Walter Mencken 6:15 p.m., Feb. 28
Good Eats and a Foie Gras Alternative at Gabardine
Unless you’re lucky enough to live in Point Loma’s affluent inner expanses, it takes something special to justify a rush hour traversing of the long, congested un-thoroughfare that is Rosecrans Street. Count a meal at Gabardine, Point Loma’s new modernized Portuguese fish house, as an experience worth all the frustrating stop-and-go.
Executive chef Chad White has brought all of the rarely seen sea fare treatments he made a name for himself with back at North Park’s smallish, tightly budgeted Sea Rocket Bistro, ramping them up to new heights behind the deep pockets of James Brennan and Brian Malarkey’s Enlightened Hospitality Group. The result is a menu that is creative, daring, and unlike anything in San Diego.
Like all of EHG’s restaurants, the bill of fare is extensive. Not counting items from the Oyster Bar, Gab Bar, Aged Bar, daily specials, sides or desserts sections, Gabardine’s menu has over 35 entries. On a recent visit, I tackled eight of them and came back with plenty of inventive and interesting dishes to talk about.
The most praise-worthy of the bunch is Black Cod “Foie Gras.” As I mentioned last month, the process of fatting a duck’s liver to produce foie gras as we know it will be outlawed starting this summer. This item from Gabardine’s Hot Bar will provide a delicious go-to for foie fanatics in need of a fix
A plump morsel of black cod liver—which tastes incredibly close to duck liver but with less of a tinny iron note and a slight fishiness that really only shows up in the aftertaste—comes perched atop a griddled piece of brioche that tastes like French toast. A gastrique of brandied cherries provides a nice sweet note while pistachio brittle lends some crunch. It’s decadent, rich, and every bit as good as any fowl liver I’ve come across. One of the best dishes I’ve had this year.
Each EHG venue offers its own version on two dishes— shrimp and grits, and bacon and eggs. Gabardine features two takes on the latter, and I tried them both.
The first consisted of a meaty cube of slow-roasted, honey-glazed pork belly served alongside an egg cooked for four-and-a-half minutes, then panko breadcrumb-dusted, and fried until crispy on the outside, yet soft and runny (it was so loose on fork-through, that there was even some loose albumen). A mustard green-based chimichurri (a spicy, herbal Argentinian condiment) adds acidity to cut through the unctuousness of the belly, its sweet lacquer and the egg yolk. Though heavy, there’s a good amount of balance, flavor-wise. That and some astute cookery is the key to this dish’s success.
Bacon and Eggs Part Deux was a salad with a cold halved egg over chopped asparagus and a mélange of lettuces. The bacon component is cured, smoked swordfish belly, which delivers all the salty meatiness of pork, plus some crispiness from being deep-fried before hitting the plate. While not as harmoniously balanced as the dish before, it’s a plate that’s worth ordering just to taste this rather obscure ingredient.
Another swordfish rarity is also available—the creature's bone marrow. It comes served in all is aquatic glory atop a lime round and lightly dusted with ground Espelette chili, on a block of pink Himalayan salt. The dish comes with instructions. They’re simple, bend down and suck the clear gelatinous mass in. Alone, it has a rather neutral flavor, but with the addition of citrus and pepper, it comes across a bit like a margarita sipped from a glass with a chile salted rim.
The last standout dish to leave a big impression was White’s signature ice cream, made from cream, sugar, liquid nitrogen and…wait for it…uni. Sea urchin roe is the base for this dessert, which looks a lot like pumpkin ice cream and even tastes a bit like it thanks to a vanilla foam and an icy vanilla granita. Those components bring the only slightly fishy-tasting delicacy back to the realm of familiar flavors. I was as skeptic as any normal diner when I first heard about this dish, but after having it, I found it amusing and delicious enough to crave as much as a scoop of rocky road or mint chocolate chip. Be sure to save room for yet another unique experience.
Gabardine is located at 1005 Rosecrans Street.