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Blanca Review-- Lets keep this chef around!

Dined here on 6/4/10

Blanca has had its fair share of ups and downs over the last year. Chef Wade Hageman who was the Exec. Chef since Blanca opened left last fall. They then brought in Chef Jason Neroni who lasted about five months until he packed his knives and went back to New York. Blanca has now found an extremely talented and well versed chef that I think really knows and fits California Cuisine.

Chef Gavin Schmidt has an impressive resume. Working at highly rated Campton Place and was the Chef de Cuisine of Coi a 2 Michelin starred restaurant in SF. Most recently he was the executive chef of Nectar Wine Lounge in SF. There is no question that Chef Gavin has the knowledge and experience to really help transform the San Diego dinning scene. He focuses on sustainability and locally sources all his products.

Amuse Bouche
Clam, Cherry tomato, Cilantro Flower, Galia Melon

Perfect little bite. The clam flavor lingered on the palate well after being finished and paired well with the cilantro flower and melon.

1st course
House-Made Charcuterie

Country Lamb Pate w/ pistachio, pork rillette, duck prosciutto, smoked suckling pig prosciutto, blood & mole sausage.

Beer Mustard, pickled vegetables, toasted bread

I loved each individual component; the real standouts were the blood & mole sausage and the pork rillette. The beer mustard was not over powering and added a nice contrast of textures with the whole mustard seeds.

2nd course
Wild Ramps
La ratte potatoes, duck egg, jamon & truffle vinaigrette

The vegetables and egg were cooked and seasoned perfectly. The jamon melted in your mouth. I couldn’t really taste the truffle but nonetheless a successful dish.

3rd course
Pork Confit
Fava beans, maitake mushrooms, cocoa

This dish was one of the favorites of the night. The pork confit had a nice crisp skin with the meat being tender and juicy. The mushrooms were similar in texture and stood up to the pork well.

4th course
Uni Porridge
Brown rice porridge, uni tempura, carrot lobster emulsion

This was a very unique and original dish. Having the uni tempura fried different texture with the same deep ocean flavor. The rice being milled resembled a course polenta in texture. The addition of rau ram (Vietnamese cilantro) reinforced the Asian flavor throughout.

5th course
Black Cod
White almond gazpacho, chorizo, and clams

The cod was spot on. Melted like a butterfish with a crispy contrast from the skin. Chorizo was a subtle surprise that paired well with the potatoes and almond puree.

6th course
Long & Baily Pork, A day on the farm
Cauliflower, roasted baby root vegetables, long pepper

I like the playfulness of the dish and how he utilized the pork in five different ways. However, I felt being done in some different ways it ended up competing against each rather than complementing.

7th course
Bacon Wrapped Rabbit
Fava beans, spring onions, confit & tamarind glaze

This was the best rabbit dish I’ve had in a long time. It was tender, moist, and flavorful. The bacon added a nice smokiness and added for a great presentation. There was also a nice surprise of braised leg and liver underneath that brought everything together.

8th course
Tropical Fruit Soup

This was a light, refreshing dessert after a heavy meal. The coconut marshmallow had a spice from the long peppers that lingered in the back of my mouth. The basil yogurt spheres, was a nice surprise of textures.

The chef also sent us out a new dessert that he calls fizzy melon. He carbonates the melon balls, which has a popping effect in the mouth. Cool and refreshing.

This was an exceptional meal. Chef Gavins food with its surprising flavors and innovativeness surpasses all of San Diego with the exception of Addison. My only concern is the price point for the area, all the entrees are $25 and up. This makes it less approachable for most. At these current prices it’s more of special occasion spot then somewhere you can go all the time. If they could keep the prices at $25 and under it would open it up to more people and keep them coming back more often. Also when Chef Gavin starts doing tasting menus he should pair them with our amazing selection of local San Diego beers. This would be another great addition that not many places are doing. Either way I will continue to support Blanca and Chef Gavin and wish him the best of luck here in San Diego!

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  1. How much was the tasting menu ?

    1 Reply
    1. re: honkman

      This wasn't a tasting menu. Ordered off menu just had them course it out. My gf and I just share each course. Let's us try more things. The tab was $196 which included a martini and coffees and was before tip.

    2. Great report. Love the photos. Thanks for sharing!

      2 Replies
      1. re: Ed Dibble

        Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my review. I know it was lengthy but it deserved it.

        1. re: SDGourmand

          It is a great review, love the pictures. Thanks and we will be giving it a try!

      2. Thanks for the great review. Any word on when they'll start serving tasting menus? (although the strategy you and your gf used seems to work great, we have relatively small appetites and would probably only get through half of what you did).

