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What’s that bloomin’ at Westerly Public House?

If there’s such thing as a Cal-Aussie lifestyle, it may need to invent a cuisine

Forget about bloomin' onions; bloomin' enoki mushrooms offer better-imagined Australian food
Forget about bloomin' onions; bloomin' enoki mushrooms offer better-imagined Australian food

I’m not sure what spurred an interest when I learned that an Australia-styled gastropub had opened in Shelter Island. Probably, I’d be just as keen for the arrival of a gastropub claiming any national character. Argentinian gastropub? Sign me up. Mongolian gastropub? Yes, please. A Belarusian gastropub might not have the greatest chance for success right this minute, but I’d still be curious to see what the food is like.

Place

Westerly Public House

1451 Rosecrans St, San Diego

And that could be why the arrival Westerly Public House intrigued me. It’s said to find inspiration in the common traits shared by San Diego and Sydney, by the lifestyles shared by So Cal and Australia’s Gold Coast. Which sounded like a cool enough cultural mishmash, and resulted in a fairly stylish bar and restaurant with a truly epic dining courtyard. But it forced me to realize: we have very little idea what to expect from the island-continent, food-wise.

Despite having spent a little time in Sydney, I couldn’t do any better pointing to defining characteristics of food in that part of the world. It’s unfortunate that, when it comes to Australian food in America, two particular totems still come to mind. First is the weird, malty, brown sandwich spread Vegemite, disliked by every human outside Australia. Second is the “bloomin’ nion,” the fried appetizer popularized by Outback Steakhouse, the Australia-themed restaurant chain founded and based in Tampa, Florida.

The stylish "Cal-Aussie" themed bar of Westerly Public House

Well, credit the kitchen of Westerly Public for recognizing the potential for muddled expectations, and offering a playful response to them. Such as the bloomin’ mushroom: a cluster of buttermilk-battered and fried enoki mushrooms ($11). The long, thin stalks and small caps of enokis prove better suited even than onions to make a deep-fried, sharable snack. It’s fun to pull the tender shrooms away from the cluster, and any given bite might offer more breaded crunch than earthy fungus, making this an ideal mushroom dish for people who don’t like mushrooms.

Truth is, Westerly Public is headlined by a local chef, often cooking with local ingredients, so I don’t find a lot on the menu that will put the “what is Australian cuisine?” question to rest. I found burgers, salads, pasta dishes, and a take on piri piri chicken, which is actually an African dish with ties to Portuguese traditions.

The verdant, Westerly dining courtyard, built within Shelter Island's new Monsaraz hotel

Westerly Public is a hotel restaurant, as it happens part of the newly opened hotel dubbed Monsaraz, which shares its name with a region of Portugal. That makes sense, given this section of Point Loma was historically settled and developed by Portuguese fisherfolk. A corresponding Portuguese restaurant would likewise make sense here, and would have plenty enough fish and sausage traditions to fill a menu.

The green rice bowl, a dish seemingly created for omnivore surfers

Instead, Westerly Public is left to make me wonder. Take the green rice bowl, its rice given color by a kale-almond pesto, finished with an arrangement of oyster and maitake mushrooms, radishes, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and six-minute eggs. Far as I can tell, little about the dish screams Australia. Most likely the connection here is that health-minded beachgoers might crave something like this following a morning surf session, which is something Aussies and Southern Californians might have in common.

And in that regard, it may simply be that in lieu of well-known Australian cooking traditions, Westerly Public wants to show us something a little more interesting: creative cooking.

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Forget about bloomin' onions; bloomin' enoki mushrooms offer better-imagined Australian food
Forget about bloomin' onions; bloomin' enoki mushrooms offer better-imagined Australian food

I’m not sure what spurred an interest when I learned that an Australia-styled gastropub had opened in Shelter Island. Probably, I’d be just as keen for the arrival of a gastropub claiming any national character. Argentinian gastropub? Sign me up. Mongolian gastropub? Yes, please. A Belarusian gastropub might not have the greatest chance for success right this minute, but I’d still be curious to see what the food is like.

Place

Westerly Public House

1451 Rosecrans St, San Diego

And that could be why the arrival Westerly Public House intrigued me. It’s said to find inspiration in the common traits shared by San Diego and Sydney, by the lifestyles shared by So Cal and Australia’s Gold Coast. Which sounded like a cool enough cultural mishmash, and resulted in a fairly stylish bar and restaurant with a truly epic dining courtyard. But it forced me to realize: we have very little idea what to expect from the island-continent, food-wise.

Despite having spent a little time in Sydney, I couldn’t do any better pointing to defining characteristics of food in that part of the world. It’s unfortunate that, when it comes to Australian food in America, two particular totems still come to mind. First is the weird, malty, brown sandwich spread Vegemite, disliked by every human outside Australia. Second is the “bloomin’ nion,” the fried appetizer popularized by Outback Steakhouse, the Australia-themed restaurant chain founded and based in Tampa, Florida.

The stylish "Cal-Aussie" themed bar of Westerly Public House

Well, credit the kitchen of Westerly Public for recognizing the potential for muddled expectations, and offering a playful response to them. Such as the bloomin’ mushroom: a cluster of buttermilk-battered and fried enoki mushrooms ($11). The long, thin stalks and small caps of enokis prove better suited even than onions to make a deep-fried, sharable snack. It’s fun to pull the tender shrooms away from the cluster, and any given bite might offer more breaded crunch than earthy fungus, making this an ideal mushroom dish for people who don’t like mushrooms.

Truth is, Westerly Public is headlined by a local chef, often cooking with local ingredients, so I don’t find a lot on the menu that will put the “what is Australian cuisine?” question to rest. I found burgers, salads, pasta dishes, and a take on piri piri chicken, which is actually an African dish with ties to Portuguese traditions.

The verdant, Westerly dining courtyard, built within Shelter Island's new Monsaraz hotel

Westerly Public is a hotel restaurant, as it happens part of the newly opened hotel dubbed Monsaraz, which shares its name with a region of Portugal. That makes sense, given this section of Point Loma was historically settled and developed by Portuguese fisherfolk. A corresponding Portuguese restaurant would likewise make sense here, and would have plenty enough fish and sausage traditions to fill a menu.

The green rice bowl, a dish seemingly created for omnivore surfers

Instead, Westerly Public is left to make me wonder. Take the green rice bowl, its rice given color by a kale-almond pesto, finished with an arrangement of oyster and maitake mushrooms, radishes, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and six-minute eggs. Far as I can tell, little about the dish screams Australia. Most likely the connection here is that health-minded beachgoers might crave something like this following a morning surf session, which is something Aussies and Southern Californians might have in common.

And in that regard, it may simply be that in lieu of well-known Australian cooking traditions, Westerly Public wants to show us something a little more interesting: creative cooking.

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