Devilicious Food Truck

>> Friday, February 25, 2011

Devilicious Weekly Schedule:
Mon: 12700 High Bluff Dr
Tues: 10290 Campus Point Dr
Wed: 10070 Barnes Canyon Rd
Thurs: Changes, last seen at 5800 Block of Copley Dr
Fri: Corner of John Jay Hopkins and General Atomics Ct
Price: $8-15 (depending on how much you order)

The Quick Bit:
+ 3 words: Lobster Grilled Cheese
+ Great Specials
+ Truly restaurant quality food out of the truck
+ Not as greasy as you think
+ Great friendly service
+ Food cooked to order
Δ Menu could have more vegetarian options
Δ Weekly locations could stabilize more (for Tuesday and Thursday)

Devilicious had a first month of operation party that I was invited to and had the opportunity to sample an entire tasting menu of their menu items. As I've visited this truck several times and gotten to know the operators, I will definitely be biased, but I feel like the food ultimately speaks for itself.

I contacted Dyann and Kristina ahead of this blog post and sent them some interview questions. I will be interleaving their responses within the post and paraphrasing where necessary (and noting the paraphrase). Please let me know if this style of post works and I will attempt to contact other chefs/owners in the future as well.

As I mentioned in the previous post, San Diego has been slower than LA and OC to see the Gourmet Food Truck Boom. As of this posting, I'd say San Diego has fewer than 15 "Gourmet Food Trucks." Part of the problem is that the gourmet food trucks that are out there have all had their fair share of drawbacks. At MIHO you pay a fortune and aren't full (and sometimes you wait extremely long for your food); Tabe has some decent tacos but they use canned fruits inside the tacos; Chop Soo-ey is owned by the Cohn Group (yes this is a horrible thing, like buying your computer from Dell); KalbiQ is like Tabe but worse in every way; Copper Chimney's (recently defunct) much hyped dosa - cold. As recently as November 2010, San Diego has distinctly lacked a great foodie truck that didn't have the work Mariscos in its name (and those trucks aren't "gourmet").

Enter Devilicious - named after the owners Dyann Huffman and Kristina Repp for their "devilish personalities and delishious food," the truck specializes in "twisted comfort food." Dyann and Kristina have been friends for years and have a "combined 38 years of experience in the food industry." When I asked about their goal with the truck, they responded, "Opening a restaurant is definately in our future but the Food Truck offered us a way to start to fulfill that dream now.  As we gain more recognition and build our customer base the reality of a storefront grows closer and we are very excited." Dyann's background as a chef includes graduating from CIA and working at Gramercy Tavern in New York with Tom Colicchio. Kristina's background is in the front of house as she has waited tables and managed restaurants.

I've visited Devilicious many times in its eight weeks of operation. In that time I've tried most of the menu items including the specials. Perhaps I will always be remembered as the kimchee taster because I gave some feedback that the kimchee in their kimchee dog wasn't spicy enough. One thing that really impressed me was that when I gave this feedback to them, they immediately set about to correct it. While I understand it's very difficult to please every single customer (especially one something like spice level), my feedback was handled in an extremely professional manner and the attitude was of teamwork and cooperation on how to make the final product better.

