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  • Writer's pictureDavid Boylan

Valentina blossoms in Leucadia

As much as I loved the Moto Deli concept of scratch-made, chef driven sandwiches, it never really made the transition into dinner and evening hours. Given it’s killer location in the heart of Leucadia, and the now bustling nighttime dining scene, a fresh concept to cater to that crowd was inevitable and happened recently with the birth of Valentina.

Owner Mario Warman and chef/partner Alex Carballo have transformed the space into an elegant yet casual restaurant that feels like a more mature, yet still playful Moto Deli. It should be noted that many of the amazing Moto Deli sandwiches are still available on the lunch menu. That was good to hear, as they are still some of my favorites anywhere.

The Valentina menu is eclectic, influenced by the styles of Mexico, France and Italy as interpreted by Chef Alex Carballo. If that name sounds familiar it’s because Alex pops up in Lick the Plate often bringing his culinary prowess to help launch some of my favorite places to eat in the area including Clara in Carlsbad.

The menu is simple yet obviously chef driven with a focus on fresh ingredients and a playful mix of offerings. It has three sections, 1.0, 1.2, and 2.0 with prices ranging from $4 - $23 which is very reasonable given the quality of the food and the skill creating it in the kitchen.

The 1.0 section includes some of the best values on the menu including some of the best frites I’ve had anywhere. These are obviously hand-cut and they are amazing. The Pulpo & Papas (octopus and potatoes) is charred with a Piquillo Pepper and is a simple delight. The Albondigas & Marinara (meatballs in a red sauce) comes with ricotta and fired basil and is a very hearty starter that could almost be an entrée for one and it’s very good. Heirloom Tomato & Burrata was another standout drizzled with a high quality Balsamic. Gazpacho rounded out our samples of starters and their version of chilled tomato soup had pickled cucumber and was light and refreshing.

Our 1.2 adventure started with the Mussels al Vino in a shallot-wine broth with herbs and some perfectly toasted bread for soaking up that delightful broth. I could eat their Yellow Tail Crudo with curry-pickled strawberries every single day and it would never get old. It’s that good. And while Mac & Cheese is nothing new on menus, they do it right, serving it in a mini cast iron skillet with pancetta and grantine. Grantine is the crusty top layer that elevates a common mac & cheese to another level and the pancetta was a nice touch.

Moving on to the 2.0 portion of the menu I was thrilled to see a simple Steak & Frites with Chimichurri as it is one of my favorite dishes ever. The steak came out sliced at a perfect medium rare and those spectacular frites I mentioned earlier are there to soak up the juice. Valentina is my new local go-to joint for steak frites and I’m quite happy about that.

Pescado del Dia is the daily fish option and on separate occasions I’ve had a really nice Grouper and Sea Bass. Preparations will vary on this but rest assured they will do it right. Gnocchi with a mushroom confit, ricotta and a brown-butter sauce was perfect rich and creamy yet not to heavy. Some dishes I will be back for include the Chicken Palliard and Cochinita Pibil, a slow roasted pork dish with origins in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

The wine list curated by one of my favorite wine guys Derry Van Nortwick who I met at Clara and is always introducing me to fun new wines. This time it was the Silvaner Wasem which is described as an “Old Vine” Rheinhessen from Germany. It’s a bright, citrus laden style that is totally different than most garden-variety white wines and pairs nicely with asparagus which can be difficult to pair with wine. Very accessible sparkling’s, Rose, and reds are all represented with five solid options of Pinot Noir including Klee from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Local beer and hard kombucha is available on tap along with a variety of non alcoholic options.

The Churros are quite good and Mamey ice cream, was a new and delightful new discovery for me. This exotic silky ice cream with Latin origins has hints of tropical fruit with a creamy texture and orange color similar to sweet potato or pumpkin.

So yeah, Moto Deli grew up yet it was a graceful transformation worth checking out. The menu will change with what’s in season and you can check it out online at

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