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Stone Brewery Bistro - disappointing (long)

We had dinner at Stone Bistro tonight, and I hate to report a negative visit, especially because it was our first time there, but I am surprised by the huge disconnect between the hype about this place and the reality of our experience. I guess partly because my expectations were high, I was just so let down. I had heard that they were working out the kinks, but still, I expected a good dinner.

We decided to go because we were up in the San Marcos area for a late day appointment with our two kids, and between the fact that my husband is a huge fan of Stone beers and I had been hearing great things about the food, we were excited to check it out. In the end, I'm glad we didn't make the drive just to go to the restaurant.

Here's a rundown of what the four of us (2 kids, ages 8 and 12, who are usually pretty adventurous eaters and 2 adults) had -

To begin, we shared onion rings and spud buds (mostly because we figured these would quickly satisfy our famished kids and I had heard good things about the spud buds). Unfortunately, these were both laden in oil, heavy and kind of gross. I'm not one to shy away from a little grease, but these were downright inedible to me. They also appeared within 5 minutes of placing our order and were lukewarm at best, and definitely not crispy or hot out of the fryer - instead, kind of mushy. The beer batter fell off the onion rings. They came with a strong, bitter-tasting dipping sauce that was served in a tiny ramekin, much smaller than the usual small ramekin size. Strangely, the size of the ramekin was way smaller than the size of the onion ring, which made it impossible to even dip the onion rings. Without spoons on the table, we wondered, why was the dipping sauce even served with the rings? Were we supposed to tip the tiny ramekin and pour it on the rings? As it turned out, all of us so strongly disliked the dipping sauce that we didn't care that we couldn't dip them. We joked that we couldn't imagine that there was actually someone who developed this strange-tasting sauce and then said, "Yeah, that's yummy, let's serve that." It really baffled us. It was so bitter; there was an underlying sharp, dark beer flavor to it, which could've been interesting, but it didn't work at all. The spud buds suffered from the same cold temperature, mushy texture and grease. Also served with the same weird sauce.

Next, I had the grilled trout, which was described, as I recall, as having a fig marmalade butter on it and served with mashed potatoes and green beans. Just what I was in the mood for. The best I can say is that the mashed potatoes and green beans were delicious. The beans were sparkling fresh and crunchy, just like I like them. The mashed potatoes were warm, a little garlicky and delicious. The fish was bland, bland, bland and also cold, which was such a contrast to the warm potatoes and green beans. The fig marmalade butter was not even on top of the fish, which was clearly why it was so bland. The fig butter came (or maybe it accidentally slid) on top of the mashed potatoes, which definitely did not need any more butter. It was a lump of butter, with a few dark specks in it that apparently were figs, but it lacked any fig flavor. It tasted like plain grilled trout, even after I figured out that the lump on my mashed potatoes was the fig butter and then spread it onto the trout. Looking for more flavor for the fish, I asked for some lemon, and the waitress brought me two thin lemon slices from the bar, like those that they would use to garnish iced tea. Based on an earlier conversation about my choice of wine, which I won't detail here, I knew that our waitress was very inexperienced, so I didn't pursue it with her. I just took the tiny slices and tried to wring out a bit of lemon juice onto my fish, but what I clearly needed were lemon wedges, not thin lemon slices used to garnish iced tea.

My husband had the spicy orange peel beef stir fry, which was served with brown rice, great broccoli, lots of carrot slices and jalapenos. The waitress warned us that it was super spicy, and suggested that we have the jalapenos on the side, but then she never brought them. We hoped/expected that this would be more than your standard imitation orange flavor beef dish, and it definitely was. It was the best dish we had, but still definitely could've been improved upon. It had only a hint of orange flavor, and was way too salty. It had some sort of overly salty soy sauce base. Still, the veggies were great, and the beef was of excellent quality and tasty.

The kids ordered off the kid menu (okay, I know I said they were adventurous eaters, but tonight they didn't see anything they liked on the main menu because many of the entrees are made with beer and they preferred something more kid-friendly). One daughter ordered the chicken/bean/cheese burrito, which was gigantic. She liked it but we all detected an unusual flavor in the black beans, which might have been coconut. It was slightly sweet. It was definitely not your typical chicken burrito, which can be a good thing, but when offering a kid's menu, I would think that they might want to specify any out-of-the-ordinary ingredients so parents of the real young kids (who might just refuse to eat it) would know ahead of time. My daughter thought it was okay, but only ate half and would not want to order it again. My other daughter had the spaghetti, which was made with fresh tomato sauce and had shaved asiago cheese on top and was basic but very well done and delicious. I started wishing I could have ordered from the kids' menu.

