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Feb 11, 2008 08:13 PM

The Better Half (SD)

My wife and I are always on the search for new restaurants for our high-rotation list. So far The Linkery, Café Chloe and Urban Solace are on this list. This Saturday we found a new restaurant – The Better Half.
The Better Half is one of the best restaurants in SD we have visited in a very long, long time. Everything is outstanding. From the ambience – you feel like you are eating in the living room of an old friend, to the great service and the outstanding food.
The evening started with a nice amuse bouche – a wonton with salmon and salmon caviar. As the starter we both choose the pork belly. Braised for seven/eight hours and finished with a aged sherry vinaigrette and warm mixed baby green, this is one of the best pork bellys we have ever eaten. As the entrees we picked the braised short ribs with cauliflower-horseradish mash, morel mushroom sauce and fried leeks and the duo of duck – two separate duck dishes. One with homemade pappardelle pasta and duck confit and duck breast with a rice pilaf. Both dishes were excellent and showed the great execution of the kitchen. Dessert was classic vanilla crème brulee and cherry bread pudding – both as good as everything else before. We also got before the entrees some mango sorbet and some complimentary brussel sprouts as side dishes for the entrees. We also like the idea that you can only order half bottles of wine which gives you the chance to test many good wines for a resonable price.
At the end of the meal we had the chance to briefly talk with Chef JohnRobert Kennedy and when we mentioned how much we liked the prok belly and we would like to know if there would ever be a chance to get some pork belly as a main entrée he gave us is telephone number and mentioned that we should give him a call before we come the next time to the restaurant and he would make us a special pork belly entrée – impressive service and shows also the quality of the kitchen staff.
We can only highly recommend to go to The Better Half and experience one of the best new restaurants in SD. It will be definitely on our high-rotation list from now on.

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  1. robaroni started a post on the better half on 12/30, which is how my wife and i ended up there for an early dinner on this past thursday night. we had the same amuse bouche and palate cleanser as you (we loved the basil oil drizzled on the salmon caviar). i had the pork belly and duck duo, she had the beet tower and nightly special of local thresher shark. the pork belly is one of the best dishes i've had in san diego, and i'm planning to order it every time we go, which should be fairly often. the mango sorbet was perfect after the pork belly. the duck duo was good, but it didn't blow me away. the shark (just read that populations are recovering in coastal california), however, was magnificent, and the accompanying salsa complemented it very well. we love brussels sprouts, and these were extremely well prepared. we didn't have time for dessert, so we can't wait to try it next time. the selection on the "wine wall" looks terrific, and the $5 corkage fee is unbeatable. also can't wait to try every entree on the menu. as you mentioned, service was first rate, and the chef visited several times to see how we liked things. the owner mentioned that they're getting a good number of customers who saw postings on chowhound and these boards really help in getting the word out.

    1. Had an outstanding dinner at The Better Half tonight. I had the charcuterie plate and my dining companion the gravlax. Both were terrific. The mustard/dill sauce with the gravlax could be bottled as an elixir. The lamb sausage on my plates was unbearbly dry and wasn't helped much by the delicious housemade whole grain mustard. The rest of the plate was excellent, and I loved the fried caper berries on it. Dining companion had the shortribs and I the pork scallopini. Once again, both were very, very good though we both thought the appetizers were stronger plates. The sweet potato mash with the pork scallopini was especially tasty. We split the bread pudding., this has to be one of the best desserts in SD right now. It's not heavy or dense and really packs a strong flavor profile without being overpowering or too, too much. Oh, and the French press coffee was quite enjoyable with the bread pudding. Service was outstanding as well. What a pleasant addition to the western end of University Ave. in Hillcrest.

      2 apps, 2 entrees, 1 dessert, 1 small pot of french press coffee, 1 half bottle of wine, tax and tip was just under $150 for the two of us. Worth every penny and more.

      5 Replies
      1. re: DiningDiva

        That is very exciting !! I cannot wait to try it. I have heard a lot of buzz about this place and it is definitely on my list now...
        By the way, I just got back for Las Vegas and recommend a place called Lotus of Siam... If you like Thai food, you will love this restaurant. Great food and extremely cheap wine ( Donhof Riesling at $45 a bottle !!! $65 for Domaine du Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf du Pape... simply awesome !!

        1. re: jaysurf12

          Lotus of Siam gets frequent mentions over on the SW board :-). I'm sure you had am excellent meal.

