Robert Bush 8:35 a.m., May 25
It was over a year ago that I sat in the dining room of North Park's Urban Solace and interviewed chef and restaurant owner Matt Gordon about his upcoming second restaurant, Solace and the Moonlight Lounge (http://www.eatatsolace.com). I was the first to interview him on the topic, which I found surprising since the estimated open date at the time was September 2010 and this Encinitas offshoot was already one of the most anticipated openings in the county.
September came and went. So did October, November, and December. Fast forward to this summer, and many were starting to wonder if the project would ever be completed. Then, just when I (and many other foodies) had nearly forgotten all about that pot on the back burner, I received a communiqué from Gordon that come the second week of August they'd be open for business. This time the open date stuck, and now visitors to Pacific Station can get their first taste of the next chapter in Gordon's culinary evolution.
"It's surreal to have it open after so long," remarks Gordon. Of the delays and the part his choice to venture into Encinitas played in prolonging the process, he says, "I looked in a few areas and thought we could have gotten this done sooner somewhere else, but something about the location felt right. I love that I can feel the train rumble by even when I'm on the line or in the walk-in refrigerator, the ocean breeze, the vitality that seems to be a part of this community. I wanted in!"
The southern-tinged comfort food crafted using responsibly sourced ingredients is what made Urban Solace such a hit in North Park. Rather than stick to that proven recipe, Gordon is providing coastal patrons with something different and more suited to his new stomping grounds.
"When we first started in North Park, there weren't a lot of people doing a menu like ours in San Diego, but as the economy worsened, it became the new motif. That's not because of us...we just happened to guess right! So, I've spread my wings a little bit and left behind, for now, the mac 'n' cheese and meatloaf and some of the other staples that you can still find in North Park," says Gordon.
"We are going a little more coastal -- oysters, a couple of ceviche type dishes, and three or four fish entrées on the dinner menu. We've kept a couple of NOPA favorites like watermelon salad, cheeks and pork belly, but we've got some new stuff unique to Encinitas [like] a grass-fed beef tartare and mustard-crusted local halibut with faro and toasted peppercorn sauce."
The upstairs portion of the venue, dubbed the Moonlight Lounge, features a raw bar with delicacies plucked from nearby waters as well as Gordon's take on cocktail hour fare. For the rest of this week, Solace will be serving dinner only, with lunch service beginning next week and brunch (something Urban Solace has been well known for for some time) starting up shortly thereafter. Solace and the Moonlight Lounge is located at 25 East E Street.