        9 Replies
        1. re: shouzen

          Chef Gavin said that he needed about another week to have the menu completely done and then he was going to start working on the tasting menus. He will also being doing a vegetarian tasting menu. My guess would be around the beginning of July.

          Side note I've made a Gourmands Review page on facebook please add when you get the chance.

          1. re: shouzen

            Chef Gavin is now offering a Tasting Menu as of three days ago. We tried it Saturday night. $70 p.p. Also offering a Vegetarian version, same price. Both allow for a wine supplement at $45 p.p. I didn't know ahead that it was now being offered, so wasn't prepared and took no notes. From memory, the courses included a delightful veggie salad, Mexican shrimp in a gezpacho sauce, local halibut with, among other things, local seaweed, crab porridge with small pieces of battered crab, guinea hen that had been air-aged 3 days, the chef's signature pork five ways, an intermezzo, and a chocolate ganache dessert. Can be no more specific than to say everything was really good, with the guinea hen, crab and pork as standouts. Very friendly price for what we got, and there are 15% and 20% off coupons floating around. One is in the Del Mar races program.

            The bread served upon being seated was housemade, three varieties and as good as any I've ever been served in a restaurant. This chef appears to take very seriously the ubiquitous mantra of farm-to-table. He personally harvests the seaweed he serves. He purchases whole pigs locally and butchers them himself. Everything he serves appears to be made from scratch. Sauces and garnishes seem are an integral part of each dish, not just after thoughts.

            The wine list has a large, interesting selection of half bottles, which is something I greatly appreciate and wish more restaurants featured. Plenty of wines by the glass. Wine list well conceived; prices seem average to slightly above average.

            They're doing everything right at the moment at Blanca; highly recommended for those seeking fine dining with locally sourced products at a fair price.

            437 South Highway 101, Solana Beach, CA 92075

            1. re: mcgrath

              Do you remember how many course you had overall ?

              1. re: honkman

                Seven courses plus an amuse, plus an intermezzo.

              2. re: mcgrath

                It's not listed on the web site (the tasting menu). I did email the restaurant about a month ago requesting the possibility of them doing one with no response. Kinda slacking on thier part...maybe I need to call them.

                1. re: chris2269

                  Tasting menus are 70 for 7 courses. The also offer a vegetarian version.

                  1. re: chris2269

                    My take when a restaurant doesn't respond to an e-mail about a valid questions about their menu and I'm looking to drop lots of dosh..I say screw it..why spend the $$ when they can't even respond in a timely fashion.
                    It's simple business decorum.

                    1. re: Beach Chick

                      I agree with you.. I'm surprised they didn't respond.. They post a lot of deals on twitter and facebook if you follow them on that, they also put a 20% off coupon in one of the clipper magazine things that get mailed out...

              3. interestingly, I think this is Jason Neroni's menu - some of those same dishes are the ones we didn't like on our last trip! We sent back the ramp dish and the rabbit - the rabbit at least looks better here than it did then. It was extremely salty and rubbery in texture, and the ramp dish was a bowl of underseasoned green slime - presumably from undercooked egg. It was really unpleasant.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Alice Q

                  I remember the brussels sprouts with dashi broth and sous vide egg from neroni(pic below). I don't remember the ramp dish being on there but then again I don't think ramps were in season when I went. The rabbit dish was not rubbery at all. It was perfect! Nice connecting with you on facebook as well..

                2. Four stars for Blanca in the this weeks San Diego Reader..

                  A tiny, delicate amuse involved a bit of scallop with a tart pomegranate dip and other tiny things. There was an interesting house-made bread with a texture like cornbread, and room-temperature butter. Then the real dinner began

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: SDGourmand

                    I'm going to have to try their tasting menu.

                  2. Enjoyed a spur-of-the-moment dinner at Blanca tonight. I apologize in advance for the short report with no pics, but as it was a last-minute affair on a weeknight, I didn't feeling like taking pictures or notes.

                    Ordered 3 apps, 2 entrees and 2 desserts, and had the server course it out for us.

                    Amuse - pork and pistachio gougeres - really good, they nailed the lightness of the pate a choux, and the combination of cheese/pork was great.

                    1st - albacore sashimi - very nice, clean, balanced flavours. Especially liked the brininess of the geoduck that accompanied the tuna. The bite of tuna/soy salt/pickled radish was delicious.

                    2nd - roasted blue shrimp - sitting in a sort of thickened gazpacho sauce. The shrimp was cooked well and I liked it with the piquillo peppers that were also on the plate. Balance provided by avocado balls. Didn't think the almonds on the plate did anything - even texturally they were uninteresting and didn't contribute.

