Sledgehammer beer cocktail
4839 Newport Avenue, San Diego
The OB Warehouse
Considering how most “craft cocktails” fail to live up to their own audacious recipes, it’s no surprise that beer cocktails suffer the same fate, perhaps even worse. That’s what makes the OB Warehouse’s “Sledgehammer” ($10) such a pleasant surprise.
It’s an India Pale Ale, sweetened with agave syrup and tanged with lemon juice. Ancho reyes (an obscure chili spirit) and tequila give the beer a little bite and burn, but it’s the misting of Laphroaig scotch that makes the drink come alive. Something about the dark, peaty smoke of the whisky both tempers and invigorates the drink. Where everything else about the drink is sharply flavored, the bold, roundness of the scotch packages the whole thing perfectly.
The Warehouse, which took forever and a day to build and open, expresses everything about the Cohn Restaurant Group’s sense of self. The Philippe Beltran design hodge-podges hings together, sometimes for the better, as with shop towels standing in for napkins and half an Airstream trailer framed right into the dining room walls; sometimes for the worst, like galvanized steel hose clamps holding the silverware, and servers carrying comical paint trays around.
Fried artichoke hearts
With a well-trained staff and a generous happy hour, the place might as well be an OBecian verson of Sea 180, the Cohn’s South Bay offering.
The menu follows the more-or-less-systematic 100 Wines/Sea180/Bo-Beau model that seems to be working out for the CRG, with big plates, flatbreads, salads, and starters. Everything fits the $7-$30 range. Stick with the simpler stuff, and don’t expect the kitchen to showcase much sophistication.
Do try the fried artichoke hearts in a seductive lemon-ginger sauce, a surprise star if ever there was one, and a good metaphor for how to approach the menu as such.
Seabass with grits
They’re better than the fried chicken “oysters,” (basically buffalo wings made from medallions of thigh meat) for example, which should be a good dish, but ends up coming off as awkward with the addition of a needless corn relish.
Same for dishes like the “Moroccan spiced” flatiron steak with broccolini and olives, which has a neither-here-nor-there flavor profile that looks good on paper, but doesn’t work out of the kitchen. Or the kitchen’s handling of California white seabass, treated to a base of creamy grits and a tomato coulis that’s meant to be clever, but is merely yellow.
Instead, opt for a lamb burger (ask for it rare), or the steak frites made with tender filets in madeira sauce. More classic, bistro fare suits the CRG’s style better, and the kitchen manages it well.