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Apr 24, 2008 11:54 PM

Better Half has the whole package- San Diego

Rule 1: Give me free food and I’ll be back.
Rule 2: Give me phenomenal free food and I’ll be back for life.
Rule 3: Give me multiple offerings of phenomenal free food and I’ll be sleeping here.

Somebody get out the cot.

Quaint quarters welcomed us into a cave-like glow where Chef John Kennedy swept in and out of the dining room, visiting tables and toting his sassy sense of humor like a favorite teacher where every student was his pet. The dinner bell had rung and it was time for class.

Lessons of the ‘Half’ life

Lesson 1: Half and half – Owing its name to the fact that they only sell half bottles, our forty-three dollar, Baker Lane (Hurst vineyard) pinot noir was worth every penny. A cask wouldn’t have been enough, so the half bottle didn’t come close, but their idea of pairing a white for the first course and red for the second makes for an excellent multiple choice. Allowing outside wine of any size for a five dollar corking fee also brings up the GPA.

Leson 2: Toast of the town - Is there anything better than an amuse bouche? This bite sized morsel of gratitude boasted a toasted baguette swirled with goat cheese, sundry tomatoes and micro-greens. FREE

Lesson 3: Beet feats - Not much of a beet lover, but along for the ride with one, the “leaning tower” of beets was sculpted in svelte architecture and though not my favorite, it impressed (and ap-Pisa-ed) me.

Lesson 4: Signature salad - I was skeptical when I saw strawberries, candied walnuts and fig vinaigrette. It sounded much too sweet, but somehow it all blended into a delicate mix with greens and bursts of tartness from goat cheese. All doubts dissolved on my tongue.

Lesson 5: Ice cream cleansing - Maybe the most important lesson of all, cleansing the palate. Miniature ice cream cones bearing lemon sorbet were inventive, practical and playful. FREE

Lesson 6: Down and trout - For extra credit, the pecan encrusted trout appeared on tonight’s specials with maple compound butter and herbed rice pilaf, bathing me in its sweet and salty afterglow.

Lesson 7: Tongue and cheek - As soon as that veal cheek hit my tongue, its tender texture floated down my throat. The aftertaste was potent from the savory, chocolate sauce similar to mole with a French flare (depth without overpowering), along with lentils that also softened the dish like a kiss on the cheek.

Lesson 8: The long and the short (rib) of it- Cabernet short ribs voluntarily shredded off the bone served with cauliflower and horseradish mash that had a consistency similar to a browned couscous. Veggies that taste like starch- I’m all in.

Lesson 9: Sprout-prise! - Sautéed and chopped, Brussels sprouts appeared like a tasty quarter pulled from my ear. FREE

Final exam: Brulee relay- We handed off the maple glazed crème brulee to one another, ending our well-rounded education with sighs of stuffed triumph.

They had passed all my tests. In a time where economic strain had most restaurants feeling the pinch, the Better Half’s dining room still bustled in calm reliability. Our waitress, Kelley, revealed that the menu would soon be revised for Spring, which only gave us more reason to study new courses here. Their ability to change with the times, maintain success in a plummeting market and engage the community through a chef that’s a “man of the people”, the Better Half gets my vote for the “Stove-al” Office with Kennedy as President.

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  1. I live close by, and have been wanting to go there. But every time I find the opportunity, I go on line, look at the menu, and remember that there is virtually nothing there for vegetarians. Of course the menu says that it is just a "sample" or some such thing. But still, if the idealized representation of the restaurant's offerings excludes vegetarian dishes, there's no reason to imagine that the actuality will be any more inclusive.

    So a question: Is there any reason that a vegetarian should go to the Better Half?

    4 Replies
    1. re: notjustastomach

      I'd suggest calling in advance, as in several days, and ask if they can accommodate you, I bet they'll do a great job!

      1. re: notjustastomach

        There's also getting ready to change their menu for Spring, so that might mean some veggie additions. I also agree with cstr- they are very accomadating and would probably whip something up for you.

