Monday, April 21, 2008
San Diego restaurant- Island Prime
‘Prime’ Time gives viewers mixed messages
A light fog seemed to have drifted off the water and into Island Prime's (880 Harbor Island Drive) dining room, creeping low on wooden paneled walls and dimly lit tables, stark of linens. A kaleidoscopic view of all aquatic fronts reflected in countless countless bay windows, resting beneath raised rafters, and forced me to switch seats twice before choosing San Diego’s downtown lights over harbor reflections.
A Titanic ensemble ranged in apparel from jeans to formal wear, creating an unclear impression to whether this was an elegant experience or a high priced hoot-nanny. I was torn between my pleased palate and wilted wallet.
Our waiter immediately arrived to fill drink orders and inform us that he would be indisposed for a few moments with a newly seated table of six. Impressed with his direct communication, we were never questioning his brief, yet noticeable absence as we were plied with cocktails and pancake battered muffins that reminded me of an upscale carnival treat.
But the most memorable part of the meal arrived in the form of an inspired, salad accessory that I plan on campaigning to become a staple of the American table- the tempura, fried anchovy. This warm, crispy burst of saltiness arrived like a feather in Caesar’s cap and was far superior to any crouton. The salad itself was a foggy memory as I reveled in the delight of a newfound, deep-fried friend. I wanted 100 more of them. Our clams casino were gone faster than cash in its gambling namesake, shelling out moist, garlic breading with hits of citrus in each dime sized bite.
A ‘study in lobster’ focused on three individual preparations of the Maine variety, making a sweeter, more succulent entrance than the west coast, Mexican lobster. Opening with bisque, a heartfelt “hallelujah” escaped my lips before an opaque blanket of pink velvet enveloped my tongue. Claw meat arrived like a present resting on my spoon and I admired someone doing their homework on what makes superior bisque- cream, sherry and lobster- easy as 1-2-3.
In a clever sequel, the mini grilled cheese and lobster sandwich warmed comfort food cockles, while the third theory translated a Mexican tostada with shredded lobster and black beans. I liked this last choice least and formed the same conclusion I had in prior studies- lobster is best “au natural”, but with its impeccable and playful presentation I would take this course again.
Not a fan of scallops, but admiring their hazelnut coated preparation served with a goat cheese risotto cake, I asked if the snapper could be done the same way. Accommodating my wish I received the flaky, luxuriance of snapper matched with the tart decadence of savory cake. My dinner colleague ordered NY strip steak with pancetta in a pinot noir reduction, which was adequate, but as he noted, “nothing to jump up and shout about”.
Sideshow acts ranged from freakishly common sautéed mushrooms to jaw-dropping, truffle macaroni and cheese. Introduced to the earthy delicacy of truffles for the first time, my counterpart wrangled with the concept that this Kong-sized strain of flavor could spawn from one ingredient. This potent pasta indeed rivaled the great ape as eighth Wonder of the World.
Rounding out the event was the potted brownie performing sautéed bananas splits as vanilla ice cream skated on a sweet brulee shell, finally cracking under the weight of plunging spoons. It scored a 7.2 by the judges and was a worthy competitor.
As much as I enjoyed each avenue of this meal’s tour, my resounding memory was the absorbanant price. With entrees ranging between $29.95-48.95 it’s impossible to make this your regular Saturday go-to, but even for special occasions its casual nature makes it difficult to drop that kind of money at the ‘Prime’ anytime.
A compromise is struck at C-Level, Island Prime’s subdued sibling that occupies the same structure and sits to the left of the bar. Its less expensive menu features highfalutin appetizers (ahi tuna stack) and entrees (lobster mac-n-cheese) indulging in an identical view at a fraction of the cost. C-Level still allows the finer things in life to be experienced while wearing flip-flops, but lets you leave with part of your paycheck.