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The lightweight of the dinner was Maine diver scallops — the real thing, not just another passable batch of dry-pack scallops like the kind I’ve been hitting lately. They were cooked ultra-tender and came with trumpet mushrooms, cauliflower, and a splash of emerald-colored parsley juice that the waiter poured around the periphery of the plate, turning it into a Fauve painting.

Spotting “herb and truffle-roasted chicken” on the menu immediately brought to mind the legendary French poulet a demi-deuil (“chicken in half-mourning”), a whole chicken with the breast stuffed, between skin and meat, with slices of black truffle — figure about $200 per person for that, if anybody still cooks it. The actual inspiration for this dish was something more homey: Judy Rodgers’s roast chicken at Zuni Café in San Francisco. It’s a brined, tenderly roasted whole chicken (serves two), with bits of black truffles poked into any spot they fit. (Blanca’s departing chef Wade Hageman left behind a huge supply of frozen house-made black truffle butter, made with fresh truffles.) It comes with lavender jus, orange-glazed sweet Chino carrots of many shapes and colors, and best yet, a pool of remarkable smoked soft polenta that turned us all into Hoovers. Quibble: Now that I know the origins, Zuni’s chicken-skin is crisper.

The desserts, designed by the chef, looked tempting but, really, we could eat no more. Bottom line: four courses that would easily feed five ran $200 for food costs (about $40 each). For a special treat, the chef tasting-menu for $65 doesn’t replicate any regular-menu dishes, and you get matched wines for a semi-reasonable $40 more. The main thing is: this is fresh and new to San Diegans. Many good chefs here are now doing “farm to table,” but the style at Blanca is different, not like anybody else’s. The Orange County Kid has picked up the seriousness and perfectionism of New York. That’s a long way from Disneyland — and from Legoland, too.

Blanca

  • 4.5 stars
  • (Near-extraordinary)

437 South Highway 101 (Beachwalk Center), Solana Beach, 858-792-0072, dineblanca.com.

HOURS: Monday–Thursday 5:30–9:30 p.m.; weekends until 10:30 p.m.; closed Sundays.

PRICES: House-made charcuterie (to feed about four), $13–$25; starters, $8–$17; pasta course, $16–$19 (feeding two); entrées, $24–$35; desserts, $9; cheese plate, $13. Five-course tasting menu, $65; matched wines, $40.

CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Inventive “farm to table” cuisine with French and Spanish influences, utilizing top global ingredients, Chino Farms produce. Huge global wine list with plenty by the glass and the half-bottle, ranging from well-chosen affordable quaffs to well-aged greats for plutocrats. Full bar, creative cocktails.

PICK HITS: Menu changes frequently; everything’s worth trying. Starters: charcuterie plate, roasted brussels sprouts with duck egg, any pasta. Entrées: confit of suckling pig, hanger or Wagyu flat-iron steak, black truffle herb-roasted chicken. Tasting dinner (all off-menu dishes).

NEED TO KNOW: Happy hours 5:30–9:00 p.m. weeknights; until 7:00 p.m. weekends. Valet parking $3. (Lot is small, crowded.) Casual-nice dress, spiffier on weekends. No vegetarian entrée, but easily made on request, as veggie treatments are thrilling.

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Comments

millerowski March 10, 2010 @ 5:52 p.m.

Thank you. Thank you. This cheers me up immensely! To Solana I will go (wish I had a posse). I just returned from Mexican Rivera cruise on which NONE of the food was good--even at the surcharge restaurant. (OK, the extra-charge lamb chops were decent and cooked-to-order (medium rare), and the chocolate volcano cake was yummy, but that was it! The best meal was in Puerto Vallarta on the beach!) I'll post another comment later this week when I will have partaken of the goodies you recommended.

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alyssa March 11, 2010 @ 2:03 p.m.

Glad you liked it too but had better service than we did there! (Cheers to the ebullient French waiter - we saw no one like that the night we were there). I hope Chef Neroni sticks around and that they are in fact cleaning up the front of the house. He is putting out spectacular food if only the service can match (and if the clientele doesn't force him to dumb it down, as your conversation suggests!). Am glad you went and reviewed it!

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