Wednesday, April 23, 2008

San Diego restaurant- the Better Half

The 'Half' has the Whole Package

Rule 1: Give me free food and I’ll be back.
Rule 2: Give me phenomenal free food and I’ll be back for life.
Rule 3: Give me multiple offerings of phenomenal free food and I’ll be sleeping here.

Somebody get out the cot.

Quaint quarters welcomed us into a cave-like glow where Chef John Kennedy swept in and out of the dining room, visiting tables and toting his sassy sense of humor like a favorite teacher where every student was his pet. The dinner bell had rung and it was time for class.

Lessons of the ‘Half’ life

Lesson 1: Half and half – Owing its name to the fact that they only sell half bottles, our forty-three dollar, Baker Lane (Hurst vineyard) pinot noir was worth every penny. A cask wouldn’t have been enough, so the half bottle didn’t come close, but their idea of pairing a white for the first course and red for the second makes for an excellent multiple choice. Allowing outside wine of any size for a five dollar corking fee also brings up the GPA.

Leson 2: Toast of the town - Is there anything better than an amuse bouche? This bite sized morsel of gratitude boasted a toasted baguette swirled with goat cheese, sundry tomatoes and micro-greens. FREE

Lesson 3: Beet feats - Not much of a beet lover, but along for the ride with one, the “leaning tower” of beets was sculpted in svelte architecture and though not my favorite, it impressed (and ap-Pisa-ed) me.

Lesson 4: Signature salad - I was skeptical when I saw strawberries, candied walnuts and fig vinaigrette. It sounded much too sweet, but somehow it all blended into a delicate mix with greens and bursts of tartness from goat cheese. All doubts dissolved on my tongue.

Lesson 5: Ice cream cleansing - Maybe the most important lesson of all, cleansing the palate. Miniature ice cream cones bearing lemon sorbet were inventive, practical and playful. FREE

Lesson 6: Down and trout - For extra credit, the pecan encrusted trout appeared on tonight’s specials with maple compound butter and herbed rice pilaf, bathing me in its sweet and salty afterglow (top photo).

Lesson 7: Tongue and cheek - As soon as that veal cheek hit my tongue, its tender texture floated down my throat. The aftertaste was potent from the savory, chocolate sauce similar to mole with a French flare (depth without overpowering), along with lentils that also softened the dish like a kiss on the cheek.

Lesson 8: The long and the short (rib) of it- Cabernet short ribs voluntarily shredded off the bone served with cauliflower and horseradish mash that had a consistency similar to a browned couscous. Veggies that taste like starch- I’m all in.

Lesson 9: Sprout-prise! - Sautéed and chopped, Brussels sprouts appeared like a tasty quarter pulled from my ear. FREE

Final exam: Brulee relay- We handed off the maple glazed crème brulee to one another, ending our well-rounded education with sighs of stuffed triumph.

They had passed all my tests. In a time where economic strain had most restaurants feeling the pinch, the Better Half’s dining room still bustled in calm reliability. Our waitress, Kelley, revealed that the menu would soon be revised for Spring, which only gave us more reason to study new courses here. Their ability to change with the times, maintain success in a plummeting market and engage the community through a chef that’s a “man of the people”, the Better Half gets my vote for the “Stove-al” Office with Kennedy as President.

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