese sausage and carbonara egg. I love a noodle dish, especially traditional Mie Goreng so I had high hopes for this dish and they exceeded my expectations. The carbonara egg brought to mind Italian influences while still maintaining a traditional flavor with a lot of spice – this by far was my favorite dish. I wish I was eating it right now, honestly. At this point our bellies were full and the wine had come and gone, but Ryan had one more surprise up his sleeve and brought out a Black Sesame Brownie with coconut gelato. I’m not usually a dessert fan, but this was above and beyond! The brownie was so light, and the coconut really gave it a new flavor that I don’t typically taste in desserts.
Overall, I completely understand why Dija Mara was awarded Eater’s San Diego’s restaurant of the year for 2018. If you want authentic Balinese and Southeast Asian cuisine with a California twist, then this is the place for you. And sending a MAJOR thank you to Chef Ryan Costanza for preparing this incredible experience for us. I can’t wait to come back here again and try some more of the natural wine selections and stuff my face with the Mie Goreng!