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West Coast Tavern

2895 University Avenue, North Park




Around the middle of the meal at West Coast Tavern, I realized that I’m really getting into the gastropub craze. They’re multiplying in nearly every neighborhood, offering an easy way to eat out with friends (or solo) in a recession. The food is typically inexpensive but often creative and playful. You can wear whatever you like, as long as it’s street-legal, and order as little or much as your appetite and budget allow. These eateries let the diner do the driving.

At West Coast, we lucked out and even got to choose our table. The restaurant replaces Hawthorne’s at the front of the North Park Theatre but is apparently aimed at a younger, more casual crowd than typical playgoers or light-opera patrons. We’d reserved for a Thursday and been assigned an interior table — but it was next to a group that including a running, yelling, out-of-control wild child. (“Valium now!” I muttered. “Not for me, for him.”) And while the interior is dark and handsome in sports-pub fashion, we hated the blasting music, which sounded like…oh, no…disco! (Please don’t tell me there’s a disco revival! My hair, barely staying alive, won’t stand another bout of those tight, swingy Jewish cornrows I used to wear.) And we didn’t want to watch TVs tuned to sports, even muted. It took only a word to the server and — presto change-o — we scored a prime patio table with a cozy fire pit in the center, sheltered by an overhanging roof. (Tables without fire pits have heat stanchions.) Later, the DJ must have come on, switching to a more poetic, quietly agonized music genre (is that emo?) — it still played loudly.

Sam, Jerry, and I agreed about which dishes sounded best, and our server was accustomed to group-grazing, no explanations needed. We began with the very generous portion of five-spiced Jidori chicken wings. The Chinese five-spice blend was obscured by a sweet, tangy, sticky glaze, but still, it was a sweet beginning. Also sweet but more soul-satisfying was a quartet of hot bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with chopped nuts, tasting like spectacular, highly unkosher rugelach, minus the pastry. They came with a charming creamy dipping sauce based on mild goat cheese, with perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice and bits of other tiny, mysterious food entities. I loved every part of this combination.

A crab napoleon offered a trio of crisp wonton skins stacked with chilled Dungeness crab shreds, dressed in a mango vinaigrette, scattered with a few chopped green beans. Although two months too soon for prime Dungeness season, it was cute and fragile and vanished before any of us could pin down where we’d eaten a similar dish (happy hour at Mr. A’s, perhaps?). An ultra-healthy baby-spinach salad with strawberries (loaded with folates and many longer nutritional words) also seemed elusively familiar. Sam nailed it: it’s the signature salad of nearby Café 21, a terrific little Azerbaijani restaurant that does a better, more ebullient version. Here, the quartered strawberries, local but past prime season, were sour.

Then the larger dishes started to arrive. A plain mac ’n’ cheese is available, but you can also venture on the “chef’s daily creation.” Again, we were in luck: the du jour was blue-cheese based, with chicken and plenty of frizzled onions. This was not only a sophisticated change from the standard melted yellow and orange cheeses, but lighter, creamier, more interesting, especially with the exuberant textural contrast of the crunchy-crisp onions. It’s a new rendition a world apart from your mom’s (and Stouffer’s) and all the better for that.

Tavern Chicken ’n’ Waffle revisits the Southern favorite with partial success. The problem is that, Jidori or no, the chicken is all skinless, boneless breast tenders. (What happens to the good parts, like the thighs?) “This chicken is bland and dry — it has no taste,” said Jerry. What buys it off is that the unevenly cooked waffle, which includes bacon, is soaked with warm maple syrup. It makes everything on the dish and in the world seem all right.

Za’atar-spiced white shrimp are crusted with sesame, thyme, perhaps sumac, and something spicy. Dryness was the problem again — the shrimp were overcooked. Alongside was a pleasant citrus-touched mound of cold couscous garnished with a horde of cut chives, chopped parsley, minced hot red pepper, and hulled pumpkin seeds, along with a charred lemon. Alas, lemon juice won’t restore moisture to overcooked shrimp.