                    3rd - crab porridge - similar to the uni porridge dish described by SDGourmand, except with tempura crab, and also I believe some crab in the actual congee. Topped with a lemongrass emulsion. While tasty and comforting, I thought the dish was very heavy and needed some acid to brighten it up. Incorporating some lemongrass or lime/thai basil into the congee itself would probably have done the trick.

                    4th - oil poached halibut - loved everything about this dish except the fish itself, which was slightly overcooked and mealy in parts. On the other hand, the dashi broth + hand-picked seaweed (apparently the chef personally harvested the seaweed from the shores right outside) + calamari were exquisite. the sheer amount of umami made me swoon.

                    5th - pork, a day on the farm - served with a very tasty celery root puree and a leek/pistachio/cocoa "soil". Really, really liked this dish, and the variety of ways the pork was served. Housemade chiccharones... can't beat it. Crispy skin on the pork belly was also great. I couldn't get over how much the "soil" tasted of Marmite... I wonder if the chef snuck some in there...

                    6th - goat cheese semifreddo - another great dish. texture of the semifreddo was perfect. served with the fizzy melon balls mentioned by SDGourmand (and I think also some fizzy pineapple) and some melon granita. Excellent balance of sweet and slightly savory.

                    7th - roasted figs and donuts - this was actually the weakest dish of the night. Figs were fine... what's not to like about roasted figs at the height of fig season. Donuts were a big let-down... very dense and the doughiness made it hard to eat with everything else on the plate. Also, wasn't the biggest fan of the lemon gellan sheet on top.

                    Overall, very good meal, and we plan to return. Currently, the tasting menu is essentially items that are from the regular menu, which is why we opted to just order ourselves. Hopefully the chef will have a separate tasting menu once things get in gear.

                    1 Reply
                    1. God I love Blanca. After having dinner there last night I just wanted to remind everyone of it.

                      I wish I could spend a Day at the Farm every week!

                      (the sous vide & grilled brisket was also absolutely fantastic. And a pig-looking cupid fired an arrow in to my heart with the bacon donut amuse bouche. Wow!)

                      14 Replies
                      1. re: MrKrispy

                        The brisket alone is worth the trip. A taste and texture sensation. Sous vide + brisket = marriage made in heaven.

                        1. re: mcgrath

                          Don't forget the Still Life of Local Waters. I think there would be a revolt if that was taken off the menu

                        2. re: MrKrispy

                          Hey, we ate there the same night as you. Where were you sitting?

                          1. re: shouzen

                            in one of the corners, we had a bottle of wine and piles of pig parts.

                            I need to get up there regularly just for the Happy Hour, but I live near central SD. Man I wish they were down near me!

                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                You and Mr. Krispy may get your wish. Stay tuned.

                                1. re: mcgrath

                                  Excellent, I look forward to hearing the news

                                  1. re: DiningDiva

                                    Word in the Twittersphere last night via Chef Schmidt and Keli Dailey was this:

                                    "'We want a fresh start' - Blanca team will close the Solana Beach resto, drop name, move, reopen in a few months as a more rustic spot"

                                    1. re: foodie bride

                                      Thanks :-). Yummy, yummy I hope they can find a good location

                                        1. re: foodiechick

                                          I didn't find their priced very expensive for the quality you got. Their tasting menu was one of the cheaper ones in town. Actually I hope they don't go the "bistro-style" route with their new concept. There are already many existing, I hope they will find an interesting compromise between Gavin's creative dishes and trying to get a broader customer base.

                                          1. re: foodiechick

                                            Looks too too classy for me. (Pic in the UT article.)

                                            I'll make sure to make it to the next place.

                                            1. re: FireFlyFiftyFive

                                              I don't think that it's too classy or the prices are too high. It's more the location in the shopping mall in Solana Beach which most likely causes the most problems.

                                              If you look on their current menu most entrees are in the upper $20 and two above $30. Cafe Chloe, for many the favorite restaurant in SD in the "mid price bistro style" class hasn't got a single entree currently under $20 and so most of the dishes in the same price range as Blanca. Even newly opened Solace in Encinitas has entrees above $30 and I would argue that the cooking of Blanca is much more refine and a completely different level as Cafe Chloe and Solace (as much as I like both especially Cafe Chloe) but I haven't yet heard that Cafe Chloe is too classy or expensive.

                            1. Well hmmmm I am the King of bad timing..... Excited that they will be closer to me but sad that they are closing. I can't believe that people would consider it expensive based on the prices for mediocre/crappy food I had seen at steakhouses and places like Cheesecake Factory.

                              I was at Gordon Biersch for a birthday dinner and the steak entrees were the same price as the Blanca meat dishes!

                              Cheesecake Factory
                              2015 Birch Rd Ste 705, Chula Vista, CA 91915