San Diego: EXY, Sadaf, Laurel
I recently spent a few days in San Diego and offer the following report on three dinners – EXY, Sadaf, and Laurel.
EXY is a new “chic Greek” place in Gaslamp. The dining room was pleasant except for the background music, which was a bit too disco-ish for my taste. The strangest aspect of the dining room, though, was its emptiness. I was there for 90 minutes without detecting the presence of any other diners. All alone – sad and eerie.
I ordered a bottle of the Skouras Mega Oenos. This was the only Greek red on the list that actually contained a native Greek grape – it’s an agiorgitiko-cabernet blend. The other two reds of Greek origin were a merlot and a meritage. The Mega Oenos is the flagship red of the Skouras operation and it was good.
They brought out tasty warm grilled flatbread with a kalamata mayonnaise, which the server insisted had a taste of blueberries. It was yummy, though I never did get the blueberries. I had a beet salad with aged feta, mache greens, sherry vinaigrette, and a skordalia in which the traditional garlic had been replaced by coriander – the spice, not the herb. Weird, but good.
For the entrée I had the roasted chicken breast, lightly filled with Halloumi cheese and served with braised horta (greens) and an anchovy/olive/caper tapenade. It was very good. I finished with the cheese/fig platter featuring Humboldt Fog, French feta, and a raclette. I am a sucker for Humboldt Fog and the feta was wonderful, but the raclette was so-so.
This was a good meal at a reasonable price in an empty restaurant. So what’s up with that? I know it’s new, but I wonder if the “Greek” appellation is doing more harm than good. Is it scaring away non-Greek patrons with visions of moussaka (which is not on the menu) but delivering a very watered-down and derivative experience for those who really want Greek? Hard to say.
Sadaf in Gaslamp, on the other hand, is Persian through-and-through. The wine list was mediocre and somewhat overpriced. I ordered a bottle of the Greg Norman pinot noir, which was serviceable. (For the record, the Greg Norman at Sadaf was a more expensive bottle than the Skouras at EXY.)
I started with the kashk e bademjan, the traditional eggplant dish. Their preparation was OK, but the toasted mint was finely chopped in oil and laid on top of the kashk, a non-standard approach that did not add to the dish. I continued with the adas polo, a chicken dish that was wonderful. The skewered chicken was cooked perfectly, and served with lightly grilled onions with parsley and sumac, grilled plum tomato, and rice with figs, lentils, and raisins.
I finished with faloodeh – rose water sorbet with rice noodles and lemon. Sweet, tart, cold, crunchy. What could be bad?
At Laurel I couldn’t pass up the olive plate, a warm mixture of picholine, kalamata, and halkidiki in olive oil and chives, which were fantastic. I ordered a bottle of the Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which was delicious and a great value. They brought out an amuse-bouche of chopped raw salmon with crème fraîche and dill, which was nice.
I ordered the Moroccan spring roll of minced lamb, served with tahini hummus, feta, mint, chive oil, and a dipping sauce of – what was that? – tamarind, maybe? It was quite good. I continued with the seared ahi tuna, served with a nice citrusy Israeli couscous, fennel, herb salad, espelette (pimento), and orange consommé. It was excellent.
Finished up with three cheeses, Humboldt Fog (again) served warm with a mushroom terrine, Italian Pantaleo with mostarda, and the Irish Cashel Blue, with a port-onion cherry-compote. Perfect.
Overall happy with the SD dining – no klunkers. I would certainly visit EXY again, should they survive. Sadaf was fine, but by far not the best Persian I’ve tried. Laurel is wonderful, but expensive.