Another generalization that I'll make is that the technical execution of the food is very good. I would not say that any of the fried food was underfried, and (more importantly) none of the seafood ordered is overcooked. And when I say the seafood is not overcooked, I mean it as in the temperatures of the proteins are on the level of what you would expect from Gramercy.
Devilicious Winter 2011 Menu 
In the area that Devilish caters to, there is definitely a very large minority of vegetarians. I asked more about the menu and was given the following response, "All of our menu items are cooked to order so we are very flexible to most dietary restictions and would be happy to offer a vegetarian option.  This being only our 8th week in business we created a menu that offers many options and will be changing it seasonally in order to add more choices. Now that we know what our clientele is asking for we can focus on more meat challenged options."
(tasting portion) House smoked turkey, smoked gouda, apple slaw
I'm not a big fan of turkey and I actually hate the texture of apples, but this item is honestly better than the lobster grilled cheese. The smoke from the turkey and cheese contrasts the tart sweetness of the apple. The texture of the apple gives the necessary texture element to the dish to prevent boredom. The entire dish was well seasoned and worked very well. Note, the portion I have of this was a tasting portion and the normal order comes with (better) bread.
Smoked Bacon Dog, house made habanero kimchee, agave mayo
This dish has the the devil integrated very well into it when the kimchee is working. The spice of the kimchee is cooled by the agave mayo, which does contain the additional sweetness from the agave. The sweet and spicy flavors contrast each other well against the savoriness of the bacon-wrapped dog.
Deconstructed Corn Beef with rye crouton, carmelized onion and garlic, oven roasted roma , fresh fries, gruyere, fried egg
I'm definitely one of those people that loves a runny egg yolk encompassing and binding together all the flavors underneath. The technical perfection of the fried egg really drives this dish forward. Furthermore, the corn beef in this dish is tender, well seasoned, and delicious. The idea of doing the deconstruction on the sandwich is very good and shows Chef Huffman's culinary creativity.
Butter Poached Lobster Grilled Cheese (tasting portion)
Butter Poached Lobster Grilled Cheese
The signature dish, creme de la creme, piece de resistance - this dish is pescatarian-friendly and delivers on all the promises that the mind dreams up when reading about it. The only problem I have with it personally is that it's not as good as some of the other items on  the menu despite getting all the love and attention. On the other hand, it is still an awesome grilled cheese and I'm going to declare it the best grilled cheese sandwich in San Diego.
Fried Yummies (chili)
Fried Yummies (hot dogs in mac n cheese)
Fried Yummies (cream of broccoli cheddar)
Fried Yummies (panchetta and aspargus risotto)
The fried yummies are the result of being "inspired by sitting on the porch on a sunny afternoon enjoying Mimosa's." In general, a pasta shell is filled with the yummy mixture and then breaded and deep fried. If there's a miss on the menu, it's that the fried yummies are sometimes inconsistent. The risotto yummies were too salty (probably as the result of the parmesan) while the cream of broccoli yummies completely lacked salt.  The mac and cheese yummy was carb overload to the point where even coffee didn't really help. Despite my complaints about the yummies, I like that they change weekly as it adds variety to the menu. I also don't think that I'm going to stop ordering them anytime soon, so there's definitely about them that attracts me despite the complaints.
Truffle Tots
Truffle Tots (inside)
The truffle tots are essentially very creamy mashed potatoes with truffle oil that are deep fried into the shape of tater tots. One key thing about these is that the truffle oil is actually white truffle oil, so the flavor is a little more subtle. I personally appreciate the white truffle flavor more, but I think most people are used to black truffle so that tends to draw some minor criticism. Overall, these creations are great for anyone that appreciates truffle as the aroma and flavor really come through.
Satan Fries - Fries with blue cheese, carmelized onion, smoked bacon, and devilicious sauce (not shown)
I'm not a big fan of the Satan fries. It's not that they aren't good, but it's just that there are so many better things on the menu. I think part of my problem is that whenever you have some sort of integrated fry dish, you expect the cheese to be melted and act as a binder to the fries mixed with meat. In the Satan fries, everything seems more like a separate component that is thrown together and hasn't had a change to integrate.

In addition to the regular menu, Devilicious also runs weekly specials. When I asked about some of my favorite specials coming back, I was told, "Part of the reason we run specials is the creation of our next menu. We enjoy feedback from all of our guests and track sales of the specials. (The smoked Pork will def be on our next menu)  I think there may be a riot if the Grill Cheese ever goes away, I'd say that is our signature dish." While I usually go to Devilicious with the intention of getting a regular menu item, I invariably end up having my attend diverted by one of the weekly specials.
Fried Spaghetti Sandwich with Fried Yummies
Fried Spaghetti Sandwich Closeup
I really liked this dish - I liked the melted cheese with the spaghetti and I liked the bolognese sauce in the spaghetti, but I would never order this again. The problem with this is that it was just too much carbs, and it was a battle to get through the rest of the day without falling asleep.
Fried Egg Devilwich with cheddar, bacon and kimchee
Fried Egg Sandwich inside
Unfortunately for the photos, my egg yolk burst before I could get a good photo, but that certainly didn't diminish any of the taste. This item didn't actually come with kimchee, but I requested it extra and it certainly kicked up the dish for me. I loved the additional hit of spice with the runny yolk and bacon. It was like a great breakfast inside of a sandwich. 

Back to the technical execution, it's a very simple thing to either undercook a grilled cheese or burn the bread trying to make the cheese melt. I've seen countless grilled cheese sandwiches (from myself and my other dining companions) and they are all perfectly golden brown with cheese oozing out. 
Cilantro Wild Shrimp over a bed of baby spinach with red pepper, red onion, English cucumber, roasted corn, feta, and citrus lime vinaigrette
Closeup shot
I can say I liked this because the shrimp were the star of the dish (and not the salad). The shrimp were cooked perfectly and the cilantro marinade was a great way to accentuate the flavor of the shrimp. The real surprise of this dish was the roasted corn that was included in the salad. The sweetness of the corn was an extremely welcome and refreshing touch to the bold flavor of the shrimp.

