Sunday, February 28, 2010

San Diego: Whisknladle Bistro & Bar

On our second evening in San Diego, Mark and I took a short drive over to gorgeous La Jolla to dine at whisknladle.  We sort of picked the self-proclaimed "neighborhood bistro & bar" on a whim, and man, I am ridiculously glad we did.  Whisknladle was recently chosen by Conde Nast as one of the top new restaurants worldwide, an honor I can wholeheartedly get behind.  


Click below to see what we ate!

The entire experience was just a pleasure from beginning to end, starting with the lovely interior.  The decor was both elegant and cozy, and every single person in the restaurant, both fellow diners and staff, looked delighted to be there.

The extensive menu gives you the option of ordering a bunch of small plates, or getting larger entree-sized portions.  We decided to go with the small plate option, as it was way too hard to narrow it down to just two main dishes.  If I wasn't afraid of making myself sick to my stomach, I would have happily ordered every dish on the menu.  In fact, we even discussed coming back the next night to order everything we missed the first time around (as you will see in my next post, I kind of wish we had).  Our server (from heaven) enthused about all of our selections, and showed an extensive knowledge of all the dishes, as well as a refreshing passion for both the restaurant and food in general.  I will say, without reservation, that the service we received at whisknladle (including not only our server, but the entire staff) was the best I've ever had.   

We started with the La Milpa Spinach Salad, with a slow-cooked egg, caramelized cauliflower and housemade pancetta.  The egg was...I can't even really explain it.  It melted into the dish, adding its lush dreamy richness to the other components.  The cauliflower was perfectly browned and almost sweet, and the housemade pancetta, crunchy and ideally salty, was by far the best I've ever eaten.  Mark agreed, and said it was the greatest thing he had eaten in awhile.

La Milpa Spinach Salad

In our quick research into the restaurant before our visit, the charred bone marrow, with capers, shallots, lemon, and parsley, and served with buttery toast, was a favorite among reviewers.  It was a favorite with me as well - the fatty richness of the marrow was cut with the tangy capers and acidity from the lemon, and freshened up by the parsley.  Mark didn't love it quite as much (I think it was a little fattier than he would have preferred), but liked it very much. 

Charred Bone Marrow

Next, I'm sure to no one's suprise, we ordered the crispy sweetbreads, with a maple gaze, lentils, Brussels sprouts, and house-smoked bacon.  While every single dish was impeccably prepared, this dish more than any other really showed the care and artistry of the kitchen - each element of the dish was truly outstanding on its own merits, and yet the sum was greater than its parts.  The cornmeal-crusted, velvety pieces of sweetbreads, the salty, crunchy bacon, the delicately tender sprouts, and complex flavorfulness of the lentils combined into an exceptional dish, one I could happily eat every night for the rest of my life.

Crispy Sweetbreads

Because this was sort of my birthday dinner (I had to temporarily postpone celebrating on my actual birthday, which was last Sunday), Mark convinced me to order the grilled baby octopus, with Romesco (a Catalonian sauce typically made with almonds/pine nuts/hazelnuts, roasted garlic, olive oil and peppers), chorizo, mizuna and sweet potatoes (Mark doesn't like octopus, as it squicks him out a little).  I'm so glad I did.  The octopus was charred, yet tender, the spiciness of the chorizo was nicely balanced by sweet potato, and the Romesco sauce tied all the elements together. 
 Grilled Baby Octopus

The last of our savory dishes was a butternut squash ravioli, topped with butter, crispy sage, and Parmigiano  Reggiano.  It was the least successful dish of the night, but in a meal like this, that's like saying someone is the poorest millionaire.  In any other restaurant, this elegant dish would have shined - the freshly made pasta was delicious, and the filling was luscious.   Really, the very simple dish only suffered in comparison to the incredibly creative and complex dishes that came before it.

Butternut Squash Ravioli

Also, there was a little bit of lag time between the last couple of courses (which I didn't even notice, but Mark noted later), and so our server brought us complimentary drinks to apologize.  It was a such a great gesture, a little touch that really cemented our already high opinion of the restaurant.  

We ended the meal with a trio of macaroons (that Mark ordered after seeing a diner next to us get them).   They were the ideal ending to the meal, combining flavors like lavender, white chocolate, dark chocolate and mint.  The light crumbly cookies were the perfect amount of sweet - and were really pretty to boot! 
Trio of Macaroons

There was not a single element of this meal that didn't make me smile.  The food was phenomenal, the service was the best either of us had ever experienced, and the restaurant was stunning.  One of the staff members explained to me that Chef Ryan Johnston refuses to keep anything on the menu for more than 4 weeks or so, because he wants to continue to challenge himself in the kitchen and keep things exciting - for me, this reflects the deep love of food, creativity and passion that Chef Johnston and his staff bring to the whisknladle kitchen.  With the exception of Komi, I've never been more impressed with a dinner in my life.  And even more surprising?  Mark felt the same way, saying as we walked out into the warm, misty night that he could not have been happier.  If you are ever in San Diego, please, please, please, make the trip out to La Jolla and visit whisknladle.  I promise you it'll be more than worth your while.

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