The Best Things I Ate This Month: January 2019
Short rib fondue at WhipHand, maple pecan crème brûlée at Trust, and smoked shrimp tacos at El Jardín
Short rib fondue @ WhipHand
The renaissance in East Village has started and stopped so many times it seems it may never escape municipal pubescence. It’s got so much promise, there on the grittier edge of downtown, with less-commercialized business ideas and independents going for broke. The will to live feels more alive here. That’s why the arrival of WhipHand feels like good news. Its restaurant group also owns Miss B’s Coconut Club and Park 101 in Carlsbad; chef Quinnton Austin, who was previously chef de cuisine at New Orleans’ famed Antoine’s, brings a more Creole and Gulf Coast-ish style to his sauces, marrying that style with the existing local need for hot peppers and veggies. At a recent tasting I tried his short rib fondue, braised four hours and served over roasted seasonal veggies, white cheddar béchamel, and truffle-oil crostini that aren’t too heavily cologned. It’s a down-homier riff on steak and potatoes, and that béchamel sings you to sleep.
935 J Street, East Village
Maple Pecan Crème Brûlée @ Trust Restaurant
Trust may feel like a classic San Diego standby at this point, but the truth is it’s only been around for three years. It just feels so, well, trustworthy because very few restaurants in San Diego deliver with such consistently high quality. Chef Brad Wise and general manager Steven Schwob deserve a lot of credit, but the unsung talent is pastry chef Jeremy Harville, the man responsible for that tower of profiteroles on a stick, dripping with caramel and ruining your life in the best way possible. This other dessert has become a calling card for him, a maple pecan crème brûlée with roasted pear gelato, mascarpone Chantilly cream, and soft, warm cubes of roasted sliced pear. Plain old crème brûlée never gets old, but that doesn’t mean plays like this shouldn’t also be given stage.
3752 Park Boulevard, Hillcrest
Smoked Shrimp Tacos @ El Jardín
In the December issue, I reviewed El Jardín, the elaborate and well-researched concept from Top Chef alum and native daughter Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins. She traveled throughout Mexico while filming, convincing abuelitas in various Mexican villages to share their recipes for her restaurant—many of which shine. But one of my favorite bites is this simple taco. A crispy-soft housemade tortilla is tucked with smoked shrimp and lime kosho, poblano peppers, caramelized onions, menonita cheese, and grilled corn. The real showstopper is the “white widow” cream sauce on the side for dipping, made from habanero, cream cheese, cilantro, lime, and garlic. Be careful. This one will hurt with heat. But it’s phenomenal.
2885 Perry Road, Liberty Station