Monday, August 10, 2015

A Special Meal in San Diego

There are years when I get to San Diego more than once, and it is always a welcomed trip, but there is always the annual trek for San Diego Comic-con International, which was slightly earlier in the summer than usual this year. Consequently, unlike most years, my birthday was not involved.

Also different than previous years, neither tea nor crab cakes were part of any meal. I did have the unexpected pleasure of meeting Alton Brown, who had an invitation to my favorite party of the convention, and finally getting a chance to eat at Top Chef Richard Blais' restaurant in San Diego, Juniper and Ivy.

My husband saw Alton hiding under a baseball cap when he entered the party area. Len called me over and we introduced ourselves to one of our favorite Food Network personalities. When Len started to explain who he was, Alton said "You don't have to do that. I know who you are." Len was tickled pink. We had a very pleasant conversation, eventually interrupted by the arrival of William Shatner, who must know Alton from a brief stint as the "Chairman" of an early edition of the U.S. version of Iron Chef. Before that happened, I mentioned that I had been following Richard Blais' tweets from Comic-con and that I hoped to get a chance to try his restaurant. Alton endorsed the choice, saying he had had an excellent dinner there the night before.
Alton Brown the night we saw him at the TV Academy several years ago.
So when I ran into our friend Gillian Horvath (very jealous that I had met Alton Brown) and she said she was looking for a way to kill some time before heading back to L.A. on Sunday night, I suggested we do dinner at Juniper and Ivy. She agreed, and I made reservations for us. We took a taxi rather than getting a car out and fighting for parking, but on a good day we might have been able to walk the distance from the harbor hotels.

The restaurant is located on the edge of San Diego's Little Italy, almost underneath the Freeway. The name comes from the nearby cross-streets, although neither factors into the actual address of the building (2228 Kettner.) The restaurant is large--something like 300 seats--and even on a Sunday night it is crowded and loud. (There is some outdoor seating, but it was so hot we weren't interested in being outside where conversation would have been interrupted by the jets coming in for a landing at the nearby airport.) I was glad I made a reservation.

The menu is pretty diverse, and, like many restaurants these days, encourages sharing. The small plates go nicely with Len's reduced appetite.

The restaurant is famous for its buttermilk biscuit with smoked butter. We ordered one to share, but I wish we had ordered a second. It was delicious, and the presentation is worth the experience. The cast-iron baking dish is delivered in a cloche, and when it opens, the most delicious smoke escapes. A still photograph cannot do this justice, so check out the Vine of it here.
Buttermilk Biscuit with Smoked Butter
I know that Gillian ordered the poke as an appetizer, but I forgot to photograph that. She ordered the bone marrow as her main course, which arrived served on a wooden platter.
Bone Marrow with Spaetzle
Sadly, it did not come with a marrow spoon (only someone like Gillian or me who collects antique silver would even know of such an implement these days) which made it a little difficult to get to the marrow. We finally got a server to find a demitasse spoon, which made an acceptable alternative. Gillian was very happy with her choice and I enjoyed a sampling of the spaetzle.

I decided to try the Kurobuta pork short rib with fig barbeque sauce on creamed corn. If this is what heritage pork tastes like, I don't know why we've allowed selective breeding to eliminate fat from our pigs. It was melt-in-your-mouth wonderful. Kurobuta is as highly prized in Japan as Kobe beef, and I can understand why.
Kurobuta Pork Short Rib
If you are looking for this kind of pork, look for meat from Berkshire Black hogs. (Snake River Farms is a source.)

Len went with a lobster mushroom pasta for his main course, which he thoroughly enjoyed (after his initial concern that it might have actual lobster in it.)
Pasta with Lobster Mushrooms
I don't usually go for dessert these days, but Gillian convinced me to try the melon sorbet, which was a nice way to close out dinner.
Melon Sorbet
If you happen to like chocolate or Hostess, the menu has a dessert called "Yodel," which may be exactly what you are looking for.

I am pretty sure I can convince Len to go to Juniper and Ivy the next time we are in San Diego. I have no doubt that I'd be able to get Gillian to go with me if he won't.

Richard Blais has a cookbook, Try This at Home, but it doesn't include a recipe for those biscuits. Sniff.

No comments: