Monday, July 18, 2011

Beerback Mountain: I can't quit you - Hillcrest's Local Habit (San Diego)

We came in for some change, and that’s exactly what we got. Not in terms of the quarters and dimes that we needed for parking, but Local Habit’s complete remodel of the former, Pizza Fusion, like one of those horrible romantic comedies where “the cool guys” bet they can turn some bland being into prom queen. And they’d succeeded (in a much less obnoxious way) because all it took was one glance at the specials menu to realize that our meter wasn’t the only thing about to get fed.

This nouveau man-cave was a bit sparse, but clean in design. Wooden accents broke up brightly colored walls and high ceilings, adding rustalgic (= rustic + nostalgic) elements with dishcloth napkins, Mason jars for water and serving hard-to-find hops from places like San Diego’s first nano-brewery, Hess. Habit’s own Adam and Andy, touted their selections with pride, beaming like proud papas about their secret stash they were willing to share.

Flights of beer made it easy for multiple taste tests and that carried over to the bruschetta special – your choice: one of each or three of the same. We decided to try them all, while sipping on some Ballast Point pilsner = summer in a glass.

Tomato confit/ bacon lardon – I saw the word “lardon” and I heard it calling my name. What?! Lardon isn’t that far off from Lauren – geesh!! Give me a break…and some more lardons please.

Roasted tomato and onion w/ anchovy – sometimes salty and delicious, other times a fishy flop, the anchovy can be a fickle beast…but Chef Nick clearly knew how to sooth this one - possibly my favorite.

Fresh heirloom tomato w/ burratta and basil – If Ballast Point pilsner was summer in a glass, this was summer on a plate - classic and clean, but pretty skimpy on the burratta.

My idea of bruschetta = 1-2 inch sliced, toasted bread + surface fully covered with tomato-based topping.

Local Habit’s idea of bruschetta = garlic butter + toasted bread + slices the size of a playing card (and not much thicker) + toppings pushed to one corner.

Not the norm, but fabulous all the same. I loved every one and admired their approach to taking what can sometimes be a clunky appetizer and streamlining it into this portable, two-bite-delight. Small, but mighty…the only problem was that I would probably need about 20 to fill up and at $5 per order, that wasn’t going to happen. But I'd be back, only next time I'd add on a Neopalitan-crust pizza (gluten-free crust also available) and to see what's (on) tap dancing behind the bar.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Chef Sean comes to San Diego

Oh, you know Chef Sean. He’s that crazy pal of mine that used to be an executive chef back in the day, and still never ceases to amaze (or feed) me with his forward food concepts, bound to be served with a side of mayhem.

He was like an annoying, older brother that made sure to bring the fun, but always seemed to get me in trouble, so when he came to visit, I knew I had to start by giving him a dish best served cold…only because oyster shooters come that way.

Nick’s at the Pier: Take 10 steps from the beach and climb a flight of stairs to Nick’s = a full view of the ocean and pier with affordable/tasty sandwiches/tacos. But we’d come for the oyster shooters = take 10 steps back.

My idea of an oyster shooter: vodka + oyster + horseradish + hot sauce.
Nick’s oyster shooter: cocktail sauce + cocktail sauce + oyster + was vodka in there?

Nothing like a shot of ketchup. Thankfully the taste was washed out of our mouths with mahi tacos and beer at South Beach Bar & Grill:

It's not all mahi tacos I crave, only South Beach's concoction of shredded cabbage, melted cheddar and the thin white sauce (still mysterious in origin) atop this piece of fish, geometrically fitted to the tortilla's specifications. Every time I try to order something else (Rockefeller would surely grumble to know the oysters here shared his name and the lobster tacos aren't even a close second), I realize that they are the sole reason for my more

After stuffing our gullets, it was time to drop in on a bar who's name dropped whenever speaking fluent San Diego-ese, the Sunshine Company:

My favorite part about Sunshine, besides their strong pour Cadillac margaritas, is that it's half-n-half. Half inside, half outside. Downstairs, the kitchen and pool tables stay covered, while to the left "non-ceiling-ed" smokers feel as if they're breaking a cardinal rule, puffing inside with no one to call them out(side). And upstairs represented San Diego to a tee - all the sun you could drink (in) with a chaser of booze.

When the dinner bell rang, fancy fare wasn't necessary. Knowing Chef Sean's affection for burgers and beer halls, what other choice was there than Hamilton’s:

Tap--- tap--tap___ Telegraph white__ served on tap- tap____
Like Ahab in search of his white whale,
I was Rehab in search of my white ale.

I had heard of this rarity, this Telegraph white, but was not prepared for a smoky glass of liquid barbeque. This hickory switch (up) stung my senses and branded beer its own food group, which seemed to be the norm at Hamilton’s Tavern* more