Roseville (named for its first settler, Louis Rose, not a shrub) is a Point Loma neighborhood also called “the village.” It’s a bit out of the way but has such a distinctive character that going there feels like actual travel, a mini-vacation minutes from home. And now it has a serious restaurant of the same name to justify the trip — or as the Michelin Guide says, one that’s “worth a detour.”
Not far from Old Venice, Roseville’s site used to be a pizzeria, and before that it was — guess what? — a pizzeria. The renovated space is surprisingly large and airy, with well-spaced tables and booths, an antique copper ceiling, and a cool, woodsy, oddly rural elegance you might expect at an upscale resort in, say, Big Sur. It now plays host to a reunion of several staffers who were at Laurel in the period before Tracy Borkum bought that restaurant from Gary Parker and eventually replaced everybody. The owners are George and Wendy Riffle; George, a born charmer, ran the dining room at Laurel and, as a consultant, helped open Blanca and the Ivy. The chef is Amy DiBiase, who ran Laurel’s kitchen for a while and arrives at Roseville after a stint among the monkeys of Baleen. (Not live — just the decor theme there; Amy had a monkey embroidered on her chef’s jacket.) The pastry chef, Heather Fangon, is another Laurel alumna who worked alongside Amy on the sauté station there.
DiBiase’s maturing style involves evoking French classics but giving them fresh twists and surrounding them with spectacular seasonal produce. Take her asparagus salad. (You’ll be glad if you do.) It’s essentially the classic bistro salad of frisée, lardons and poached egg (and it does include a bit of frisée around the edges, along with watercress), but perfectly cooked asparagus dressed in truffled vinaigrette replaces most of the frizzy endive, and the crisp-cooked pancetta is even better than bacon. An exquisite poached egg, like a disc of golden sunshine, smiles on top of the greenery.
Herb-crusted albacore, in turn, is not your boring ubiquitous “seared ahi.” It’s transformed into a knockout (and normally I dislike albacore — too darn white for my taste). The thin seared edge is coated with dried herbes de Provence, strong on thyme, a nice change from standard black pepper with a sharpness of its own but also a deep, green dimension. On top of the near-raw, tender fish slices are salty, coarsely chopped Kalamata olives, while for contrast, the plate bears a thick slick of soothing, earthy shiitake cream. Combine a bite of fish with the olive tapenade and a dip into the silky sauce, and you’ve got a flavor/texture combination you’ve probably never experienced before. I found it spectacular.
Foie gras torchon (a round cooked by gently poaching in cheesecloth) is classic, but freshly paired with a slick of very sweet muscat cream sauce (sweeter than I liked, actually, but the Lynnester loved it) along with white peaches, and with hazelnut raisin toast if you want to spread your liver on it. (That reminds me to praise the delicious, crusty Italian-style table rolls from nearby Con Pane and the high-quality unsalted, spreadable butter.)
“What are gnudi?” Lynne asked as she read the menu. “They’re naked ravioli — the cheese filling without the pasta wrapping,” I said. “You’ll see. The g is silent, so they’re pronounced ‘nudie,’ like the old soft-core porn movies showing topless volleyball games.” They were cloaked in a marvelous fresh morel mushroom butter sauce alongside fresh peas with summer truffles. Although comparisons may be odious, I couldn’t stop myself from comparing them to the ethereal, float-away buffalo-milk ricotta gnudi that DiBiase’s onetime Laurel boss, Jason Shaeffer, made when he was at 1500 Ocean at the Hotel Del. These gnudi were pleasant but earthbound.
Our best entrée was a flawless duck-leg confit, with crunchy skin rising airily about the moist, succulent meat. “I’ve had so many awful confits in San Diego,” I mused aloud, “with flaccid, soggy skin, or else skin that’s burned and dried out over dry meat. But this — this — is true French-style confit. The crackly skin is the whole point of the dish. Almost like Peking duck.” It came swathed in a mixture of braised shelling beans, wonderfully intense rainbow chard, bits of applewood-smoked bacon (making the beans happy, and us too) and flavorful, greaseless duck jus. This was so good that when time came to pass the plate, Lynne had to tell her normally polite next-seat neighbor, “ Don’t bogart that duck, my friend.”
Braised Berkshire pork cheeks tasted oddly sexy, perhaps because of their deeply porky flavor and juiciness. Berkshire hogs are a heritage breed, slow growing, raised naturally and humanely as a premium meat and usually sent to piggy heaven at about 200 pounds, rather than the 300-plus pounds of commercial breeds. All these factors, plus the lushness of cheek-meat, could account for the appeal of the dish. But the meat was glazed rather too generously with orange-lavender honey, which is delicious stuff but a little overwhelming. This is a near-great entrée that needs better balance — I’d like less honey, more pig jus. Amy has heard other diners’ opinions and is still thinking about the best balance for the dish.
“What’s brandade?” asked Inta, a handsome, Nordic blonde (and fellow New York expat) joining the posse for the first time, as we were trying to decide on our entrées. “It’s salt cod that’s been soaked to rehydrate it, mixed with potato purée and milk or cream,” I said. “Let’s try it!” was the response. It came as a large, lightly breaded croquette supporting a slab of northern halibut, with whole-grain mustard crème fraîche and asparagus. Loved the croquette, but the halibut was overcooked to serious dryness. I didn’t think I’d have to specify, way out in untouristed Point Loma, that I like my fish “underdone” by Zonie standards. When I spoke with Amy later, she confessed to cooking it to the preference of all those retired Navy officers out there who demand their fish thoroughly dead. The default is “medium-well” (mine is opalescent medium-rare). If you want it done less, state your preference when you order it.