Baba ganoush, part of the $6 Mediterranean Mix
Peppers as dinner? Never would’ve done this, except for one fact. It’s a Friday. Not a payday. Low on dough but high on peppers. I’ve just spent four bucks on “blistered red shishito peppers, in a porcini balsamic glaze.”
Shishito peppers: secret’s in the porcini balsamic glaze
Truth is, I came in to this place because it looked like a Garden of Eatin’, a perfect patio, a little world away from the Wilds of Rolando. Lots of troppo greenery, bamboo wind-breaks, desert plants hanging on trellises, parachute shades, little Japanese lantern-style lights strung all over.
“Wow. What are you doing?” I say to this gal. She’s kneading away at some dough through a screen covering the house’s front window.
Kitchen, I guess. Turns out she’s Coral, the chef-owner here. “Making tonight’s bread,” she says.
That is a good omen.
“Garden Kitchen,” says the sign. “Fresh. Sustainable. From Scratch.”
I’m liking it already. Problem? Dinner entrées start around $18 and can hit $40 for a decent steak dish. But what kept me coming in was the other notice on the trellis: “Happy Hour 3pm-5pm.”
That means fifteen minutes left. I head straight in. All seating’s in the garden of what was a little stucco Rolando house. Main patio’s out front, under plexiglass and parachutes, plus tables reaching back along the side. And what tables.
Planks. Pinewood. Knotty but nice, heh heh, topped with red napkins that shine luminous in the setting sun.
So while the main menu’s talking about things like a 10-ounce wagyu Burgundy steak ($38), Japanese eggplant tagine (stew, $18), and porterhouse pork chop ($25), I head straight for the li’l yellow happy hour card.
The choice is pretty easy. Five appetizers, $3 off each of them. The Mediterranean Mix has falafel, baba ganoush, pita chips, and cucumber tzatziki. Regular price $9, HH, $6. Blistered red shishito peppers with porcini balsamic glaze (regularly $7, so hey $4). Then steak bites, “grilled flat iron,” with chipotle dip ($9 = $6); “Freckled Romaine,” which is a collection of “grilled green beans, indigo rose tomato (a newly developed tomato with almost black skin), farm cucumber & carrot, d’avignon radish, shaved red onion, pecorino, housing dressing ($12 = $9); and Kitchen Sink: “3 gourmet cheeses, dry salami, roasted garlic hummus, sweet raisins, pickled beets, seasonal jam, pickled cherries, table grapes, bread & butter pickles, mixed nuts, grilled bread ($16 = $13).”
So not your usual HH’s mini sliders or blackened Brussels sprouts. Apart from the steak bites, it’s much more nuts’n twiggy.
But no time to screw around. Happy hour has a couple of minutes to go. Plus people are starting to clog the entrance. Must be the serious evening guests. So I make two hard decisions. Steak Bites and Mediterranean Mix. Twelve bucks altogether.
Because Freckled Romaine sounds uber-salady, Kitchen Sink’s a bit too high at $13, and blistered peppers? Half of a meal?
On the other hand, I think again. Just $4 for the peppers? Such a deal.
Also, grog: They have $4 beers, including a Green Flash IPA, and $5 wines, ooh, including two from Guadalupe Valley, Mexico. But now Melissa the server is here.
“D’uh, Mediterranean Mix,” I say, just because it’s first on the list, “and tell me about the blistered red shishito peppers.”
“Well, they’re really delicious,” Melissa says.
Turns out “Shishito” means “Lion.” But that doesn’t mean it’s gonna bite your head off with heat. The name comes because the pepper’s tip looks like a lion.
“Maybe one in ten peppers is actually quite hot,” Melissa says. “But most just have a certain zip to them and are quite sweet.”
So I drop the steak bites, and order the peppers.
Looks like I’m going all-veggie tonight. Plus, I get the Green Flash Soul Style IPA ($4).
The Mediterranean mix has baba ganoush — Guess what it means? Pampered papa — a roasted eggplant mix, plus olives and baked pita bread. I don’t notice any of the advertised falafel, but that could just be because I’m so pig-greedy, and because those baked crisp pita bread chunks are so daggone delicious. Whole wheat, Melissa says. Salty, tender, and so great with the eggplant.
But, I have to say: surprise star of my happy hour is that bowl of shishito peppers. It’s the balsamic
glaze on the carbon blistering that makes them so very umami. Joyously soy-ish, burnt but slightly sweet. That’s also because they’re red, ripe. Not green like you often get with shishito.
And spicy-hot only a little. I race through them at such a pace I forget to look for the danged lion
face in their tips. Man, they’re addictive. Specially with the pita bread to crunch with them, And
for four bucks! A sweet meal deal. Even though I know I’m probably gonna be hungry in a couple
of hours, now it makes me feel full, fat, and a happy camper.
Coral comes by. “This used to be a Jamaican restaurant here,” she says when I ask. “I’ve had it 1½ years.”
Coral was brought up in Costa Rica, turns out, eating lots of rice and beans, plus the occasional iguana. “It was the best time of my life,”
4204 Roland Boulevard, San Diego
she says, “but this is the best thing I ever did. I’ve never worked so hard. Spencer, my sous-chef, and I spend ten hours cooking every day. We cost a little more because we make everything from scratch every day, and buy local, and organic as much as we can. Our customers are big on vegetables.”
I can see her customers are big on her. By now it’s like 6:30 and the place is packed. I get up to liberate my seat. Can’t believe I’ve just made a meal out of mainly peppers.
Next time, I’ll go for that Kitchen Sink appetizer and a glass of Baja wine.
And oh, the $4 shishito peppers again. Still gotta find that lion face.
Hours: 3-9pm Tuesday - Saturday
Happy Hour: 3-5pm, Tuesday - Saturday
Happy Hour Prices: Mediterranean Mix (with falafel, baba ganoush, pita chips, cucumber tzatziki), $6; blistered red shishito peppers (with porcini balsamic glaze), $4; steak bites, chipotle dip, $6; Freckled Romaine (grilled green beans, veggies, pecorino ($9); Kitchen Sink (3 cheeses, salami, hummus, raisins, pickled beets, jam, pickled cherries,
grapes, pickles, nuts, grilled bread ($13)
Nearest bus stop: University Avenue at Rolando Boulevard