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Feb 13, 2007 12:59 PM

Recent trip to San Diego

I recently was in San Diego for a couple of days and got to sample some of the food. The highlight was to be a dinner a Laurel that the host said would be memorable; alas, it was not. The room was attractive, the staff friendly and well informed, but it could not make up for underwhelming food. I started with the crudo, which sounded much better than it was. I found the dish to be devoid of any real discernable flavor. I had tastes of both the foie gras and the pear and bacon flatbread, and while both were better than my crudo, there wasn't anything special about the dishes. Next I had the venison "sous vide, " which was much better than what I had previously tasted. It was very well prepared and tasty. Others at the table who had the daurade and the duck confit were not as lucky. The french fries and cauliflower side dishes were outstanding, as was the coffee. All-in-all, an unremarkable dinner.

I did have very good meals at Taka and Sushi Ota, with Sushi Ota clearly being the best of the two. I also had two very good dim sum lunches in the area, one at Jasmine and the other at a place I didn't get the name.

San Diego was great, but the meal to remember will not be...

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  1. It's amazing how many bad reports I've gotten on Laurel. The restaurant looks so beautiful from the outside that I'm tempted to try it, but I just can't get myself to do it.

    Nice to hear you made it to Ota. One of our best restaurants.

    5 Replies
    1. re: mangiatore

      I have not had a bad experience at Laurel, ever. Perhaps I am just lucky. Or perhaps I find my dinner companions more interesting and entertaining than the food!

      I will say this, however. Laurel is at the top of their price range and I think they are pushing the envelope with regard to the meal being a good value for the price paid. I am not convinced the kitchen has the talent to go to the next level that would make it really superb as it once was and justify the hefty price tags some of their dishes carry.

      While the meals I've had were well executed they stopped short of being truly great, and I didn't get the impression that the kitchen was capable of being really great. But in spite of that, I like Laurel and keep hoping that one day they really will get it back together. Through judicous choice it is possible to have a perfectly respectable meal there without breaking the bank. I've never had anything there that was inedible or really poorly done (as I have at sister resto Kensington Grille). Almost everything has been a delight for the eyes, but a few dishes always seem to leave me thinking "they could have done this better".

      The foie gras app in December was memorable, the pear and flat bread app was not, in fact it's the one dish I've had there that really didn't work for me. The duck confit in December was very good and the cauliflower sauce served with it addictively good. The fish entree was ordinary. The cauliflower side was disappointing, though it made a great base for macaroni the next day at home. These are some of the same dishes the OP mentioned. My experience of them was 180* opposite. Different tastes preferences? Different crew in the kitchen? Or indications of an inconsistent kitchen? Most likely a little bit of all three, but for sure the cauliflower side was not outstanding in December, but it was passable and the portion enormous.

      Laurel is without a doubt one of the sexiest rooms in the city and there is no better place for making a grand entrance down that sweeping staircase - and lest anyone forget, my diva self and my Manolo Blahnik's love to make a grand entrance ;-D

      The best way to go to Laurel is without expectations. Forget that it was once one of the best - if not the best - restaurants in town. Do not expect a "great" meal. Do not expect to be "wowed" (except by the room) , in other words don't set yourself up to be disappointed. Laurel is what it is - a good to very good restaurant that sometimes lives up to it's potential but (like our local sports teams) usually doesn't live up to expectations or potential. Every time I've gone to a restaurant with few or no expectations, I've been rewarded by finding a meal, or at least parts of it, that made me happy or allowed me to leave satisfied. And so it is with Laurel, when I've gone expecting nothing more than to have an enjoyable time with friends, a couple of nice glasses of wine and some decent food to go with both, I've walked out satisfied with my evening, food and all.

      1. re: DiningDiva

        DD - I agree with you. I went in with too high expectations based on how the host prefaced the meal. Laurel is a good restaurant that may have higher expectations then their capabilities. That being said, the meal, taken in its totality was enjoyable. I guess the quote in Zagat "the city's signature upscale eatery" is a bit of an overstatement.

        1. re: RICKO

          Maybe 10-15 years ago that was true, but it's certainly not the "city's signature upscale eatery" now :-D

        2. re: DiningDiva

          I think this is the best description of Laurel I've heard. I guess it can be read a couple of ways. It struck me as the same way I describe Sbicca and Meritage. I end up at both for business a lot and always have a respectable meal with warts - and the prices are at the point where you want it to be better. Same with Laurel. The problem is Laurel is, as you say, at the highest price point in the city (or dang close). That in itself demands expectations.
          Take, for example, the 5 course tasting menu. At Laurel it is 85/130 w/wine. At Nine-ten it is 70/110. Both menus are pretty similar. Which do you think is way, way more likely to be worth the money? If the prices were reversed the answer is still Nine-ten. I mean seriously, a couple ordering the tasting and wine is going to spend well in excess of $300 at Laurel. That kind of money brings expectations that almost everything is going to be perfectly prepared with the highest quality ingredients in an interesting way and presented beautifully. Is that very likely at Laurel?

          Come to think of it I recently had a 5 course tasting menu - that is a _black truffle_ tasting - at Cavaillon with 4 glasses of wine for $101 ($79 without wine). Now THAT is a deal.

          I do get your point that you can pick and choose and get a bit lucky and leave with three course done very well - the problem is you never know which courses those will be!

          For me, at the end of the day, once the bill creeps over $100 (for two) I don't want the plight of trying to figure out which entree isn't going to suck.

          1. re: rotochicken

            I haven't really ever had an entree that sucked at Laurel, but the Flat Bread and Pear appetizer was close. The taste of the daurade I had was good, but not great and the only thing that kept it being worth the price (and it was the cheapest thing on the menu) were that the sides were exceptional.

      2. I have been thinking of trying Laurel again, and I am wondering what you (or your companions) didn't like about the duck confit? Also, I'm not sure what you are referring to by daurade?

        I've had a couple of mixed experiences there myself, so I can relate. Sounds like your entree and sides were good at least though!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Alice Q

          Daurade is a type of fish, it's in the bream family I think. This is the fish my friend had in December. It was neither good nor bad; it was perfectly cooked but it could have been better, it also could have been a lot worse. There was a root vegetable mash with it on that night that was spectacularly good, better than the fish.

        2. I looked it up, and you are right, it's French for Sea Bream. Thanks!