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Trip report - Better Half, Downtown San Diego

j
jkfoodie Mar 18, 2008 06:11 PM

I visited San Diego last weekend, staying at the Omni in downtown, right by Petco Park. Based on the board's suggestion, my partner and I went to Cafe Chloe (awesome cheese plate and mussels), Cheese Shop (one of the best corned beef hash I've had), Pokez (good carne asada burrito - not the best but satisfied my cravings for a Californian burrito and I did enjoy the ambiance), Taka (treat to have such fresh hamachi and ama ebi and melt in your mouth toro) but the piece de resistance was the Better Half.

When my partner was making reservations for my birthday dinner at the Better Half, he found out that we could do a 5-course chef's menu. He told the restaurant that he was bringing a full-bodied 2004 Hermitage. We were quite impressed with the selection of wines -- I never knew so many wineries had half bottles available. For the first course, we were served pate drizzled with drops of pesto. We then had a soup that was an amazing blend of flavors and texture. A soup bowl with jasmine rice, raisins, toasted almond, cilantro and chili oil was placed on the table. From a small tea pot, a creamy pumpkin soup (with coconut milk I think) was poured over the dry mixture. I've never had anything quite like it. For the first courses, we had a half bottle of Champalou Vouvray 2004 which paired quite nicely with the pate and soup.

Then, we opened the Hermitage which was quite the treat (Chapoutier Monier de La Sizeranne 2004). The main entrees seemed to have been created specifically for the wine. We had braised sweetbread served on top of mashed cauliflower, surrounded by a very rich Madeira reduction sauce with capers. This was the first time both of us had sweetbreads (in fact we weren't sure exactly what they were until we looked it up in Wikipedia). The dish and the wine were a perfect match. We then had a 2nd entree which were veal cheeks served with French lentils with a similar Madeira sauce as the sweetbreads along with Hawaiian rock salt. Frankly, I couldn't really tell what the Hawaiian rock salt tasted like but it sounds interesting. The veal cheek went quite nicely with the wine but the sweetbread clearly stole the show in that the dish seemed to have been created specifically for the wine.

Unfortunately, as with all good things, the end came with bread pudding that had an obligatory candle (fortunately, I was spared the birthday singing that you hear in some restaurants). I'm not really a dessert person and I was quite satiated by the time dessert was served, nonetheless I enjoyed every bite that I could squeeze into my stomach.

This birthday dinner was one of those memories that you tuck away to come back to and savor over the years. Wishing you good eats and wonderful memories!

  1. Alice Q Mar 18, 2008 11:16 PM

    Thanks for the report and so glad you enjoyed yourself! The Better Half is definitely next on my list of places to try, based on your experience and what I'm hearing from others!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Alice Q
      honkman Mar 19, 2008 08:03 AM

      The last time I talked with Zubin Desai and John Kennedy they both mentioned that they are planning to start offering some kind of tasting menues soon. We went four times now to The Better Half and the food and service is on a level I haven't experienced anywhere in San Diego before. (And if you love pork belly you have to try the pork belly appetizer. We went to Thomas Keller's Bouchon this weekend and had also their pork belly appetizer but that was very disappointing in comparison what you will get at the Better Half.)

    2. paso_gurl_100 Mar 19, 2008 04:13 PM

      Thanks for that great report! Do you remember how much the chef's menu (5-courses?) thanks.

      4 Replies
      1. re: paso_gurl_100
        j
        jkfoodie Mar 20, 2008 06:10 PM

        The total bill came to about $200. This included a 1/2 bottle of the Vouvray which we had for the first 2 courses and corkage fees for the red wine and port that we brought with us. So the chef's menu without wine was probably about $70-80 per person -- very reasonable price.

        1. re: jkfoodie
          Paul Weller Mar 21, 2008 07:19 AM

          More details regarding the corkage please, such as cost and quality of stemwase.

          1. re: Paul Weller
            n
            nientefar Mar 21, 2008 01:40 PM

            The Better Half's corkage fee & policy is most likely the best in SD. Its $5/bottle! No limitation on the size or amount of bottles you bring in. Additionally, the corkage fee is waived if you purchase a bottle off their list or offer a taste to any of the staff. They offer a white, red, dessert and champagne stemware. Quality of stemware is pretty good. Its not reidel or anything like that but it does have a nice tall stem & big bowl.
            We also tried the chef's tasting menu, which was a foie gras amuse, sweetbreads, pork confit pasta, intermezzo, oxtail & dessert which was priced at $62.
            Our total bill for two which included a half bottle of champagne (@ $31) and tax was $168. An unbelievable steal considering the ambience, service and quality of food!
            BTW, the tasting menu is not available on Friday and/or Saturday. And you do have to call atleast 24 hours in advance to request the tasting menu.

            1. re: nientefar
              Paul Weller Mar 21, 2008 01:59 PM

              Thanks for the info. $5 corkage is awesome, and stem that aren't water goblets are fine. I don't like it when places have those tiny cafe sized wine glasses. Most of the time I will offer a tasting to the staff at a place if they show some interest in what I have brought. It's gotten the corkage fee waived more times than I can remeber.

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