Behind the Line

Interview by Josh Kopelman |
Culinary Personalities

A staple in La Jolla with a five-year tenure, Bistro Pazzo is one of those concepts locals love, tourists flock to, and business moguls relish for their power lunches. And yet, it's just a neighborhood Italian bistro—unassuming and absolutely delicious. The man behind the concept, Chef Seto Marselian, has been a San Diego native since 1976. He talked with us about his culinary past, and where the city's future is headed.

You've owned a number of successful restaurants. Where did you begin your career?

Well, I started at Le Côte d'Azur on Prospect in La Jolla in the '70s. It was there I had the opportunity to be trained by French chefs. From there, I moved on to Italian cuisine, with a few stints in Greek and Mediterranean concepts. Over the years, I was involved in all aspects of running a restaurant—including at French Gourmet, Top of the Cove, Mr A's, Avanti Ristorante, Le Ste Maxime's, Elario's, Aurora Trattoria, Medgrill San Diego, and Bistro Pazzo.

What are your impressions of the restaurant scene in San Diego?

I think it's getting more sophisticated. 2013 is a good start to a healthy recovery; we've seen a big improvement this year, which is really encouraging. For me and the restaurant, being in the same location for five years helps—we're on the map now. Because of that, we get a lot of return business from locals and tourists year after year.

How has La Jolla changed over the years? What changes do you see ahead?

La Jolla has changed a lot. We have fewer tourists these days, and locals don't go out as much because they are aging. Actually, I think we need a younger crowd to boost the scene. They spend more money, and a mixed-age clientele is great for business.

What's one of your own favorite dishes—something you created? Where did it originate?

Shrimp Pazzo. It's a dish that came together from several different recipes, as well as reading and watching cooking shows. I'm sure there are different variations of it done by other chefs, but I enjoy the way I make it.

What pearls of wisdom would you give to those thinking about opening a restaurant?

You must have passion. You must love what you do. To be honest, extra cash and hard work does not hurt either, but passion is where it's at. Stay with the project as long as possible—without hurting your family.

RECIPE: Shrimp Pazzo
serves four


Lobster sauce:
1 lb lobster meat
1 lb lobster shells or shrimp shells
2 Tbsp lobster base
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 c water
salt and pepper to taste
splash Sherry or Marsala, if desired

1 lb arborio rice
4 c water
salt and pepper to taste

20 jumbo shrimp
20 slices pancetta
salt and pepper to taste


For the lobster sauce: Sauté shells in olive oil until brown. Boil 2 cups water with shells. Set aside to cool briefly. Strain contents and bring to a boil again, adding cornstarch to thicken. Strain again. Add lobster meat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add Sherry or Marsala wine if desired.

For the risotto: Sauté rice while adding water slowly, allowing the rice to absorb all the liquid. Continue adding water and stirring until risotto is al dente. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the shrimp: Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Wrap pancetta around shrimp and sauté in a sauce pan until shrimp turns pink.

To plate: Mix lobster sauce and risotto together. Distribute among four plates. Assemble shrimp on top and finish with extra sauce.