Monday, November 21, 2016

Herb and Wood (San Diego, Ca)

A Tale of Restaurant Redemption

I arrived wearing my favorite, steel-studded sneer; my shoulder adorned with a chip larger than the Hope Diamond. This was yet another venture by Brian “Mediocre” Malarkey, the former, Top Chef contestant who traded his culinary soul to any investor looking to make a buck off his newfound celebrity. But every layer Malarkey piled on his fabric-themed, restaurant empire (including Gingham [CLOSED], Gabardine [CLOSED], Seersucker), exposed one common thread - the Emperor had no clothes (aka full of Malarkey).

But my judgmental dress made me look a fool, as Herb and Wood (H&W) emerged the stunning fashionista, subtly dressed to the nines, in classy grays and museum-like lighting dimmed over vibrant canvases; the front bar, sleek and glittering like a crowned jewel, beckoning us in…or out (seating for both), to this forgotten warehouse transformed into a larger-than-life, Pinterest wet dream of design, art, and space.

Drinks: Mocktails
Non-alcoholic drink menus were usually absentmindedly thrown together, similar to the way vegetarians were endlessly offered the same, generic option of pasta primavera. There wasn’t much thought put into these elixirs, which only seemed to exist out of an exhausted politeness for the dry duds and former drunks, who wouldn’t be bulking up the tab with booze. But this mocktail menu was surprisingly thorough, and my concoction of pineapple juice, soda, lime, and cinnamon syrup doled out a heavy-handed, fizzy, brain buzz. Cinnamon syrup = my new obsession.

Eats: Small Plates/ Entrees

Wood-fired pizza: Pesto, Cippolini Onion, Escargot, Bone Marrow

Let's be honest. Bone marrow had become the Justin Beiber of the restaurant world. It was everywhere - annoyingly so - though you still couldn’t help but love it, no matter how hard you tried.

Especially when it sprang up in an extra catchy version of wood-fired pizza topped with pesto, escargot, Cippolini onions, and a bone sawed in half, left open-faced, and brimming with gelatinous globs of grandeur. Wait, was that a miniature spoon for scooping?! So dainty! A schmear of marrow as a pizza topping?! Genius!! I had to admit it…they “Beibered” the shit out of this one.

Gnocchi, Oxtail, Roasted Garlic, Parsley, Chive, Sherry, Parmesan & Horseradish

The fine dining world had learned long ago that they could charge big money for cheaper cuts of meat like short ribs and oxtail - the ones that most home cooks weren’t willing to take on because of the extensive amount of fatty tissue woven throughout. But when braised long enough, every inch of their fatty highways melted away, bathing the meat until it morphed into a succulent, shreddable, treasure.

H&W's oxtail wafted nostalgic notes of grandma’s pot roast, but with heightened luxury from a potent, sherry-infused influence and horseradish kicker. My guess was the gnocchi was homemade because it squished like a bite of Play-Doh in a subtly, soft pillow of pasta = worthy of a reorder.

Crispy Potato, Lemon Vinaigrette, Black Pepper, Fresh Horseradish, Parmesan

Ah, here was the "mediocre" Malarkey I knew. I'd imagined the preparation much differently than a stark plate of whole, red potatoes topped with Parmesan and thrown in the oven. Just sub-par enough to bring back those resentful feelings of Malarkey’s past.

Dessert: Twix (Caramel, Crème Friache, Milk Chocolate & Lava Salt)

I felt like I was eating the back of a particle board shelf from Ikea. Grainy, chalky, chokingly dry. Need I say more? Fix your Twix!

H&W Earns an A
But as bitchy as I was, I couldn’t deny my obsession with H&W and my plans to return whenever I had the chance. H&W’s taste left its mark on both the eye and palate in a way that hit all the right olfactory senses and left you wanting more. I hated having to eat my words, but it was a little easier with a mouthful of bone marrow pizza.  

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