Crispy BBQ Braised Pork Tacos (hold on, just what does “BBQ Braised” mean?) offered tender, flavorful pork in crisp corn tortilla shells, loaded with pepper Jack, avocado, and herb-lime cream, and topped with avocado and a garden of greenery. They were a great deal better tasting (and cheaper) than the tacos I had at Barrio Star a couple of weeks ago. Sole quibble: the pork came in lumps, instead of being torn into shreds.
We hit a low spot with Hickory-Smoked Baby Back Ribs, which proved nearly a joke, the ribs heavily smeared with a “Sweet Chili BBQ Glaze” that evoked distress around the table. The spiciness was just right, but the sweetness was beyond excessive and the texture was glutinous. We ran through all the BBQ sauce recipes in our brains. Not molasses. Not brown sugar. Oh, no, it tasted like Karo — the original high-fructose corn syrup! Well, at least the meat is tender, and the accompanying large, light buttermilk biscuit is exquisite, American folk-baking at its best. Plus, you get hot, moist towels to clean your hands. You’ll need them after you pick up and gnaw at those ribs, unless you’re fool enough to try and use knife and fork.
The Lynnester has a passion for Bolognese sauce cooked by other people — “Three days of cooking all those meats,” she said, “and in the end all you get is good spaghetti sauce! It’s worse than cassoulet!” I once tried making it (with Marcella Hazan’s recipe) but promptly went back to my old Little Italy (New York) neighbor Antoinette’s Neapolitan never-fail “gravy,” which only takes three hours. So we ordered the Fettucine Bolognese here. The pasta, homemade, comes in wide rectangles, slightly overcooked, in a subtly seasoned tomato sauce (I think I smelled a top-note of nutmeg) thick with clumps of meat — meats of various flavors, evidently ground after they were braised. The sauce is amended by little clouds of goat cheese, the plate completed by baby spinach. I still think I like Antoinette’s gravy better.
For those who want to move further downscale (e.g., the patio-bar crowd), the menu also offers a burger ($14, and for $3 more you get truffle fries), fish and chips ($18.75), and an ever-changing sandwich — currently a French Dip ($14.75).
Bankers Hill has a dessert chef, and the guys all wanted desserts. The only one worth mention is a butterscotch pudding, so sybaritic that the Emperor Caligula might have reveled in it. It’s topped with whipped cream, and the depths hold a streak of chocolate syrup. Happily, my espresso was delivered with dessert, as ordered, and it was good.
It seems odd that the neighborhood of Banker’s Hill, with its high-priced condos and million-dollar Craftsman cottages, should become a new hub of neighborhood-style restaurants (Cucina Urbana, Hexagone, Azuki Sushi, Hane Sushi, Barrio Star, and now this one). Our fellow diners didn’t look like plutocrats. Maybe this is the new dining neighborhood for nearby areas without many restaurants, or lacking enough restaurants where people feel comfortable with the food or ambiance. At Bankers Hill, you’ll be packed in cheek-by-jowl and forced to raise your voice to converse, but the menu won’t pose any major challenges. It’s modern American comfort food in a cosmopolitan mode — rarely thrilling but mainly very tasty and easy to enjoy. ■
★★★ (Very Good)
2202 Fourth Avenue, Banker’s Hill, 619-231-0222; bankershillsd.com
HOURS: Daily, 4:30–10:00 p.m.
PRICES: Soups, salads, appetizers, $7.50–$12.75; entrées, $14–$19.50; desserts, $7.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Seasonal American cuisine, sophisticated but simple. Huge international beer list. International wines, wide price range, plenty by the glass. Full bar.
PICK HITS: Heirloom tomatoes and burrata cheese; fried oysters; prosciutto and peach salad; duck confit; flat-iron steak.
NEED TO KNOW: Popular chef, so reservations essential. Informal. Currently no vegetarian entrées, but menu changes often. Fairly noisy. Service still has rough edges.