208 S. Coast Highway, Oceanside
The designers of Masters Kitchen and Cocktail embraced the building’s auto parts warehouse history. Perhaps too much. Cold drafts bother when the weather turns cool, the whole place seems designed to an inhuman scale, and is leaving the raw plywood exposed pushing it?
Still, a few strokes of genius prevail, such as a green row of tall plants which splits the dining room and performs the hero’s task of blocking the bar’s two TVs from view for some booths and tables leeward of the centerline. Eating an entire meal free from LCD flicker is quite the delight. It permits some peace of mind to focus on dishes such as a spice-brined pork chop ($24) served with chipotle mashed potatoes or a tamarind roast chicken ($20) that attempts soul food style with succotash and cornbread. Perhaps the kitchen’s most-clever item is the convincing ploughman’s pickle accompanying the $9, sausage-encased Scotch egg.
Moving on, “California Casual Elevated Dining” is a mouthful. But that’s how Masters would be known. The restaurant survived its first 18 months, giving credence to the theory that Oceanside is in the midst of a culinary Renaissance, a birthing into the world of elaborate beer, variations on Brussels sprouts, and the liberal use of pork belly. (Though, in all fairness, Masters pulled sprouts from the newest menu.)
Do we have a word for the bevy of “This & That” (to paraphrase the ubiquitous naming scheme) restaurants that have opened in the past half decade? Always cheekily decorated, they serve American comfort staples and bar food qui pète plus haut que son cul, as the French might say, of $15-and-up plates of mac ’n’ cheese.
This style of restaurant has become the norm. Is it still “New American?” That smacks of inadequacy and avoids the fact that progenitors of what came to be called New American cooking aspired more often than not to rethink fine dining, not to embroider casual cuisine.
Pedantry? Perhaps. But it matters. Top-dollar prices for beer and bratwurst is not the same thing as rethinking what it means to construct a strawberry shortcake.
Masters’ fresh menu (following a recent change of chefs) is more or less the same tavern-chic we’ve seen before, with entrées in the low to mid $20s, appetizers in the $7 to $12 range, and their well-balanced menu of cocktails running about $11 each.
Inaccuracy chafes — the “classic Martini,” for one, is anything but, being laced with citrus and with nary an olive in sight, though the drink itself is delicious — while sizeable portions will leave all but the heartiest eaters taking home a second meal.