        1. re: notjustastomach

          I feel the same, although its a little easier for me, as I eat fish. I asked the chef about it and he said he'd be happy to make something if you call a day ahead (which I'd advise anyway to get a reservation). I agree that its disappointing to look at a menu with so few choices for non meat eaters. My heart sinks every time I look at it. It would be nice if they could just have one vegetarian dish.

          I did have the quiche as a main course one time, that worked very well, as I had a soup starter and still had a bit of room for dessert. That, of course, depends on what the soup and quiche of the day are and the size of your appetite

          1. re: notjustastomach

            As cstr mentioned I highly recommend to call a day ahead and my experience is that Better Half will help that also a vegeterian will have a great experience at Better Half.

          2. We are considering hitting up the Better Half for a birthday dinner. I haven't dealt with a Sommelier in San Diego before (only in other cities)....what is the etiquette these days??

            4 Replies
            1. re: MrKrispy

              Unless they've just added one, there is no Sommelier - your waiter/waitress will be able to answer all your wine questions for you. Pretty spot on as well from my experiences. Happy birthday.

              1. re: MrKrispy

                Zubin Desai is the proprietor and sommelier of Better Half.

                What do you mean with "what is the etiquette these days ?" If you have any questions just give him a call before your birthday dinner.

                1. re: MrKrispy

                  The Better Half employes a total of three sommeliers in this tiny 30+ seat restaurant. As mentioned by "Honkman", Zubin Desai is the Advanced Sommelier & Owner of The Better Half. Irena & Elaine (the two servers) are also accredited sommeliers. All three of them are very laid-back and down to earth. As is evident in Ewilensky's comment. If they didn't tell you or you didn't ask, you'd never know about it! Their philosophy seems to be more focussed on your enjoyment and satisfaction as opposed to the traditional "upselling" and snooty attitude that you encounter with a lot of sommeliers or wine-know-it-alls!
                  Zubin personally tastes and selects the wines for his list. They are very laid-back about their corkage policy as well. $5 for a bottle!!
                  And yes! You heard it right! They are doing a "stressed economy" blue plate special. $15/person, three courses. Every night from 5 -7 PM. Thanks for the info. LaurenZ! They started this special last tuesday as a menu insert and have just started advertising for it. Better get there before the masses start showing up.

                  1. re: MrKrispy

                    great, thanks for the info. With the new special maybe we will go to the Better Half for a normal dinner this week and try somewhere else we haven't been for the b-day.

                  2. FYI - The Better Half is now running what they call their "Depressed Economy Blue Plate Special." Its 3 courses for $15.....yes I said $15 folks!! The deal is available 5 pm - 7 pm every day and is pretty great. We have always been fans of TBH, but at $100 at least per dinner we have been cutting back a little. It was a great relief to check out this special last Friday eat a great meal for 6 people for a total of $120 (we brought wine & the total included a required 18% tip).

                    You get a choice between salad or soup of the day, one of three entrees (pasta special, steak, fish special), and the dessert is always a different rice pudding.

                    We had a great meal, mine started off with a heavenly cream of mushroom served over chiffonade spinach w/a touch of some spicy oil, pan fried red snapper served over carmelized raddichio & onions and then topped with quinoia salad, and the rice pudding was pretty good also. Something about pineapple, almonds and raisens. Overall we will be going back as the food was great and SUPER CHEAP! I highly reccomend you take advantage of the deal.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: LaurenZ

                      Is the special advertised anywhere or is it something like an insert to their regular menu?

                      1. re: leanneabe

                        It's an insert to their regular menu. They haven't put it on their webpage yet

                    2. Had a great meal here in May. The best item they served was smoked ribs, and they were perfect. Great wine too, and half bottles are a plus because I don't drink more than that.

                      This place definitely stands out, and I hope they keep doing what they've done right.

                      1. It just doesn't get any better than The Better Half. Here is a letter I wrote to a friend when I ate there a few months ago. I've been there several times since but had to include this letter since we are talking about FREE and what a surprise! I was ecstatic, food, service, ambience and great people. Zubin is the best and Chef K, a dream of a guy.

