Kirk and Cathy, as always, are eating and thinking about sharing their meals with you. Today, however, it is ed (from Yuma) discussing a recent meal he had in San Diego.
[The stressed economy wasn't special for this place - sadly, it's now closed.]
After a few days of eating Thai Vietnamese Korean sushi (no, not at the same time), I was looking for something different. I also had discovered that The Better Half was offering, between 5 and 7 p.m., a stressed economy special, three courses for $15.
The restaurant actually occupies two buildings linked by an outside patio, which is where the hostess greets customers. On the left side is the small kitchen, visible from the street, which offers a view of the chefs working hard on their preparations:
I had another reason for this visit. I was in San Diego by myself this trip, and the thought of having dinner and a half bottle of wine (The Better Half specializes in 375 ml bottles) seemed inviting. In fact, I was very impressed with the wine list; I had no idea that such a wide variety of excellent wines were available in smaller bottles. Wines on the list ranged from $14-$91, with many choices between 15 and 25. I settled on a Pinot Noir from Paraiso Vineyards ($22), located in the Santa Lucia Highlands area in northern Monterey County, a winery that I was already familiar with from my days in Monterey:
I had already looked over the standard menu and was prepared to order the fruit stuffed quail, accompanied by a wild mushroom risotto, if nothing on the special menu was inviting. But the economy menu insert offered all sorts of tasty dishes, a choice of salad or wild mushroom soup as a first course, grilled mahi-mahi in cilantro sauce, wild game meat loaf with mashed potatoes, or Cornish game
hand hen with rice pilaf for a second choice, and some tasty desserts for the third. I could have eaten any of the choices happily.
After I ordered, a large whole-wheat and fig dinner roll was brought to the table. I could smell its arrival as the aroma of warm bread filled my nostrils:
Soon my wild mushroom soup arrived. Okay, to be more accurate, a soup plate arrived with a small pile of sliced sautéed wild mushrooms sitting by themselves on the bottom of the dish. For a moment I was puzzled -- this was like no soup I had ever seen before -- and then the friendly and helpful waitperson poured a dark grayish brown liquid from a metal teapot into the bowl. It looked like this, only much more inviting:
Perhaps the best mushroom soup I have ever eaten. The sautéed wild mushrooms added a bit of texture to the creamy broth. The primary flavors were Portobello and wild mushroom, accented perfectly by the flavor of sherry. The wine note served much like a squeeze of citrus into a rich soup, complexifying the savory breadth of the overall flavor.
Soon after I finished with the soup, the main course arrived. I had chosen the game hen with the pilaf:
The pilaf was the star of the plate. The flavor was rich and deep. I could taste both the wonderful stock in which the pilaf was cooked, as well as the flavors of the grains. The range of textures was amazing. The white rice and orzo (rice shaped pasta) were soft; the wild rice and wheat berries were chewy; and the sliced almonds added a perfect touch of crunchiness. Some chopped scallions added color:
By the standards of a pho house this was an expensive dinner. But for fine dining, and this truly was fine dining by any standard, the meal was a bargain. And truth be told, I have spent far more than this at Sakura. Far more. Kirk will no doubt remind me that the meal would have been extremely cheap if I had drunk water instead of Pinot Noir (and The Better Half has a nice choice of bottled waters as well as tapwater). Oh well, if price were the only issue, I would be chomping down at McDonald's Dollar menu. :-)
The Better Half, 127 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92103, (619) 543-9340