Region (SD); an off-the-cuff review
- Jim Strain
Di and I ate at Region in mid-December, and I should have posted a review then, when my memory of the details was fresher, but my *impression* of the place and the meal is vivid, so here goes. Please forgive the lack of specifics.
Region opened a few months ago, and we had read that it was Michael Stebners place; Stebner was formerly the chef at 910 in La Jolla, and Di especially was a fan of his. The restaurant is in the building previously occupied by Mixx (3671 Fifth Ave. in Hillcrest), and Ill confess that Ive never much cared for the space. Its nicely decorated, but the dining room (sort of at mezzanine level) is long and narrow, and to me, feels crowded rather than cozy.
The menu is printed up daily, so any specials are listed. Our waiter advised that if we wanted to be adventurous, we should order the multi-course Chefs Choice, which seemed like a great value, but for our first time, we both wanted to make our own selections from the menu. The reviews I read subsequently all recommended the Chefs Choice as the must of the place, so Ive been kicking myself ever since. Well, not really, because what we *did* have was fantastic.
We arrived early for a 7 p.m. reservation, so we did something we almost never do: We had a drink in the bar. Unlike the restaurant, the bar *does* have blackboard specials, so we had a cocktail of a champagne splashed with Chambord (the raspberry liqueur). Good, but at $8.50 apiece, it struck me as steep. Is that the going rate now? Like I said, we dont often do the cocktail thing.
Among the appetizers on the menu was fresh anchovy fillets. This seemed kind of bizarre to me, but I learned some time ago that if a really first-rate chef offers you an unusual or unexpected dish, the chances are it will be worth the risk. The appetizer arrived with these beautiful blue and silver fish (fresh, not canned) arrayed on a small plate and surrounded by pieces of cardoons (a seldom-seen veggie that comes in stalks and has a wonderful artichoke-like texture, and a mild flavor) from Chinos and garnished with tiny tangerine segments. We devoured them. We also ordered the house bruschetta, redolent of garlic and topped with (if Im remembering correctly) an onion marmalade.
Next was the soup, vegetarian butternut squash. It seemed like it was cream based, but the waiter said it was strictly a vegetable stock. I never knew veggies could taste *that* good. It was simply one of the best soups Ive ever eaten. Salad was a cool crunchy concoction that featured fennel (which my wife says Im unreasonably fond of) and which was also marvelous.
For the entree, Di ordered the roast chicken, mainly to get her hands on the mashed sweet potatoes (which I contend she is unreasonably fond of), but even I had to concede they were very good. The chicken was just...whats the word...Perfect, I guess. Crisp and flavorful skin enclosing perfectly cooked meat oozing with succulent juices. I had the big day-boat scallops. The only thing I remember about them is that they must have been good, because my overall impression of our meal was that it was terrific.
The wine list is a good one, and the prices are reasonable enough that you can try a less familiar label or region without mortgaging the house. We had a bottle of Scarpantoni unwooded Chardonnay, an Aussie wine that was new to me, but very good, indeed, and a bargain at $28.
For dessert, Di had Doughnuts -- tiny little fried donuts like my mom used to make in our Sunbeam deep fryer, on a plate drizzled with a fruit puree and a wonderful ice cream. I had the Panna Cotta, a very light, very lovely Italian pudding. Again, I dont remember the particulars, but I do recall raving about it at the time. Espresso woke me up for the drive home.
Excluding tax and tip, our dinner check was $107.25, plus the $17 for our cocktail.
To sum up, I still dont care for the room, and parking is a royal pain (as it is throughout San Diego these days), but with the super service from young, but very professional waiters, and the absolutely wonderful food, its a cinch well be back, and next time well have the Trust the Chefs dinner.
Jim, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my request. I think your memory served you very well. Your descriptions of what you ate were pretty vivid. Now I *REALLY* want to go try it out. I'm with your wife, I'm a fan of Michael Stebner and I liked Nine-Ten. For what you got and the quality it seems to have been, it sounds like you got a good deal on a good meal.
Depending upon the champange they were using, I don't think $8.50 for a champagne cocktail is too far off the mark. Based on your review, it's probably a pretty good bet they weren't pouring Cooks ;-).
Thanks again for the review.
I was forwarded your 'review' of REGION...love your style of writing and what you had to say about the food AND champagne. I'm friends (at work and out) with Pat Macias AND Gayla Pierce. We love trying new places and appreciate a 'thumbs up' review, such as yours, so thanks again!