Larry Steckling 6 p.m., March 31
Slow Food at Saltbox
I don't know what it is about that little strip of Fifth Avenue by the trolley tracks that keeps me away -- perhaps it's the fact that whenever I'm visiting the area, I'm in a car and frustrated about the Downtown parking drama. Simply stated, it takes a lot to drag me downtown. Recently, I was given two good reasons to go to one place, located at the Palomar Hotel, which is right next door to the House of Blues on the impossible-to-find-parking strip. If I were a believer in supernatural shit, I'd say some force wanted me to be there that night, because I nabbed a spot on the street only half a block away.
I was there for an event and a meal. The event was Slow Food Urban San Diego's Holiday Mixer. There, I mingled with farmers, restauranteurs, and slow food advocates such as co-leader Candice Woo.
The mixer was held on a welcoming patio by the pool. There were drink specials and pass-arounds. I avoided most of the food, because I wanted to stay hungry for dinner downstairs, at Saltbox. So I sipped a cocktail out and made the rounds, catching up with old friends and making new ones. One chef, Jenn, commented of the raspberry and cucumber cocktails, "I hate to say it, but as a foodie at a slow food mixer, your cocktails are so out of season."
Fortunately, the food was in line with what's going around at the farmers markets. For example, butternut squash ravioli with pomegranate and curried walnuts.
Before David and I could get a table downstairs, we had to check out the restroom we'd been hearing so much about. It was a major gripe on online reviews, and even slow foodies at the mixer were trying to explain the difficulty and quirkiness of the mixed-sex bathroom. "The stalls are like light-cancelling vaults, and if you accidentally step on the one small, dim light in the floor, you'll be in complete darkness." David agreed that it was dark in his stall, but I had no trouble seeing what I needed to. And as I'm typing this, I realize just how gross it is to reference the restroom in a food blog, but you know what? I'm not taking it out. That bathroom is weird, and some people hate it, but I thought it was cool.
Finally, seated in the quiet, dark dining room, I ordered a real cocktail in a real glass (they can only serve in plastic by the pool). I got the Old Fashioned, with Maker's Mark bourbon and Luxardo cherries. It was so good I got another one later in lieu of dessert.
Because we wanted to try a few things and graze rather than gorge, we ordered three small plates to share. When David went for the bone marrow, I assumed I'd be having none of it -- I've got texture issues, and bone marrow seems slimy. I'd tried it a few times in the past, and each time I was not impressed. But David insisted I try this one, and I'm happy I did. I actually liked it. Kudos to Chef Simon Dolinky for helping me overcome my aversion. My world is that much bigger. The warm marrow was like salty, savory butter, spread on the lightly sweet grilled brown bread.
I went a little outside of my usual comfort zone and ordered the bay scallop ceviche, which was served in a glass jar atop creamy blended avocado and beneath cucumber and jalapeno granita. It was refreshing, and I loved the textures and flavors at play with each spoonful.
Finally, despite our server's attempts to steer us away from it because we'd said we didn't want anything too heavy, we ordered the "slow cooked brisket grilled cheese" rather than two additional items. The brisket and manchego with sauce piquant between slices of grilled bread was a comforting and satisfying way to end the evening. Well, that and my "dessert."
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