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The Patio on Lamont Street

4445 Lamont Street, Pacific Beach

The Patio on Lamont Street in Pacific Beach doesn’t fit the mold for a good spot. The Jack in the Box across the street better suits the locale, not to mention the fact that diners aren’t usually in the habit of driving to PB to spend $100 on dinner and drinks for two in a midrange New American restaurant; especially one owned by a surfboard rental company. But, stranger things have happened, and the Patio manages to come off as a pleasant surprise. It’s biggest problem is that it’s too dark. Reading the menu is a challenge. The place looks great inside, with exposed rafters and all manner of Craftsman details highlighting a cozy, beachy inside-outside space, but the beauty hides when the sun goes down.

Get over that, and it’s a series of pleasant surprises. The wine list is pretty good, and the bar makes some proper cocktails that don't flaunt needless syrups, infusions, and other ingredients. The menu induces a bit of sticker shock ($34 for a steak dinner!), but the main dishes are both generous and tasteful. Braised pork shank ($26) insults decency, with its fatty heft and decadent marrowbones set atop a pool of cheesy, bacony risotto. But restraint tempers a dish of such magnitude. It’s not too salty, and the silky meat keeps perfectly well overnight as leftovers.

Swordfish ($28 as the catch of the day) gets a spicy achiote rub, and a bed of mashed potatoes and sprouts, almost as though it were a pork chop and not a fish filet. Splashing balsamic vinegar over the top will be a turn off for a lot of people, because sweet sauces don’t always work with fish. Still, the basic cookery is on point, and the menu contains less adventurous dishes.

Even digging through the small plates is a delight. Some are dull. Beet bruschetta ($6) is good, but boring. The ahi tacos and ahi/crab tower might as well have been yanked from the menu at a Yard House. Grilled Ceasar is done to death. But braised, Spanish-style octopus with pork belly and pine nut butter? Beautiful idea. Charred asparagus with pea tendrils, Romesco sauce, and a lemon vinaigrette? OK!

Then there’s the crab and potato salad, a church picnic side dish with a sly makeover. Crispy green beans hide out with tender potatoes, and a tasteful scoop of shredded and lump crab meat probably came out of a can or freezer (San Diego not being known for snow crab fishing), but, whatever, it was good. Chef John Medall has his cooks use restraint with the eggs, mayonnaise, and green garlic in the salad, and the result speaks up for itself.

The Patio must be doing OK, since a Mission Hills expansion is in the pipeline. Even so, driving down to PB from Hillcrest/North Park/wherever is worth it, both in terms of expense and travel.

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