          Do go try the Better Half. The chef is a CCA grad (SF) who followed up culinary school by cooking at The French Laundry,
          Charlie Trotter, Daniel Boulard and Gary Danko. You don't often find that cooling background too often here in SD. The stops in all those kitchens is very apparent as is the whole approach to dining. There are good restaurants in SD, there are a few very good restaurants and then there is the Better Half which has the potential to go beyond being just very good. If they can pull it together over the long haul and capitalize on all their strengths and potential the SD dining scene should benefit.

          1. re: jaysurf12

            I couldn't agree more with DD - The Better Half might be one of those places for SD which pushes the level of quality, creativity and service to a new level. The restaurant just opened but it might be already one of the best (if not the best) restaurant in SD. You really should go there

            1. re: honkman

              Okay, I can now add my praise for the Better Half. We had gone for the Valentine's Day prix fixe and had found the food really uneven, but the wine pairing and service fantastic. I liked the people so much I didn't want to say anything negative without giving it a second chance, which we just did.

              First, the bad news. On V-day, it was insanely busy, and we were seated against the wall in the back on one of those rows of bench seats with chairs facing. These were uncomfortably close quarters, both for waitstaff trying to maneuver behind the boyfriend in the chair, and for the 2 inches between us and the couple next to us. They were so close they eventually just joined into our conversation.

              It was a special menu, starting with a raw oyster amuse. Ours were parfrozen, which was very unpleasant. My boyfriend called it an oystersicle, which is just as ooky as it sounds. Next course was a "Fennel, Crab, and Cardinal Sin Cheese 'Yozhik'" which was a ball of soft cheese with tiny Indian Vermicelli poking out of it like a hedgehog (I think "yozhik" is Russian for "hedgehog"). The little pasta spines were like tiny needles, and eating this was really uncomfortable. My boyfriend had a sliver penetrate his gum, I just had a sore mouth in general.

              The meal improved greatly after that. We had a stuffed pasta that was impressive and clearly made in house, with a Cotes de Provence rose sauce that was matched to our Cotes de Provence rose wine perfectly. (We asked the sommelier for guidance for all of the pairings.) I had a stuffed quail for my second course that was okay, I think quail just doesn't do it for me, bf had a filet mignon that was excellent. For dessert the already discussed bread pudding, which was huge and quite good though I generally hate bread pudding.

              So on to the good news. The service was so personal and sincere that we went back. The second meal was transcendent. We had heard you could call ahead for an off-menu fois gras preparation, so we had that for a first course. It was a lobe of seared fois gras, on a veal cheek, on a bed of lentils, with a chocolate truffled sauce (I can't describe it perfectly but that's the gist). The veal had been slow cooked, and was meltingly fantastic, the fois gras was the best I've ever tasted, and the sauce to die for.

              We then shared the pork belly, which is on the regular menu and as good as everyone has said. By then we were stuffed, but still ordered a main course. The pasta special and pork scallopini were highly praised by our dining companions...I had the short ribs after having read about them here, and they were the best I've ever had. The sauce was amazing, there were small fresh morels in it, the meat was like short ribs always are, only even better. I was in heaven even though I was too stuffed to really do it justice. The chef really does a great job with the sauces. They are unique and not heavy at all.

              After packing the second course into boxes, we had a cheese course for dessert, which was lovely and had a really nice honeycomb along with the typical fruits and nuts.

              All along Zubin Desai, the sommelier and I believe an owner, was our server and we asked him to choose all of the wines, which were perfectly paired. I have found we spend more on wine with the half bottle concept, because each individual bottle is cheaper and feels less like a splurge, but it was well worth it. A very clever idea for the restaurant. Overall though we spent below our average an upscale 3 course dinner with several wines. I think I have rarely been so pleased with a dining experience in San Diego. The chef works the house and came by after every course to see what we thought and to explain the preparation. I don't know if he always does that, but it was impressive.

              By the way, the food is fancy, and the ambiance is great, but it's not at all stuffy. It wasn't nearly as old a crowd we usually see at places like Winesellar, Cavaillon, or Market, where we are always the youngest couple in the room. We will be regulars and you must ALL try it! (though I don't think they're hurting for business).

              1. re: fauteuil

                It's so hard to explain why The Better Half has made such an impression. We were there the day before Valentine's and our meal was very good. The chef was saying they had a special prix fixe for V-day and they expected it to be insanely busy.

                To be honest, everything didn't work during our meal either, but the lapses were small and we were so darned willing to forgive those. Service was superb without being insincere, fawning or stuffy. But there is just something different that beguiles and enchants about this restaurant.