                        I stopped by the Better Half for dinner after work. Oh jeeze, what a killer! I was the first customer of the night and was seated, without a res, at the same table we had before which I really like, Table 21. The place was filling up quickly by the time I left at 7 pm. What a meal! We are definitely going back, the sooner the better! After an amuse of yummy mushroom and pate on a crostini,I had mussels in a saffron, kafir lime and coconut broth for apps. And even though coconut is not my favorite taste, I swear I could have drunk that sauce. OMG!!! I had asked Zubin to choose a wine to accompany the mussels and got a fascinating lesson with it. After I told him I liked to open dinner with a fish course and dry white, he ultimately chose a Sancerre, light, dry and crisp as linen, too perfect with the mussels. I had my first glass which lasted through the course and then gave the remainder to the staff. She (Irene, whom Zubin told me was also an accredited sommelier or what's the femme counterpart?), said, "oh no, you can take this home". But it was so perfect with the mussels I told her I didn't have any mussels at home so she should enjoy it! That cracked her up but it was true. I suppose I could have scrounged up SOMETHING to go with it but decided against it.

                        I wanted Foie Gras but didn't give them the requisite 48 hours notice so instead I choose veal cheeks WITH foie gras (measured of course, to one fat slab on top) but a taste was enough. Divine. Served with some exotic lentils in a semi sweet sauce, side of tender, sweet brussel sprouts. So again, I asked Zubin to choose a wine and he went on to explain everything in the sauce and how certain wines would compliment it. He gave me a choice of about 4 different wines. You would really appreciate this guy's superb knowledge of food AND wine. Not really surprising considering his background but oh, such a charming and modest delivery. I was hypnotized. Finally ended up with a fabulous and really rich and unctuous GLASS of something forget what it was but most likely a port (surprisingly not just for dessert). How sharp these people are is amazing. He noticed that I had drank only one glass of DRY wine with my appetizer so he suggessted a superior SWEET wine to compliment the rich sauce of the veal cheeks (nice fatty ones, too...Oh, by this time I really thought I'd died and gone to heaven) and the fact that he also sold this particular premium wine by the glass. It was probably as expensive as a half bottle but by this time I would have done anything he suggested. I was talking to myself already. Jeeze.

                        Then came the dessert spiel and that evening's bread pudding used blueberries instead of peaches. Now I'm not crazy about blueberries either but I was in no way going to pass up this stuff! Ordered my little pot of french press brew and the pudding. It was glorious, girl. I ate about 3 bites and pushed it aside. She smiled when she asked me if she should package it up. It's then I told her all I needed was a cigar and she said she's see what she could do! They gave me plenty of time to digest and boy did I need it! Then out she came with a really good Cuban cigar on a plate. I almost fainted! I can't tell you how thrilled I was. On the way out, I passed Zubin in the courtyard and he smiled..I said that cigars had always been my dessert of choice and he said, "But, of course". Indeed, he said his dream is to eventually have a great humidor with cigars worthy of the place and a space where they could be smoked without anyone objecting. He said he'd tried it before in the courtyard but had too many complaints. Then I passed the chef before I got out of the patio and told him how much I enjoyed every bite. I was in total ecstasy when I left. As soon as I got home, I poured my little self a snifter of Grand Marinier and lit up, baby! I abstained from inhaling but was not,in this world, going to waste that cigar. It was really the piece de resistance. This meal goes down with a few others as the most memorable. I'd go back tonight but my experience has taught me that things can't be replicated at will and that the most important things in life are not THINGS...You were absolutly right in stating that this place has something nowhere else has. I still don't know what it is but it's fabulous. Now that isn't all...can you believe it? I had the bread pudding with coffee for breakfast and savored every morsel. I heated it up and added a bit of half and half. I never really considered myself decadent but am beginning to understand the true meaning of the word.I really did a good thing for myself. Usually if I really like something at a restaurant (like Lilianna's osso buco) it overshadows everything else on the menu and I end up eating the same thing everytime I go. But in the case of this place, I'd have to be experimental simply because every taste is an experience and I want to try it all! SO, can't wait for you to get back home.

                        Never would I have expected this act of kindness and if offered the same again, I would certainly demand it appear on the tab. Can you tell I like this place? Go there, enjoy!