Ken Leighton 2 p.m., Feb. 22
The ritual of cleaning my plate
Ritual Tavern leaves no room for dessert...this time.
North Park's Ritual Tavern is both a neighborhood and Feast! favorite for their dedication to local beer and high quality food. Brandon Hernandez has kept us abreast of changes in the kitchen and, of course, Beer Week events. Ian Pike had a lovely brunch there while they were between executive chefs, and Elizabeth Salaam enjoyed the Gypsy jazz inspired Trio Gadjo, who plays there frequently. Now that new guy Kyle Bergman has been in charge for a while, I thought it was high time for a visit. Bergman's last job was as executive chef of The Grill, the casual eatery at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, so my expectations were high.
The dining room is warm and comfy looking, but we sat at the bar where we could chat with the friendly, knowledgeable staff and other patrons. Each time I've been there, I've felt like I'm having dinner with companions.
I was happy to see Lost Abbey's Red Barn Ale on the beer menu. It's a farmhouse ale (6.7% ABV) that's sunny amber gold, with a head as fine and dense as meringue, a crisp, bright citrus flavor and just a hint of barnyard funk. It's a natural pairing with rich holiday foods and savory winter braises.
John’s fish and chips ($15) were made with the fish du jour, pink grouper. Dressed in a light cloak of crispy batter, the big, butter-soft flakes of mild fish were meltingly tender. Fries were decent, but oddly, nearly all of them were only about an inch long. Also odd – the brownish lemon wedges, how did someone not notice that? Still, I only managed to snag a tiny taste before it quickly disappeared.
My choice was one of the nightly specials, a lovely Pekin duck breast ($21). The skin, crosshatched and seared crackling crisp over high heat, contrasted beautifully with the well-seasoned, rosy pink meat. A silky, rich persimmon beurre blanc was both fruity and completely savory, a welcome change from the sweet sauces that usually accompany duck. On the side, a generous pile of roasty romanesco cauliflower, all nutty and brown, topped with shards of crunchy, salty bacon. It was a perfect companion to the duck, the slight bitterness cut through the unctuous duck fat.
I enjoyed the dish so much that I finished it all, leaving no room for dessert. I've heard good things about the beignets, so a return trip is inevitable.
Ritual Tavern is located at 4095 30th Street in North Park.