It would not be fair to say that it was a terrible dinner, but after my high expectations, I was so disappointed. It's clear that many elements of a wonderful dining experience are in place - amazingly cool atmosphere, architecture and grounds, top-quality ingredients, a willingness/desire to do stretch a little and offer something unusual, but all of that did not translate into a good dinner for us at all. Clearly, there were many others there enjoying the place, and I applaud what the owners are trying to do, so I genuinely hope that many others continue to have a better experience than ours.

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  1. I don't know how much you've read about the Stone Bistro on Chowhound, but there have been quite a few lukewarm reports. What gave you the impression that it had a lot of hype?

    4 Replies
    1. re: RB Hound

      Yes, there have been lukewarm reports, but mainly because of poor service and long waits. I have also read a lot of positive reports where people were excited about going, thought the food was great, and were wowed by the space itself. All that adds up to fitting my definition of "hype" - maybe yours differs.

      1. re: susan3733

        The food is always average to a little above average when we go. I know they recently lost their head chef to someone else. Last time we just had appetizers and drinks and everything was excellent. Basically, I go for the beer and we love the gardens. Im a Stone fan through and through though. It's one of those places that you never know what you're going to get from day to day. It may be awesome one evening and it may be disappointing the next. My main issue is always the wait. It's absolutely pathetic on the weekends. Last time we went they said there was a 2 hour, 45 minute wait.

        Right.

        1. re: susan3733

          'All that adds up to fitting my definition of "hype" - maybe yours differs.'

          No, it's just that when I see a lot of wowing about the space and beers, and a limited amount of actual discussion of the food itself, a red flag goes off for me. I was all excited about the place, but read post after post that pretty much said that the food was serviceable. There were comments about the people appreciating what they were trying to do, but there was little in the way to indicate that they actually were successful.

          And besides, after a 2 and a half hour wait, one is probably hungry enough that the food *seems* better than it is. :)

          Edit: just so that I don't sound like an ungrateful nitpicker, I appreciate your report. A lot of the reports on Stone were in their first few months, and it would be easy to dismiss those as "growing pains". Your experience seems to indicate that little has changed.

          I always thought that the Bistro concept was an odd choice, especially when in an Escondido industrial park overlooking a shiny new power plant (had they had space on Grand Avenue, that would be one thing, but...). I guess they didn't want to be the Stone version of Oggi's, and I respect their choice. Still, if there really still are 2 hour waits, then that is some measure of "success".

          1. re: susan3733

            If you search for previous threads, you will find that I and a number of other posters expressed profound disappointment with the food there, with specific mention that it seems odd that Stone's beers are so flavorful, yet the food at the bistro is so bland.

        2. The bitter sauce was probably made with the beer and had tons of hops in it. For some reason, a lot of American Microbreweries are going insane with hops. A lot of guys out there are "hop heads" and want more more more. These are the same type of people who insist on super hot food without insisting on it being properly flavored. They want to prove how much they can take. Hot vindaloo is good, if there is more to the dish than hot. These people put Dave's on hot cheetos and feel like they're gods

          I think they feel they can"take the hop" and it makes them somehow super manly beer king.

          Me, I find super hops disgusting. I like a nice, balanced IPA now and again, but if there are tons of hops without enough malt to balance it out in any beer, bleh! If I wanted a mouthfull of cascade, I'd go chew on the vine or stik my head in the hop fridge at The Home Beer Wine and Cheese Shop

          I can't stand Stone's beer, and I hate the attitude that goes with it. "arrogant bastard" is right.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Diana

            Don't mince words Diana, tell us how you really feel! ;-)

            While I'm not a huge hop-head, I think Stone makes some good beers, though my favorites aren't the hop monsters. I think their Smoked Porter is quite nice, and their IPA has the attributes you mention - nice floral hop character with a good malt balance. I also really enjoy the taste of their Levitation.

            1. re: Josh

              I share your distaste for uber-hopped beers. So do any of you know a good place to get a nice, smooth pilsner or lager in San Diego, particularly one brewed in California?

