98 Bottles house salad
2400 Kettner Boulevard, San Diego
98 Bottles is more than a neighborhood bar. According to the signage it’s a one-stop shop offering “craft beer, fun wine, good eats, entertainment, and a retail bottle shop.” I’ve never considered wine amusing, but its alcohol content and taste are enjoyable, and that’s good enough for me.
The venue occupies an airy, split-level storefront on Kettner Boulevard underneath the flight path. It’s spacious and casual, but the design is minimalist and void of interest in comparison to neighboring ventures. On the ground level, there’s a bar, makeshift bottle shop, and seating area where trivia and board game nights are held. Upstairs, a second bar and fluorescent sign beckon patrons to The Back Room, which is actually just a large space that hosts musical acts and painting classes.
Cracker-like bruschetta flatbread pizza with pale tomatoes
On the evening of my visit, 98 Bottles was hosting a trivia night and painting class. Both events were well-attended, and everyone appeared to be having a good time; everyone that is, aside from the three front-of-house employees. Due to obvious understaffing, they were gracefully failing at managing the demands of the sizable crowd.
The menu is mostly straightforward, and consists of appetizers ($6-16), salads ($6-12), paninis ($7.50-9.50), and flatbreads ($12-16). The single standout item is the island-style rice bowl featuring ahi poke, teriyaki chicken, or veggie variations ($8-13). As for drinks, wines by the glass and draft beer start at $5, sake cocktails at $6.
I sampled the goat cheese caprese ($6), 98 Bottles salad ($8), and bruschetta flatbread pizza ($12) knowing that if the basics were done right, I’d return to try additional items. To my dismay, all three dishes contained the saddest, sorriest excuses for tomatoes I’ve ever seen. You know exactly what I’m talking about: they were lacking a warm red tone, the texture was gritty, and the flavor was nowhere to be found. Each dish was tomato-heavy and ultimately suffered due to the poor quality of the main ingredient.
Goat cheese caprese
I appreciated the goat cheese stand-in for mozzarella on the caprese, and the drizzling of balsamic reduction replaced some of the sweetness that was lost due to the tomato debacle. The house salad included baby spinach, cucumber, avocado, pickled red onion, tomato, and was tossed with house-made vinaigrette. The vegetable portions were plentiful and filling, but I found the dressing bland and craved a portion of pickled onion with every bite.
The flatbread pizza was topped with mozzarella, tomato, basil, garlic aioli, balsamic reduction, and cracked pepper. I realize that many traditional flatbreads are unleavened, but I definitely wasn’t expecting the dough to taste like an over-baked cracker. Typically, “flatbread pizza” signifies a leavened, thin crust. Due to the confusion I was left unsatisfied and promptly ordered another glass of house cabernet to wash away the disappointment.
98 Bottles has a distinct draw in regards to entertainment but unless I’m attending an event, I won’t return for the food or drink.