We didn’t try any of the four flatbreads but couldn’t resist the sliders. These are $8 for two sliders per order, but $4 more gets you one extra, and you can mix and match. The lamb slider with feta and caramelized onion jam, with garlic aioli bedecking the brioche bun, was the one that called out to us. Answering the siren song rewarded us with meat patties done to a nice pink inside, juicy but greaseless, with just-right garnishes. (The onion jam rocks.) For our extra slider, I chose the Niman Ranch pulled pork with “Abe’s famous BBQ sauce” and slaw on an aioli-garnished bun. The BBQ sauce pervading the meat was very spicy but lacking the sweet touch of the mid-South. A skimpy portion of slaw is on the bottom bun (and what good is that?).

The reasonable prices of the wine list made it easy to order by the glass, so we could each try our own first choice. Globetrotting Sam’s about to head off to Argentina, so we both started with the Aguijón de Abeja Torrontés white — big, sunny, a fine match for the food flavors, even the meats. Jerry began with an Argentine Malbec. It’s certainly better than Malbecs used to be (when I was there in the Jurassic era, even in Mendoza wine country, Argentines usually drank them with a spritz of seltzer) but still a tad tannic and macho. Sam’s second glass, Cab 337, was more mellow. “They’ve done a good job assembling this wine list,” said Sam, a habitué of wine bars, as is Jerry. “These are mainly about $10 retail, but they’re interesting to explore.”

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Comments

opassons Oct. 4, 2010 @ 10:33 a.m.

The parking garage is $5 all night. How on earth could you call that "pricey"? You know how hard it is to get people to use that garage? Couldn't you just put the cost and let people decide for themselves if it's too much? Also, did you leave before the music started? They have a live performance worked out by SD Dialed In (of Casbah fame) most Thursday nights.

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Founder Oct. 4, 2010 @ 11:05 a.m.

Adding to Reply #1

Naomi WI$E is infamous for her own patronizing snide style and to suggest that she submit other-WI$E is asking way too much!

NW's quote "Pricey parking garage behind theater, street parking painful but possible (better on weeknights)." gives no credit for WCT's parking validation program and her suggesting that patrons should enjoy taking up neighborhood parking instead of using the parking garage next door; is just a cheap shot to the Residents of NP living nearby (like "stiffing" your server), when you are also OK with "food-only costs were just $78 for three people overeating (and doggie-bagging several nights’ worth of grazes)"...

I suggest you enjoy your "white polyester suit" somewhere else where the matrons/patrons dress just like you do, the RB Inn perhaps!

Bon Appetite in your "doggie-bagging"...

BTW: Kudos to the Tin Fork, at least his reviews are factual & fair-minded...

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ncboy Oct. 5, 2010 @ 4:16 p.m.

jeez, give her a break - it's only a comment about parking. anyone have a comment about the restaurant?

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Founder Oct. 5, 2010 @ 5:10 p.m.

Reply #3

RE: "it's only a comment about parking",

get a grip; the good folks in North Park are getting slammed by folks like NW that encourage other folks to use the Residential Streets instead of parking in the Parking Garage right next door to WCT (which validates)!

That attitude is just plain cheap and NW deserves to be called on the red carpet for it...

How would you like folks to take up ALL the parking where you live most nights of the week?

BTW: THE SLIDERS & FRIES ARE KILLER, not just OK...

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Naomi Wise Oct. 8, 2010 @ 9:13 p.m.

My bad! Really! I used to bank at a bank branch on 30th St, but its parking lot was subsumed by the new parking garage -- and at that time, the parking fees were outrageous! (Can't remember if it was $8 or $12, but the price rivalled the goniffs (ladrones) of the Gaslamp. Stopped using that bank branch forevermore. Well, apparently they've lowered the parking price considerably (although still too high for one minute at the ATM) -- but the main thing is, I should have checked the current fee, and didn't, and also the validation data. I do have some excuses (would you accept 13,000 words due RIGHT THEN in a 3-week period because of the Restaurant Issue?) -- but still, I SHOULD have called to check, and to check validation policy.) Maxima mea culpa, and I'm sorry for people trying to park in your driveway.

