Robert Bush 1 p.m., Jan. 31
Worldly birds at Finch's Bistro in La Jolla
Around the world in one meal
At the end of a narrow walkway tucked between two shops on Girard Avenue in La Jolla is a sweet little gem of a restaurant called Finch's Bistro and Wine Bar.
I first discovered Finch's a few months ago, during a tasting event. I'd expected it to be a simple French bistro, so I was surprised when I found the diverse flavor origins listed beside what was an eclectic selection of dishes. France, Japan, Rome, Portofino, South Africa were represented by mushroom pate, ahi poke wanton, stuffed squash blossoms, shrimp, and "bobotie" (I'll get back to this one).
My favorite thing about tasting menus is the opportunity they provide to experience many flavors in one sitting. The first dish carried small bites, each of them delectable -- the mushroom pate was served on a slice of country break with chives, balsamic reduction, and truffle oil (which, fortunately, wasn't strong; truffles aren't my favorite); the mini ahi poke wanton was a harmonious blend of ahi sashimi, asian slaw, mango, cilantro, onion, teriyaki glaze, and avocado; and the squash blossoms were crusted with panko crumbs, filled with herb goat cheese, and placed atop a lightly sweet and savory tomato coulis.
The next plate featured the contrasting "shrimp Portofino" (a grilled jumbo shrimp served on crisped slice of yukon gold potato, over which some lemon garlic sauce was drizzled) and the foreign sounding "bobotie." My man, David, had heard of the traditional South African dish, but this was the first time he'd had a chance to try it, and the first I'd heard of it. We voiced our curiosity as to why such an exotic item was on the menu, and learned that one of the owners was from South Africa. A sort of casserole, the bobotie is traditionally spiced minced meat with an egg-based topping -- this one was spiced ground lamb with peas, carrots, and bechamel sauce, served with jasmine rice with raisins and mango chutney.
David loved his bobotie so much I felt obligated to give him the rest of mine. I was saving room for dessert, particularly the "chocolate French toast sandwich," which was well worth the wait. I have no images of dessert, because it disappeared before I remembered my camera.
Because we so enjoyed the tasting, David and I returned a few weeks later to try out the dinner menu. I wish I had been warned about the portion size -- unlike the delightfully dainty tasting dinner, the serving sizes on a normal night were more fit for Big Bird than Mr. Finch. For example, when I ordered the squash blossom appetizer, rather than the two I expected, I received four of the cheese-filled, panko-crusted treats. Whereas the one squash blossom from the tasting night had been served on a spoonful of tomato coulis, the appetizer portion came with an entire bowl of it. It was as tasty as I'd remembered, but overwhelming. After one, it just becomes heavy.
David was excited to get the bobotie again, but he suffered the same fate -- the portion was huge. I ended up taking the better part of my entree home. I ordered the "meat and potatoes," or "naturally raised Angus filet mignon," which was served atop broccolini, grilled tomato, and "Finch's scalloped potatoes." The potatoes were incredibly rich -- they were smothered in a creamy cheese sauce. I'd filled up on the squash blossoms, so I only made it a few bites into the entree, which was as generous a portion as the appetizers.
We had plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day. Next time, we plan to bring friends, so we can sample not just more of the menu items, but also more of the interesting wines on offer (such as the Esk Valley sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, which had a surprising and pleasant jalapeño note).
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