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Mar 2, 2012 08:39 PM

Red Light District / Gaslamp

Wife and I had an early Friday night dinner. Quick summary: cuisine spot on and really tasty and creative. Comfort level of the room, not so much. Service very professional. Prices for food and wine quite fair.

The whole concept is an anomaly in my mind and very confusing. Walking in, you're not sure if this is strictly a bar/lounge or if there's fine dining to be had. The smallish room is dominated by the sleek bar in the middle with mostly four-tops crowded around it on two sides and a few booths on another side. Not sure if the booths are for dining or bottle service; we weren't offered one as the first guests of the evening. Some red lighting and music too loud for dining contribute to the bordello motif. Just not a comfortable room for fine dining.

There's no mistaking the quality of the food. Jason Maitland (Arterra, Flavor Del Mar) is in charge and this young man knows what he's doing. We started with terrines of pork and duck garnished nicely with frisee, some flavored oil and plenty of toast. Delish, and a great starter for two to share. I had the grapefruit and avocado salad drizzled with blue cheese dressing and she had the shaved Julian apple salad with arugula, goat cheese and candied nuts. Both were perfectly executed, pretty and delicious, especially the latter, which was also huge.

Entrees: she tried an off-the-menu special of risotto with shaved black truflles. Jason himself presented this and did the shaving while the entire waitstaff watched intently from a distance. I got the lamb belly and rabbit cassoulet. The risotto had bold flavors, too bold for my taste but my wife loved it, noting only that the rice was undercooked by maybe two minutes. With the cassoulet I was expecting a single, integrated dish, but it was presented with the lamb belly apart from little black cast iron pot that housed the white beans with the duck. Jason countered the fattiness of the lamb belly (a cut of lamb I'd never had before) with a clever gremolata and some lemon oil. The rabbit/white bean mixture was heaven in a pot.

We live close by and will be back, but I just can't reconcile the "red light" themes and dominating bar area with serious cuisine prepared by one of San Diego's top fine dining practitioners. Certainly gives Chloe a run for its money both in the quality of what's served AND the somewhat cramped and low comfort level of the room.

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  1. The chef seems to like to eat at Cafe Chloe - for the last 2-3 months they are serving a cassoulet which also includes lamb belly.

    1. Great report mcgrath!
      Your wife's dishes sound delicious with the Risotto w/shaved black truffles and her salad too.
      Don't know about the red lighting, loud music and bordello motif as a place I'd want to hang out in.
      Maybe for a drink but not to dine.

      'somewhat cramped and low comfort level of the room'...words you don't want read about.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Beach Chick

        Yes, agreed. I love excellent food, but is really asking so much to also feel relaxed and happy? We ate at Urban Solace one night and were (at first) seated at an outdoor table, in the winter, between two large groups, in metal chairs, at a metal table that was rickety because of the uneven ground. I thought, are you joking? I was angry that I had to complain about what was such an obviously crappy, crammed-in table.

        RL sounds like it is geared toward the current crop of the majority of the Gaslamp customers, which is really loud, really drunk, overly spoiled kids. It sucks the OP and his wife had to withstand a weird dining experience to obtain interesting food.

        I miss the more quiet Gaslamp days when Fio's ruled the roost. sigh.