On the other hand, I find the lamb sliders just very good (not "killer") and the pork slider so-so, and I don't care much about fries unless they're really extraordinary. As for my ironic reference to white polyester disco suits, you may be taking life too seriously -- and evidently, John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever" and "Stayin' Alive" came out before you were born. (Personally, I stick to natural fibers, haven't worn anything poly since the death of disco.) And since I'm old enough to remember those movies, I'm also old enough to have eaten considerably more "killer" lamburgers and fries over the course of life. Oops, guess I'm getting snide again. As the scorpion said to the frog as they crossed the river, "it's my nature.")

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Sheryl Oct. 12, 2010 @ 10:30 p.m.

This is a "restaurant review" for god sake. If you have a problem with parking -- tell it to your councilman!

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Founder Oct. 13, 2010 @ 9:40 a.m.

Reply #5 (+ sorry for the delayed post) Thanks, I've never read a "My bad" from you!

As for the sliders, I challenge you to a blind Slider taste test (lets both hope the FF's are worthy) and may the Best Slide-ee win...

As for your "Ironic Iconic" and and your ability to intuit someones age using "And since I'm old enough to remember those movies, I'm also old enough to have eaten considerably more "killer" lamburgers and fries over the course of life." I'd suggest you stick to your day job...

RE: "Oops, guess I'm getting snide again.", be careful or it maybe you that's (as Shakespeare {in Hamlet} used the now proverbial phrase "hoist with his own petard".

Bon Appetit

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Founder Oct. 13, 2010 @ 9:58 a.m.

Reply #6 I was tempted to say, "That is the funniest reply, I've ever read" but I feel that since you perhaps overlooked the slider comments about the quality of the FOOD that WCT (restaurant) serves, I'd let your comment "slide" and I'm not talking about burgers!

Now, to continue my reply to your comments about NP Parking and my Councilman, believe me he knows exactly how my neighbors and I feel, but that does not help get folks to respect others when parking!

Consider this as "Food For Thought":

The City of San Diego needs to totally rethink it's City Parking "Plan", as it is now outdated and poorly administered, most often without any respect for Residents.

  1. Since the folks that work as "Meter Officers" generate much more income than it costs to pay them why does meter enforcement end at 6 PM? This does nothing to enforce late night parking problems.

  2. Why should a Residential Parking District take years to implement, unless the City really does not want them? What is wrong with that picture?

  3. Why should residents have to pay huge sums for low cost decals to the City in a parking district just to get some relief from Business Patron parking in their own neighborhoods? Instead, why not have the Business's that are causing the parking problems pay all sticker costs. Fair is Fair, Homeowners should not have to "pick up the tab" for Business Owners Parking!

  4. Why should homeowners have to move their vehicles every 72 hours, just to park in the same spot in front of their own home? This also causes "stupid" pollution which SANDAG must correct in SB 375.

  5. If business's want "grow" why should they get to, without paying to mitigate the effects on nearby Residents BEFORE THEY OPEN THEIR DOORS?

  6. If you think parking is poor now, wait until the City adopts "in lieu" fees that allow businesses without enough parking to pay a fee instead of providing parking! Then the City will be able to spend the money somewhere sometime BUT it does nothing to reduce the Parking Blight for the Residents that live nearby...

  7. 100% of all the Revenue from all Parking tickets should NOT be put into the General Fund but rather used to fund bonds and build new parking structures; that way we will build solutions to our Parking Blight instead of making it much worse... while telling all "non rich" folks to use mass transit...

  8. All future parking structures should be designed so that the top floor can be used as an Urban Park when the space is available or not needed for vehicle parking.

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