The sudden popularity of city-specific Restaurant Week is often met with disdain from those around the interwebs who consider themselves ‘foodies’. I can see some of the points behind their protests – the participating restaurants do severely limit their menus during these periods and tend to feature ‘crowd-favorites’, aiming at lowest-common-denominator palate pleasers, rather than challenging a savvy diner with new flavors, techniques or ingredients.
I love them (perhaps because my palate is not all that savvy, actually more greedy than anything else). I think that a slimmed down menu challenges the adventurous chef looking to garner interest and support for his/her cuisine with a different or new clientele. The obvious perk of these weeks is, of course, the reduced cost of multi-course meals at featured restaurants. I am not above blatantly admitting that this is what makes Restaurant Week(s) work for me, and I will not turn down the chance to explore some of the trendier restaurants in town when the opportunity drops in my lap.
This is all fine and dandy, you are thinking; but San Diego Restaurant Weeks are held in January and September, so what could I possibly be prattling on about? Turns out I did take advantage of this winter’s events, thoroughly enjoyed my meal and then completely forgot to share it with you here. Tonight I am taking the stance that late is better than never, especially if it means that my photos or words might prompt you to visit Bankers Hill Bar and Restaurant. After this meal (abbreviated or streamlined as it may have been), I am a huge fan and cannot wait for an excuse (a nice one) to go back.
(The #5 – Ballast Point Gin, St. Germain, Lime, Cucumber, Basil)
This dinner was a belated birthday gift for a close friend and myself, both Capricorns and happy to find any excuse to celebrate. Arriving early, I made myself comfortable in a corner booth, ordered a signature cocktail and set about people watching. The building itself has been recently renovated and the high ceilings and exposed trusses give the dining room an airy, spacious feel despite the closely packed tables. This openness also allows conversations to bounce and echo, with a heightened noise level to match. Young hipsters populated the bar, while the dining room quickly filled with a more sedate (and older, myself included) crowd. The pièce de résistance was the front bar. Glass-enclosed on three sides, with the fourth wall opening out onto the street, this is clearly a young professionals happy hour hotspot – there were far too many beautiful people drinking Manhattans than I could count.
(Appetizers – Chili Marinated Shrimp Skewers: Guacamole, Spiced Corn chips, lime crema)
(Appetizers – White Bean Soup: BBQ spiced ham, roasted chiles, garlic croutons)
(Appetizers – Yuzu-Apple Butter ‘Bruschetta’: Grilled levain, goat cheese, watercress)
My dining companions arrived and we dove in. With five options for each course (appetizer, main, dessert), the three of us sampled the majority of the menu, utterly satisfying the curious glutton in me. Armed with every possible eating utensil so nothing would stop us the group tasting, appetizers came first – succulent spiced prawns, a hearty bean soup and a fruity spin on bruschetta. I was disappointed with the shrimp – the presentation was gorgeous, but the flavor was meh – not something I was expecting from something explicitly labeled ‘chili’. The goat cheese apple bruschetta was different and delicious, balancing the creamy cheese, tart apple and piquant vinaigrette carefully and well. For me, the winner of this course was the bean soup. Mellow, smooth and thick, the bean puree contrasted well with the crunchy croutons and smoky ham, providing some much needed warmth in the somewhat drafty dining room.
(Mains – Mesquite Grilled Thresher Shark: corn tamale, swiss chard, braised tomatillo and poblanos)
(Mains – Black Angus Flat Iron Steak: Root veggie gratin, sauteed mushrooms, Cabernet reduction)
(Mains – Chipotle Glazed Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf: roasted Brussels sprouts, smashed red potatoes)
The main dishes followed shortly after, served by an extremely friendly (but not obsequious) server. It is always a good sign when the staff is encouraging of my excessive food photography. All plates in this course were quite heavy and very focused on putting new spins on traditional comfort food (see: meatloaf). I was quite excited to see the shark, but was unimpressed with the final dish. It seemed like it could not decide whether it wanted to be inspired by Mexican or Southern cuisine. The menu said ‘corn tamale’, but the side was more evocative of a hush puppy than anything south of the border. Both the steak and meatloaf were tremendous. The loaf was moist and flavorful, not overpowered by the bacon and just a tad smoky spicy from the chipotle (in what is becoming a common refrain, I could have used more spicy). The steak was the winner; perfectly cooked, tender and flavorful, I think the two of us looked on with more than a bit of jealousy at the other birthday girl, carefully protecting her plate after doling out the obligatory bite (she had also ordered the soup, lucky duck).
(Desserts – Gorgonzola Dolce: brandied cherries, Marcona almonds, Granny Smith apple, fig compote and baguette)
(Desserts – Butterscotch pudding: creme fraiche, pecan toffee, shortbread cookies)
(Desserts – Apple-cranberry crostata: caramel sauce, vanilla bean ice cream)
By the time the main plates were cleared, we were all stuffed. But there was no way we were going to pass up the option to taste and compare the variety of dessert options. The cheese was surprisingly mild, extremely creamy and tasted divine with the fig compote served alongside. The crostata was warm and gooey, but rather predictable in flavor and composition (fulfilling the requisite homey crumble slot on the comfort food-laden menu). Yet again, the other birthday girl chose the star of the show – butterscotch pudding and shortbread. Rich, toasted and silky, the pudding brought back childhood memories of See’s Candies and caramels stuck in my teeth, but so much better. It was the perfect end to an evening of extravagant, epicurean comfort.
Even after a few months of sitting on the back burner, I can almost taste the food from that evening in my memory. It was one of the best ‘bistro’ meals I have had in San Diego, especially considering the value of SDRW. Regardless of limited menus – I would return tonight and have exactly the same meal (well, maybe choose her courses rather than mine). However, the menu changes often. Glancing at it tonight, my mouth is watering at the prospects of the deviled eggs appetizer, duck confit or beef stroganoff. Plus, I’ve heard that they may make one of the best burgers in town. Clearly another visit (and soon!) is in order.
Bankers Hill Bar and Restaurant
2202 Fourth Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
Reservations strongly recommended