1015 Orange Avenue, Coronado
I love driving through Coronado, admiring the comfy million-buck family houses where they might shoot updated versions of old TV favorites... Leave It to Lord Beaver, say, or Sir Ozzie and Dame Harriet. But not everybody’s a millionaire there, so the new Leroy’s Kitchen is just what the island needs — a serious but casual, modern, middle-priced So-Cal restaurant that offers an alternative to the budget busters meant for Lord Beaver, various lightweight tourist eateries, or nice old neighborhood dives beloved of Navy personnel and our own Ed Bedford.
Leroy’s was opened in July by the team that owns Mootime Creamery, Village Pizzeria, and Lil’ Piggy’s BBQ. The restaurant’s decor resembles a miniature Cucina Italiana — lots of warm-hued wood, wine bottles along the back wall, and a spangly-looking bar with muted TVs playing sports. But the dining-room banquette seating is comfortable, with a convivial noise level, including padded chairs facing the banquettes and spacious tables. (Groups of five to seven have to eat at high tables and stools in the noisier bar area — what I’d call an example of restaurant sadism, since the dining room is smallish but not minuscule. I guess it works to segregate uproarious large parties from other diners, but if your knees are getting creaky, drop one friend or find some more, and reserve two ground-level four-tops.) Service choreography seems already…serviceable.
At the height of local tomato season, who could resist burrata and heirloom tomatoes? The magical cheese (young mozzarella with a colloidal cream center) came in a splatty mound center-stage. The tomatoes ranged from many-colored cherries to a vast, soft slab of ultra-sweet yellow beefsteak, looking and tasting like soft pineapple.
A menu section called From the Farm, oddly listed at page’s end, under (rather than over) the Mains, offers several other salads, including our selection, local beets with puffs of bucheron goat cheese, spicy almond brittle, and watercress in a vivacious lavender vinaigrette. Like the tomatoes, the beets were multicolored, with a generous measure of Burpee’s Golden, a hard-to-grow, gentle-tasting variety rarely found in supermarkets. The chewy-sweet brittle saved the combination from triteness (it’s been a California restaurant cliché for 37 years), as did that fragrant hint of lavender in the dressing.
Ahi crudo needed a livelier ponzu and more of it. The fish cubes tasted fatty, stodgy. A tiny mound of avocado mousse was, well, terribly tiny. (Do it or don’t do it; this blip’s so small, one of my tablemates mistook it for wasabi.)
The Charcuterie/Cheese Board offers purchased cured meats and artisan cheeses (two selections for $12, four for $20), plus pickled white onions, golden raisins, pickled yellow string beans, carrot slices, olives, and baguette toasts. The plate includes a room-temperature baked head of garlic sitting shyly on the sidelines, a wallflower likely to be overlooked. (If it is to be served, it should be served hot.) Our Serrano ham was silky, but the so-called Spanish chorizo was an anomaly, nothing like any Spanish chorizo I’ve ever tasted. The mound of deli-thin slices was spicier than expected or desired. A medium-soft Italian Tartufare (truffle) cheese was indeed speckled with black summer truffle dots. We also ordered a Coach triple cream, but discovered upon tasting that the kitchen had substituted Humboldt Fog chevre (another menu choice), fine but for the dismay of expecting rich cream and getting lean goat. The cheeses were served too cold (fridge temperature), but it’s still a good potential choice for a grazing dinner if you get the board early and let it warm up. Wish that we’d tried Figs and Pigs instead: bacon and fresh figs with Point Reyes bleu and pepper jelly.
We opted for moules frites as an entrée instead of a starter. I liked the fresh little twists in the treatment: Carlsbad black mussels mingling with skinned bits of merguez (North African lamb sausage) in a semi-spicy sauce of Moroccan harissa and roasted tomatoes, accompanied by a bowl of slim truffle fries dusted with Parmigiano-Reggiano. The fries won my fry-loving friend Lynne’s seal of approval. But the mussels were served all piled above their sauce, the meats shrinking and drying out in the air. No tablespoon arrived to let us dunk them back into the liquid, and our waiter was elsewhere; we vainly tried to baste them with emptied shells. My gently reheated doggie-box the next evening was better, the mussels having spent a full day rehydrating in their bath of complex, savory broth. (The merguez proved superfluous.)
Bacon-pepper prawns brought fresh Mexican Gulf shrimp, high-heat grilled, served in a sweet, spicy sauce based on diffused pepper jelly. Crisp clumps of bacon sat atop; roasted corn salad rode shotgun. But many prawns (mainly on my tablemates’ plates) were overcooked. The flavors brought me pleasantly back to a long-ago vacation at a low-rent Cabo resort; my friends, free from nostalgia and facing tough shrimp, liked the dish but less enthusiastically.
As at a steakhouse, each of the official mains comes with only a carbohydrate complement (corn as above, or a grain or fruit), no vegetable component — which undercuts Leroy’s official credo of “local, sustainable, fresh.” (You want veggies? Pay your $6 for a side.) Pan-seared scallops showed how badly this policy can work. The bivalves seemed from their huge size and mild flavor to be Baja manos de leon (“lion paws”), perfectly cooked, but perfectly boring, served with Israeli couscous seasoned with red-pepper coulis. The scallops cried out for a swash of lively sauce — or at least quartered lemons to squeeze on — and a good local-grown veggie, preferably something sharp and green. Less is not always more.
The Yelpers’ fave entrée is porter-braised short ribs over creamy polenta. I love polenta, Lynne loves short ribs. But, Yelpers, oh Yelpers, you so often lead me astray. The not-so-tender meat had a shreddy consistency, reminding me of cheap beef at my local butcher, meant to be stewed with brilliant seasonings into tortilla fillings. The polenta was no longer creamy but clenching toward lukewarm solidity.