              1. re: guide boy

                Gordon Biersch in Mission Valley.

                1. re: guide boy

                  Pizza Port has their Amigo Lager, quite tasty. Great place to have some pizza and beer if you don't mind a bunch of kids running around.

                  1. re: guide boy

                    If you want to support local brewing (please do!) but don't like San Diego's signature uber-hoppy style, please seek out beers from Poway's Lightning Brewery, absolutely beautiful German style lagers, or the new Mission Brewery in Miami Grill in UTC, who took a couple awards at the Great American Beer Fest just months after they opened, again for German style lagers. AleSmith also makes some great moderately hopped beers (try L'il Devil, Grand Cru or Anvil), and even Stone occasionally makes something not so hoppy, like Vertical Epic 07.07.07. Pizza Port makes an endless variety of styles, many are hoppy but certainly not all. If you like sour beers Alpine's Ichabod Ale was a great local beer without much hopping. In short, there's lots of great San Diego beers even if you're not a hop head.

                    1. re: guide boy

                      Callahan's in Mira Mesa has a about 7 or 8 brews that they make ranging from light to dark and non-hoppy to extreme-hoppy. They also offer a bunch of other local breweries selections and a few IPA'S as well. If you eat you have to have the Guinness Gravy.

                      1. re: sd4life

                        Also San Diego Brewing Company on Friars/Mission Gorge is the same ownership and menu as Callaghan's

                        1. re: Cathy

                          I've been there a couple times but never new they were part of the same company...Thanks for letting me know that.

                          Rich.

                2. I didnt like their onion rings either.. i thought they tasted burnt.. even without the yucky sauce.. We left most..Ours were crunchy though.. I LOVE onion rings.. I was so ready to love them.. I do like their BLT..but no diet coke!! a travesty!!!!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: butterbutt

                    We are not fans of Diet Coke, but my daughter loves a good root beer, and Stone Bistro serves a wonderful one...wish I could remember the brand. I think it started with an "H"...maybe someone knows.

                  2. I should point out that if anyone is even remotely nervous about a beer bitter dish stay away from the beer cheese soup! Interesting but it completely blows out your taste buds for the rest of the meal.

                    1. I heard from a' reliable source' that even at the Alesmith Brewmaster's dinner, the Bistro couldn't get it together.

                      Their comments on the evening were "okay food, horrendous service". You'd think that for a super special event, it would be different than the regular service. But I guess not. That's a shame.

                      I had been looking forward to trying this place, but all of the Chowhound comments (and others I have heard) have convinced me that it's not worth the time. It could have been great!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: ekomega

                        You're brushing it off based on a few experiences?? Don't follow the masses, you may love it. In many ways, I do.

                        1. re: ekomega

                          I wouldn't take others' word for it. I've found it to be a generally good experience, but I also don't go during problem hours. When it's busy, the service suffers.

                          My suggestion is to go on Saturday or Sunday, early in the day, or mid-week for an early dinner.

                          1. re: ekomega

                            You know, I'm not wild about it, but if you're curious, give it a go. My experience may not be yours, sometimes service can vary wildly.

                            Please, give it a go!

                          2. Love the beer and the setting but the food is in dire need of a chef that knows how to cook.
                            Just my humble opinion.

                            1. We have been there a few times and my fav so far is the burger with Asiago cheese and kimchi. I do not care much for the ciabatta as the bun but the meat, cheese , kimchi combo is great. we like the atmosphere and the last 4-5 times we have gone on SUnday afternoons. Great place for my 21 mo to run around. Oh...they serve a great tart and cloudy apple juice.

                              1. My experience was "just ok" too. Granted, Escondido isn't necessarily known for its food and the locals probably think it's good (no offense locals - I used to live there too) but still...for the price and cool environment, I expected more. Stick with the beer.

                                1. One of my issues is that they try to be too different. No fries...come on!! We are locals and there are not many choices around but the place is decent but not fantastic.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Ela0427

                                    Vive la difference!

                                    I think the Spud Buds are an awesome alternative to french fries.

                                  2. I love Stone beer, I love the concept, I love the effort to be different, love the refusal to sell Diet Coke, love the local and organic produce, but...I also was dissappointed in the food. I sincerely hope they pull it together and improve the cuisine so I can enjoy the beautiful building, gardens and concept with a great meal.