Matthew Lickona 8 p.m., Dec. 17
9 + 2 + 6 = Yum!
PB’s Table 926 solves elusive equation for producing a complete restaurant
I’ve been writing so much about our vibrant craft beer scene of late that it’s been awhile since I’ve let you in on some of the eating I’ve been doing. While it’s incredibly fun and rewarding to give you the latest and greatest about San Diego beer, it’s a bit of a shame, because it’s taken me far longer than it should have to tell you about a restaurant I’m very excited about. So, without further adieu, allow me to expound on the virtues of Table 926 (926 Turquoise Street, Pacific Beach).
Just over a year ago, Table 926 took over the spot in the nether region between PB and Bird Rock that formerly housed the dilapidated Café Orleans. In doing so, they’ve updated the space into a lovely, inviting neighborhood eatery outfitted in dark woods and turquoise, a colorful nod to the street it calls home. Maybe it had something to do with the fact I was stepping in from a cats-and-dogs rainstorm, but rarely have I felt as instantly comfortable. It definitely had a lot to do with the friendly servers who, despite looking stretched having to service a rather large number of tables per person, come across as able pros with tons of positive personality.
What first attracted me to Table 926 was its menu. I do a lot of perusing online and this is a bill of fare that is consistently one of the most compelling in town. The dishes that comprise it are easily graspable in their outward simplicity, but gussied up to just the right degree courtesy of seasonal ingredients and touches from chef Matt Richman. Influences from Spain, France, Italy, and Mexico make standard proteins like chicken breast, salmon, and steaks interesting to even the most jaded foodie (i.e.—me). It’s my opinion that few things are as appetizing as a well thought-out menu, and it took me 15 minutes to figure out what I wanted to eat because everything sounded so smart and appealing.
Seeking warm comfort to combat the chill of the storm, my wife and I started with duck confit “carnitas” tacos wrapped in corn tortillas with queso fresco, and char roasted Brussels sprouts. The duck was perfectly cooked, coming across every bit as moist and succulent as actual pork carnitas, but what really sealed the deal for me were the house-made salsas. A smoked chili variety had nice smolder and good heat, but its tomatillo-avocado counterpart packed a spicy zing that livened up the upscale street treat.
Personally, I’m a bit over Brussels sprouts. I’ve eaten more in the past three years than during the thirty-plus that preceded that span. But, having consumed so many dwarfish cabbages, I can certainly discern a good one from a bad one. 926’s are nice enough, but some were a bit over charred for my liking. I’d have rather they been cooked at a lower temperature so there was less exterior black and less rawness in the middle. Still, with a salty vinaigrette made from Dijon mustard and white anchovy paste, and a bit of Parmegiano-Reggiano, it’s a nice take on this ubiquitous veggie. Next time, I’ll be sure to ask them not to skimp on the dressing, as the bowl I was served could have benefited from more of that.
It takes a lot for me to pass up pork cheeks. 926’s are talked about often and very positively by those in the know. But when presented a nightly special menu that included a wild game trio of roasted Guinea fowl, grilled quail, and duck-orange sausage, I couldn’t resist. Not only do I love these all three varieties of poultry, but cooking up small birds is a true sign of a chef’s skill. Richman absolutely killed it. The Guinea fowl was done through yet moist, the quail was perfectly cooked and so tasty I sucked every piece of meat off its tiny appendages, and the sausage tasted like a zestier condensed version of duck a l’orange.
The missus ordered pork tenderloin with toasted fregula, pea vines, roasted baby fennel, hedgehog mushrooms, and a blood orange demi glace. The portioning on that dish was mammoth. The pork was cooked just right—deep brown on the outside and pink in the center. And the mushrooms actually tasted like something. They were meaty and well seasoned, which is so often not the case with fungi.
If there was a shortcoming during the savory part of the meal, it was that the faro and spinach on my dish and the fregula on my wife’s were all extremely salty. Others I’ve spoken to who regularly dine at the restaurant report similarly sodium-rich food but, like me, are willing to overlook it because the cooking and flavors are of such quality otherwise. Still, it’s an easy thing to fix and I hope they will.
One of the most pleasant surprises at 926 was their pastry chef. A young visionary who’s worked at the Michelin-starred The French Laundry, L’atelier de Joel Robuchon, and St. Helena’s The Restaurant at Meadowood, Sherman Chan is putting together one of the most interesting dessert menus anywhere. Her endnotes employ flavor combinations that seem too disparate to work, and bring on textures that are way out there. I’ll be honest—some are money and some are not—but I have to commend her for her creativity and risk-taking. This, even after finding fault in her “Mad Hatter,” a scoop of Cara Cara orange marmalade sorbet, Earl Grey shortbread cookies, and apple syrup-poached cubes of white yam over a crumble of white chocolate created by roasting the white chocolate into a caramel consistency, then folding in non-roasted white chocolate and letting the mixture come back to room temperature.
Individually, each component is delicious, with the exception of the sorbet which was overridingly bitter due to the accidental inclusion of some pith, but together, the combination is a bit of a reach. Still, it was fun to have something completely new to me and her plating was thoughtful and gorgeous. A chestnut semifreddo with crunchy chocolate praline bits and a brown butter sauce that was absolutely bananas showed how much she can do with more traditional flavors. She’s certainly one to watch as is this restaurant, which is one of the most complete and comfy I've come across in a while!