Would You Believe It?
It's helpful for a farm-to-table restaurant to back the claim with an on-site gar-den. Chef Kurt Metzger’s Kitchen 4140 grows organic vegetables and fruits on 1,200 square feet behind the Morena Boulevard restaurant, some on water-wise hydroponic towers. Garden tables put main components of some dishes within reach, like the seasonal berries in Metzger’s bubbling cobblers. Just as nice, tender bib lettuce and the juiciest heirloom tomatoes combine with avocado and blue cheese in the harvest salad.
IT MAY BE HARD TO IMAGINE that The WineSellar & Brasserie is observing a 26th anniversary, but Gary and Lori Parker’s quiet restaurant above their high-line wine shop is in fact in vintage mode. For many, the off-the-beaten-path Sorrento Mesa location keeps WineSellar out of mind when posing the question, “Where should we dine tonight?” On the other hand, Chef Jerry Flores’ nightly six-course tasting menu nominates the room as a regular destination. Paired with the exceptional wines that crowd WineSellar, these tast-ings can amaze. One recently opened with seared foie gras and apple wedges in a Port reduction, sheer heaven in tandem with a 2005 Château Coutet Sauternes. A diminutive glass of chilled pea and mint soup offered outsized flavors as a prelude to a boldly thick slice of gravlax with dilled crème fraîche, risotto with scallops and spinach pesto, and an earthy rack of rare New Zealand venison with puréed celery root and huckleberry sauce — all delicious, as was the peaches-and-cream tart finale.
AT LITTLE ITALY'S Sirena, Manager Mikey Zenteno displays endless confidence in Chef Jaime Chavez, the genius at the comfy gourmet Latin seafood restaurant. “You wouldn’t believe sorbet with oysters, but it’s amazing,” Mikey says. What he doesn’t mention are the garnishes of cottage cheese and almonds on the plumply beautiful Baja oysters — weird, wonderfully delicious and explained in part by the chef’s back-ground in Peru, where cottage cheese often mediates among competing flavors, such as sweet-tart sorbet substituting for lemon. South America’s West Coast cuisines permeate Sirena’s menu, expressed by marvels like a Peruvian ceviche of the day’s fish (there are Chilean and coconut milk ceviches too). On a recent occasion, yellowtail of extraordinary freshness reposed in a tart-piquant broth. A daily special of corn-crab gratin uses fresh chilies to point out the sweetness of the main ingredients. Sudadito, the Peruvian equivalent of bouillabaisse, is a dish you might want to eat daily for a week. Desserts maintain the tone, notably a raw carrot cake with cashew custard, orange purée and berry sauce.
IN THE CLEVERLY REPURPOSED Western Steerburger in North Park, Breakfast Republic bustles between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily. Proprietor Johan Engman, born in northern Sweden and a San Diegan since the age of 16, specializes in these eight hours at his Fig Tree cafés in Hillcrest, Pacific Beach and Point Loma, all part of the Rise & Shine Restaurant Group. At Breakfast Republic, Johan designed the chandeliers made of pancake whisks, napkin wrappers with mottos like “A yawn is a silent scream for coffee” and a beer menu dedicated to complementing creations like banana split French toast and the very good Croque Monsieur eggs Benedict, which boosts the cackling favorite with béchamel sauce and Gruyère. Brewskis for brekkie seems bold, but there’s usually a line of customers.
IT’S INTERESTING how two French-American guys from Fall River, the historic Massachusetts mill town, scaled the heights of Cajun cuisine. Jimmy Tessier, chef at Hillcrest’s Local Habit, followed the path forged by Emeril Lagasse, who left their shared neighborhood to find fame in New Orleans and built the two big-time Las Vegas restaurants where Jimmy discovered his own Cajun muse. He shares these inspirations with richly stuffed po’ boy sandwiches and complicated Creole pizzas (the veggie version parties with kale, pickled squash and Brussels sprouts). Long-marinated, crisply fried Jidori chicken seasoned with the chef's habanero sauce sizzles on the tongue, perhaps making a wedge of the tangy buttermilk pie inevitable.