830 25th Street, Golden Hill
My friend Audrey and I hadn’t been in touch of late and finally settled on a time to catch up. “Where shall we meet?” she asked. “I really just want to hang out but also have some good beer and maybe get a bite to eat.”
I didn’t hesitate: “Counterpoint. In Golden Hill on 25th between E and F. Five o’clock.”
Several friends of mine have essentially taken up residence at Counterpoint, a Golden Hill nouveau tavern, leading me to chew on some of urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s ideas about the importance of “place” in peoples’ lives. After “work” and “home,” the “third place,” as Oldenburg calls it, is often given short shrift, but it is where we find solace to get through our days. Oldenburg puts it this way: “The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people’s more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting for a home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends…. They are the heart of a community’s social vitality, the grassroots of democracy, but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the American social landscape.”
This is how Counterpoint has been conceived. It aims to be a “great good place” — a “place for people,” as its website puts it — and it is. Sporting a beer menu that features pints from San Diego’s craft breweries, along with a short but nicely put together wine list, Counterpoint gives locals that neighborly vibe.
Audrey and I chose a table under the bank of open windows overlooking the patio that fronts the tavern. It was a perfect, balmy late spring evening and the light glinted off the glassware. As we perused the offerings, our waitress, DeAnna, came over and greeted us. A notable aspect of Counterpoint is that the waitstaff remembers you if you’ve been here before and makes a point of welcoming you if it’s your first time.
After we got our drinks — Audrey ordered a crisp but strong Belgian ale from Victory Brewing Company, and I got a glass of Vinum, a piquant California petite sirah — we zeroed in on the food offerings.
We picked an excellent night to meet. Under new chef Fred Keller from Napa, Counterpoint has updated its menu. The old menu riffed on various pairings of bread and cheese — sandwiches, pizza, and cheeseboard. Keller has kept what worked best and fleshed out the offerings to include an expanded list of appetizers (“bites”), new salads, soups, plates, and flatbreads. We ordered the Meatball Pair ($5) and the Bean + Potato Pâté ($5) along with the Pain Frites ($6).
The two meatballs, perched atop crostini squares, were a succulent mix of pork and beef, pleasantly spiced and lapped in a savory crème fraîche–enriched sauce. The meatballs paired well with the Pain Frites, which are a bread version of blue-cheesy french fries. The “pâté” disappointed, however. It was underseasoned and reminded me of cold refried beans. But this was the only misstep.
Since we were indulging ourselves, we both decided to order salads to share before our dinner plates. Audrey got the Asparagus Salad ($9), a seasonal concoction of roasted asparagus, fried prosciutto chips, croutons, and a poached egg draped with a “Julian cider sabayon,” a lemony, almost hollandaise-y sauce. I loved the deconstructed eggs benedict aspect of the dish. The Marinated Shiitake Mushroom + Spinach Salad ($8) seduced me with its generous helping of bacon lardons. They complemented the fresh corn and balsamic vinaigrette.
Unable to stop, Audrey and I continued on and got a couple of “Plates” as well as a sublime Sausage, Shiitake + Cremini Mushroom, Chive, and Goat Cheese Flatbread ($14). Unlike pizza, flatbread downplays the cheese, so the ingredients stand out but don’t overwhelm the hearty platform. To accompany the flatbread, I ordered the Zucchini Gratin + Roasted Sausage ($15), and Audrey decided on the Beer + Apple Stewed Sausage ($15). Both dishes focused on seasonal veggies paired with homemade sausages. My gratin came atop a shredded potato roesti, which was a welcome departure from the pasta that often accompanies such dishes. Audrey’s red-wine-and-cheese sausage had been stewed with AleSmith Brewery’s X Pale Ale and apples, with mouth-watering success. We took turns gobbling up the rainbow chard that cushioned the sausage and absorbed its delicious juices.
Stuffed though we were, we split the Buttermilk Panna Cotta ($6) for dessert. Oh, my. The tangy pudding, flecked with vanilla beans, sits atop blackberry preserves. We resisted the urge to lick the plate.
I’m curious to see what else Keller will come up with.
As we were getting ready to leave, DeAnna came back to the table and thanked us for coming in. Given the gorgeous evening, open window, yummy food, craft brews, spicy wines, and the space and time we needed for a long chat, Audrey and I felt like thanking her instead. Counterpoint is a great good place, indeed. ■
830 25th Street, Golden Hill
Vibe: urban neighborhood hangout spot
Fare: hearty bistro food
Seating: patio, five tables and bar downstairs, four tables upstairs
Must Try: Asparagus Salad, Fried Bologna Sandwich, Sausage Flatbread