Cilantro Lime Shrimp lettuce wraps on butter lettuce with satsuma tangerines, japanese cucumber, yellow pepper, red onion, wasabi fumi furikake, and yuzu dressing
Lettuce Wraps Closeup
This incarnation of the shrimp special was superior to the previous. While the mandarins weren't as good as the corn, they still added the necessary element of sweetness to neutralize the bold cilantro flavor of the shrimp. The yuzu worked as a better dressing than the previous week because the citrus element was stronger (and the thyme flavor in the previous week never really came out). The wasabi fumi furikake was a very nice touch as it added a hint of the wasabi flavor without overwhelming the other flavors.
Stuffed Flatbread "hot pockets"
Stuffed Flatbread with spinach tomato, onion, and feta
While I normally demand some meat, I would have been happy as a vegetarian eating these for my meal. The flatbread is freshly made to order and retains that savory element of freshly made bread. It also works very well as the whole "hot pocket" analogy, but it's much healthier and tastier.
Scallop Panzanella with red peppers, cucumbers (don't remember the rest) and balsamic vinaigrette
I feel like a broken record player saying all the specials are awesome and amazing, but again this special was very well done. I had the same worry of the scallops being overcooked and ruining this dish, but they were cooked very well. The panzanella itself was very good and very satisfying. The most surprising thing is that by definition a panzanella is a salad. Usually when I eat a "salad" I will still feel hungry. However, after eating this panzanella I was very satisfied with my lunch.
Smoked spicy Pork with mango cucumber chutney, tzatziki wrapped in house made green onion naan
I think Dyann is very proud of this creation, and I agree whole heartedly. This is my favorite dish of all the items I've tried at Devilicious. The pork had a good spice to it which was cooled by the tzatziki, and the sweetness of the mango chutney accentuated all the flavors. The pork was also very moist, juicy and flavorful. The green onion "naan" reminded me of a Chinese green onion pancake and held together the "wrap" very well. 

In the end, I don't think I can say enough good things about how impressed and satisfied I am with Devilicious. If there's any downside it's that sometimes I want to order a special that was a special so I can't order it again. The most impressive things to me about Devilicious is that you get very technically well-executed food that pays attention to flavor contrast and texture contrast. You also get this at what I'd consider a bargain price (although it is probably somewhat expensive for lunch to many people). Devilicious is easily the lunch highlight to my week when it stops by.

Since I am biased and I know I'm going to be biased, I'm only going to award Devilicious the kilobit award. I would love nothing more than to give them the megabit, but I don't think I can do it right now in good conscience.

I'll close this with some comments from Dyann and Kristina:
The last 8 weeks have been some of the most fulfilling weeks in our professional lives.  It is an absolute joy to wake up every morning to go and work with my partner and best friend.  We have never worked harder or more diligently to make ourselves a success, our dedicatation to each other and our business is what drives us everyday to do more and do it better then the day before.  We consider ourselves lucky that our people love our food and keep coming back for more.

Enjoy, life is to short to eat bad food.
The Girls of Devilicious 


Food Truck Gathering #1 @57 Degrees Wine Bar

>> Saturday, February 19, 2011

Date of Gathering: 2/18/2011
Price: Varies for each truck
Location: Fifty-Seven Degrees Wine Bar, 1735 Hancock Street, San Diego, CA 92101

The Quick Bit:
+Food Truck gatherings are always nice
+Parking seemed fairly abundant
+Unlike most gatherings, wait time for food was < 15 minutes after ordering
ΔThe food trucks could have brought more food
ΔThe food trucks could offer smaller tasting portions as well as the regular size
ΔThe "wine bar" prices were $$$$$ with not much selection

This review will be a "shorter" review than usual as far as each truck and dish is concerned. It will focus mainly on the event itself, rather than the actual wine bar. For the wine bar itself, this seems to be one of the rare occasions where the four-letter reviews explain the situation rather well such as here, here, here, and here. Also I plan for the next blog post to be a focus on Devilicious, so less will be said about them here.

In my previous post, I discussed that in order to reduce the initial investment cost to open a restaurant, many enterprising young chefs were looking to alternative means to establish their budding culinary empires. The first method was the pop-up restaurant; in this followup I discuss the other method, the gourmet food truck

The current culinary movement can be likened to an Age of Culinary Imperialism. If this is the case, then the pop-up restaurant seems like the missionaries who carefully choose their locations while the food truck is more like the conquistador that roams around to find those that need to be converted. Or perhaps if I'm to fit the theme of the blog, the food trucks are like Apple; for a long time they were the bastard child of the industry that others looked down on as full of grease and selling frozen food that was otherwise reheated.

