Blanca (SD) – finally a restaurant that is taking some risks
Restaurant Blanca was for quite some time on our list of restaurants to try in SD but we somehow never came around trying it when it was run by Chef Hageman. Recently Chef Jason Neroni took over the kitchen of Blanca and based on his very good background – recently Porchetta, 10 Downing Street in NY but also includes Spago, Chez Panisse and Alain Ducasse and named 2009 New York Rising Star, we decided that it was finally more than time to visit Blanca this Saturday. We didn’t really know what to expect and didn’t go with very high expectations but were extremely positively surprised after this visit and are happy to finally have found a restaurant in SD which is willing to not go the way of satisfying the mainstream but willing to take some risks in terms of flavors, ingredients, textures etc.
We were happy to see that Blanca is now offering a 5- and 7-course tasting menu which for us is always the best way to dine in a (new) restaurant. Both tasting menus are priced very good at $65 and $80. We decided to choose the 7-course:
Amuse-Bouche: Curdled egg with duck prosciutto served in the egg shell - Very nice way to start the evening. The duck prosciutto pieces gave the near liquid egg a nice texture counterbalance.
1. Course: Ocean Trout Tartar with pine nuts, pickled mustard seeds, quail egg yolk and pimento – Again an interesting texture with the very tender trout tartar and the crispy pine nuts and mustard seeds which also gave nice spicy undertones to the dish.
2. Course: Uni Custard with Lemon Foam – There wasn’t any average course this evening but this course was one of the highlights. Many people don’t like foams and think of them as chefs just playing around but here it was essential to have a sour counterbalance to the ocean-like taste of uni.
3. Course: Crispy Rabbit Salad with Kumquat Mustard, Baby Radishes, Onion Seeds and Shaved Fennel. As with many dishes from Chef Neroni here we again had a nice combination of different flavor and texture combinations – The meat slightly crunchy, very tender and with some sweet undertones, the kumquat mustard with a slightly bitter taste etc.
4. Course: Sushi Rice Risotto with Matsutake Mushrooms, Pears and Ponzu Sauce – An Asian take on Italian risotto with the mushrooms adding an umami flavor and the ponzu sauce giving it light citrus tone. The addition of pears was creative and delicious.
5. Course: Loup de Mer with leek, fig & potato gratin, torpedo onions – Very moist fish with a crispy skin, nice idea of adding figs to the potato gratin which gave it a subtle sweetness. The fish was served on the leeks as a leek puree.
6. Course: Braised Lamb with Kumquats, date marmalade (not 100% sure about it) and yogurt foam – Very tender meat which was again nicely balanced by sweet and sour components of the other ingredients (a theme you could see throughout the evening).
7. Course: Chai Panna Cotta with Cookies: A simple but delicate end of the tasting menu and it is good to see that it doesn’t always have to be something with chocolate to finish a dinner.
Overall an outstanding experience like we have rarely seen in San Diego with flavor and texture combination you normally never see here. Especially the uni course reminded us of a dish we would normally expect at Bistro LQ in LA (one of our favorite restaurants in LA) which even in a much more openminded LA is often criticized as too far out.
It was also nice to have the chance to talk briefly to Chef Neroni and discuss about his cooking philosophies and it was very clear that he will be going his way with food which will be novel to SD restaurants and he seems not willing to do any significant compromises. We really hope that he will succeed and bring some culinary novelty to SD but it is good to see that many dishes on the menu have often familiar main ingredients (e.g. Wagyu Flat Iron & Short Rib) which will help to sell them but are paired with unusual sides (e.g. marrow croquettes, mini kim chi, black garlic romesco). It was interesting to see yesterday how many other tables were so often surprised and skeptical at first by unusual ingredients and asked the waiters to know more about them but in the end all customers liked them.
We really highly recommend Blanca to everybody who likes outstanding food which you won’t in find every restaurant, we will be back very soon.
I don't know if I'd call that menu "risky". All those preparations are essentially fairly classic French derivatives or fusions with classic french cuisine in one form or another that are using not so common ingredients. You can definitely see an Alice Waters influence in that menu. The meal sounds pretty good though. Although the fish course (5) looks a little sloppy to me, it seems like maybe a good time for a revisit. Thanks for the update and pictures.
For SD I would definitely call this menu (and espcially the flavor components you have in the same dish) risky especially knowing that restaurants in SD which are not serving mainstream upscale food tend not to survive very long. Even Chef Neroni mentioned when we talked to him that he is aware that many of these dishes might be much more what most customers are use to in SD (and he mention that he eliminated one or two dishes from the menu which were "too much") but he is willing to take the risks.
And as I wrote I think his approach at the beginning is to have pretty classic (not always French) cuisine but with very unusual twists and flavors which will help him to get customers try things. That doesn't mean that he will get more creatrive in the future. He is changing the menu daily now and is especially using the tasting menus to "think outside of the box" (Some of the dishes from the tasting menu are not available through the regular menu).
Again, not very risky to me. Nouvelle ingredients to me
(farm fresh) doesn't seem very risky in this age of farm to plate dining. The pairings are fairly common when you consider the cuisines. Not too much ground broken to think this menu is a "risk" in any town, most importantly SD even by the self considered gourmands.