LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA – In April, it was announced that Mario Medina would be named Executive Chef of Bernini’s Bistro in La Jolla, California. Medina transitioned after a successful residency at Finch’s Bistro & Wine Bar, also in the village. The announcement solidifies Medina’s running streak as the only Mexican Executive Chef in La Jolla for the past ten years.
With one parent from Puebla and the other from his hometown of Mexico City, Medina was born with a love of Mexican cuisine in his blood. His time cooking in Southern California has fostered an American adventurism that is on exhibit in his imaginative fusions. Medina specializes in creating Continental bistro with more than just a touch of Mexican influence. As example, at a recent Bernini’s dinner the chef served a braised short rib drizzled with pasilla chili sauce and served with blue cheese polenta.
There’s a Middle Eastern influence in Mexican cuisine, so it makes perfect sense that Medina’s new partner at Bernini’s, owner Hamdi Gumustekin, emigrated here from Turkey nearly thirty years ago. “When I came to San Diego from Istanbul in 1988, I only had $400 to my name,” Hamdi shared with El Gringo at a recent Bernini’s press dinner. “I worked in restaurants, saved my money and eventually bought this place in 1998. It was called Bernini’s Café then and only served breakfast. In 2000, we added lunch and dinner and changed the name to Bernini’s Bistro.”
On his decision to collaborate with chef Mario, Hamdi explained, “It was time to change my entire menu, and I knew that I had to work with Mario, given his bistro experience. He has a lot of creativity, makes tasty food. And he loves what he’s doing and has fun. You can see it in him when he’s working. There’s always a big smile.”
Making my way back to Bernini’s kitchen, I found Medina with his chef’s torch happily applying the final touches to our dessert – a terrific cilantro panna cotta with a blueberry rum glaze. After I snapped a few photos, he stopped the kitchen for an abrupt yet crucial 20 seconds so that I could get a shot of him with his staff. Here’s a great chef at work with a capable team, having a blast playing new culinary games on an unexplored neighborhood playground. Medina also hit the gym a couple of months ago and has shed over 40 pounds, putting him in great fighting shape to introduce the new menu later this month.
Bernini’s Bistro isn’t hard to find on Fay Avenue. Just look for the line of tall, flaming tiki torches in front of the brown, wood-planked Cape Cod style building. Inside, the vibe is cool, the bar reminiscent of a European bistro, and the walls adorned with Hamdi’s paintings of pop icons (Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix). The décor here is eclectic for sure, the vibe is laid-back and chef Mario Medina’s new menu – debuting in late May – is sure to highlight his Continental bistro dishes with a Mexican flair.
Bernini’s Bistro is located at 7550 Fay Avenue La Jolla, California 92037. Reservations at 858-454-5013 or on the web at www.berninisbistro.com.
DISCLAIMER: Chef Mario Medina is a very talented amigo and graciously comped my meal during a press event. My opinions are my own, and no compensation was received from the restaurant or its affiliates for writing this article.