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Aug 6, 2007 10:57 AM

San Diego's Best Kept Secret?

This is how Terra restaurant in the Uptown Center bills itself. And after dinner last night I'd have to say this is the understatement of the year. 6 of us - ranging in age from 19 to 90 - had an OUTSTANDING dinner there last night. I've eaten at Terra many times and have never been disappointed, but I think last night was just about the best meal I've had there and it was probably one of the best meals I've had all year.

We were celebrating 5 birthday's and trying to appeal to as many different taste preferences as possible, which is, more or less, how we ended up at Terra. No one was particularly interested in the starters, but we did test the waters with a couple of the salads.

The Grilled Ceasar was a beautifully presented quarter head of trimmed romaine that had been lightly charred and drizzled with roasted garlic dressing (yes, the dressing included anchovies, my sister asked). The plate was finished with some tiny cherry tomato halves and a crisp, parmesan enhanced puff pastry straw. The grilling and roasting highlighted the sweetness of the ingredients and the cheese straw provided a fun snap and counterpoint to the salad.

The House Salad arrived as a large plate of mixed peppery greens including arugula, endive and raddicio. Mercifully, the dressing was not lying in a pool on top of the gorgeous greens, or in a puddle on the plate. The greens had been lightly coated with honey and walnut vinaigrette and then garnished with mild gorgonzola cheese and honey caramalized pecans, providing a tangy, sweet contrast tot he bitter greens. At $6 and $7 respectively, the salads were a very good value in both quality and portion size.

Then on to the entrees, each of which was unbelievably good.

My nephew has a problem many of us would probably like to have. He can't keep weight on and is able to consume mass quantities of food and calories with no regret. His choice of entree was Achiote Marinated Flat Iron Steak. The flat iron was ordered medium and that's exactly how it came, still nice and rosy on the inside. It was plated atop a posole and nopal cake and surrounded by a well balanced mole negro. Corn, cactus and mole with beef, an inspired combination that worked in spades. My nephew, not being big on cactus (his loss) ordered a side of Yukon Gold mashers. I think the posole cake was a better match, but those mashed potatoes were pretty darn good too.

Two orders of Smoked Chicken Breast came with a salad made from heirloom potatoes that was pronounced delicious by my 90 year old aunt. I, however, was more interested in the mound of smoked tomato and guava chutney that came atop the massive chicken breast. If you like guava this is a great combination, assertive without being overpowering.

We also ordered 2 plates of Alaskan Halibut that was wonderfully set off by grilled artichokes and pencil thin asparagus as well as sun dried tomato ratatouille. However, the real eye-opener on this dish was the green tomato and ginger relish. It was the perfect foil for perfectly cooked fish.

Our last dish was perhaps the best, although I think that is open for debate. That would have been the pan roasted Sea Bass with Mango and Macademia purees, served along with curried carrot puree. On the menu it sounded a bit ont he sweet side, in execution it was anything but sweet. The color and flavor contrasts made this a table favorite.

We skipped dessert since we had done that earlier in the afternoon. All the entrees were extremely well done, nothing was over or under cooked. The accompaniments were well thought out and paired well with the protein on the plate. One thing that has always impressed me over the years I've eaten at Terra is how well they handle vegetables. Nearly every vegetable dish, whether side or entree, has been creatively, imaginately and intelligently conceived so that the vegetable maintains it's integrity, and that was surely on display again last night. The chef was in the kitchen Sunday night and it really showed in how well everything was done and the overall attention to detail.

Terra is located in an area where it's easy to be overlooked. It's easy to forget it's there, but am I glad that I did not forget yesteday. The 6 of us had a meal well worth remembering.

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  1. Terra and California Cuisine are two of the most overlooked restaurants in SD, IMO.

    1. The original comment has been removed
      1. thanks for reminding us of another great place in Hillcrest. We haven't been down there for some time and need to return!

        6 Replies
        1. re: daantaat

          I know alot of people go for just the food.. Im sorry.. With so many great places out there..I cant get past the decor..agh!! the flourescent wall sconces!! We have had nice meals there,but I would not go back. I like a total experience..well unless its a dive thats to die for...but then that has its own experience.. this is just blah..

          I do like ca cuisine.. always seem to forget about that.. and parrallel 33..

          harrys bar and Grille in la Jolla/Utc I like..becasue its consistent.. great food,great service.. and you can always get in on a Sat night!!

            1. re: peterboy

              Addresses for the office buildings across from UTC are all La Jolla 92037 and not San Diego 92122, as all the apartments around UTC are. I am unsure of actual addrsses at UTC mall.

              1. re: Cathy

                La Jolla is just a zip code. It is an annexed part of San Diego.

                1. re: oerdin

                  I know. I thought the question had to do with La Jolla meaning downtown LJ versus the UTC area...and that butterbutt meant the UTC area and not downtown LJ per se...

              2. re: peterboy

                UTC = University Town Center, which started out as a sprawling southern california mall and now is just short hand for the entire sprawl around the mall.

          1. "My nephew has a problem many of us would probably like to have. He can't keep weight on and is able to consume mass quantities of food and calories with no regret."

            That used to be me. Until I turned 25 I could literally eat just about anything and never gain a pound. At 31 I've had to totally change how I look at food and exorcize.

            1 Reply
            1. re: oerdin

              "Until I turned 25 I could literally eat just about anything and never gain a pound. At 31 I've had to totally change how I look at food and exorcize."

              this is probably true for most people!