I was lucky to start with the best entrée, braised short-ribs — not sublime, but tender and edible, accompanied by my favorite healthy fake-starch, mashed celery root (most likely mixed with a majority of potato and definitely with enough dairy to enrich it), plus a pleasant, crispy shallot persillade (sautéed shallots blasted with a confetti of minced flat-leaf parsley). When Lynne got it, she noticed its flaw: “This chef underseasons everything!” She proceeded to compare and contrast the admirable short-ribs she’d recently adored at Quarter Kitchen’s “early-bird” prix-fixe. I passed her the salt-shaker, but some foods — meats, especially — need salting early, during cooking, not just at the table.
A vegetarian assembly of seasonal grilled and roasted vegetables encompassed zucchini, yellow squash, and red bell peppers. These actually overdid the salt and gained further salinity from a dusting of reggiano cheese and a nippy surrounding sauce of spicy chile romesco. The “creamy white polenta” that inspired us to order the dish wasn’t creamy at all, merely a lean, softly lumpy, undersalted porridge, lacking sufficient dairy enrichment to smooth it out. “That’s not polenta,” said Fred, “that’s so-so Southern grits.”
Passing up the menu’s “crispy-skin salmon,” we chose the evening’s alternative fish special, white sea bass in an Asian-inspired sauce with rice noodles and gai lan (“chicken greens” in Cantonese, aka a dark leafy green sometimes called “Chinese broccoli” or “Chinese kale”). I didn’t much mind the undersalted liquid and veggies (my Russian mom thought salt and pepper caused high blood pressure, so I’m used to this), while the nice goopy noodles and mild sauce were okay with Fred and Sue, too. But the desiccated sea bass was more sere sawdust that none of us could swallow. (I didn’t even bother taking it home for the neighbors’ visiting kitties. They’re picky about fish, too.) We skipped desserts, a minimal selection in any case.
As for wines, if you’re going to eat here: Seek and ye shall find. It’s a decent list with some nice, affordable bottles. As usual, the better red bottles can push the budget.
So what’s the good of Glass Door? Well, look at what we walked into: a full house of cheerful young people, with or without new babies, socializing at a lively hangout with bargain drinks and grazes — and then vanishing en masse the very minute that happy hour was over. (Maybe the place should be called Revolving Door.) If price, views, good cheap drinks, and fun right after work matter more than cuisine, it’s a find. And if you’re looking for serious dinner food, it isn’t.
** (Fair to Good)
Porto Vista Hotel, 1835 Columbia Street (at Fir Street), Little Italy, 619-544-0164, theglassdoorsd.com/littleitaly/.
HOURS: Monday–Friday, breakfast 6:00–10:30 a.m.; lunch 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner 5:00–10:00 p.m.; bar menu until 1:00 a.m.; happy-hour grazing menu 3:00–7:00 p.m. Brunch Saturday–Sunday, 7:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.
PRICES: Dinner starters, $7–$12; entrées, $12–$34; desserts, $6–$8; happy-hour grazes, $6 and $10.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: New American–global food with local ingredients. Elastic wine list stretching over many regions, tastes, prices; premium beers; creative cocktails.
PICK HITS: Fried calamari (happy-hour graze); pomme frites; mojito; margarita.
NEED TO KNOW: No reservations required. Parking $7 with validation. Youthful crowd scene during happy hours; very noisy inside until 7:01 p.m. (end of happy hour), semi-loud (canned music) afterwards. Three lacto-vegetarian grazes/starters, one entrée.