All of that changed when Chef Roy Choi started Kogi BBQ by mixing Korean BBQ inside mexican tacos. In addition, Chef Choi identified himself with the "street culture" and flexed his social networking skills to create a viral buzz around the truck. Soon, all chefs were learning about social networking and "copycat" food trucks were spawns such as Don Chow. Using either Twitter or Facebook as a repository, food trucks seed their locations where their followers can show up as a swarm, causing a gourmet culinary excellence to be distributed.

While LA and OC have been quick on the uptake of the food trucks, San Diego has taken the more relaxed approach to the food trucks. Part of this is that in SD, throwing some form of ethnic grilled meat into a taco and selling it out of a truck isn't very interesting. In fact by doing that, one may find themselves quickly going out of business as the truck would have to face the stiff competition of the Mariscos German taco trucks that have been serving amazing seafood tacos to San Diego for years. In fact, when I think of a taco out of a food truck, my first thought goes to the Gubernador taco out of Mariscos German.

Recently, the food truck movement has picked up steam within San Diego as more trucks focus on offering gourmet food, but with an underlying farm to table theme. Additionally, most trucks don't try to serve any form of taco, but instead focus on sandwiches and more "american" food. Thus, it was only inevitable that someone would organize a gathering of food trucks in one location.

Enter Fifty-Seven Degrees wine bar; the bar has an amazing 1 acre space close to the airport, and the interior is hip and trendy. It served as a good location to gather some food trucks and also serve alcohol (as the trucks cannot serve that). Unfortunately (or I think fortunate for me), the usually sunny San Diego weather did not cooperate and the event was conducted under periods of torrential downpour. Seven food trucks managed to show up for the event as detailed below:
Chop Soo-ey Truck
Chop Soo-ey Menu
The Chop Soo-ey Truck is the Cohn Restaurant Group's attempt to get into the food truck business. It is helmed by chef Deborah Hanson. I didn't get any food from this truck, but I was able to sample some of the Calamari from a friend. The calamari I had had a very light batter and was overcooked. The flavor was also covered up by some strange sweet and sour sauce. Chop Soo-ey ran out of food around 8pm
Kaminski's Super Q
Kaminski's Super Q Menu
The next truck was the Kaminski Super Q truck. This is a new truck that was making is San Diego Debut at the food truck event. Again, I did not purchase any food from this truck, but I was able to sample some food from friends. This truck also seemed to move rather quickly as the BBQ was already cooked and just needed to be reheated. The meat that I sampled was simply the taste of mediocre BBQ Sauce. The flavor of the meat was completely covered up by the sauce. This truck was the 2nd to last to run out of food and seemed to run out around 8:45
Chef Andy Johnson's Street Eats
Chef Andy Johnson's Street Eats Menu
While I had not heard of this truck, it seems to have been around for quite awhile. I ended up ordering all the food from this truck as it was the only truck to not run out of food.
Braised Brandt Beef, Carmelized Onions, Smoky BBQ Sauce Sesame Bun
The ratio of onions to meat in mine was about 1:1 which totally through off the balance. The flavor of the beef was pretty good and the dish was well-seasoned.
Miso-glazed Mahi Mahi with edamame-cucumber salad
This was probably the best dish that the truck did. The mahi mahi was surprisingly moist and the miso flavor came through. The edamame and cucumbers were pickled and it stood up well to essentially being over-dressed.
Slow Roasted Pork Sandwich with Napa Cabbage Slaw
The pork was roasted well, but the sauce covered the heartiness of the meat. The slaw was overdressed.
Brandt Beef Sirloin Burger with Avocado Puree
The slider was cooked well done and the avocado seemed to be watered down and tasteless.
Seared Ahi Salad
I had high hopes for this one, but they ran out of the soba noodle salad and substituted with mixed greens instead. The Ahi was seared well, but unseasoned - luckily the ahi wasn't rancid (but it wasn't particularly fresh either). The salad was way overdressed. I think you'll actually see how wilted the greens are if you look closely.
Sweet Treats was there for dessert
I didn't get any dessert, but it was nice of them to pitch a tent to keep the rain out.
Flippin Pizza
Flippin Pizza Menu
Since Flippin Pizza comes around to my work area every week, I didn't really see a need to get any pizza. Besides, who wants any other pizza besides Bruno?
India On Wheels
India On wheels Menu
With the migration of Copper Chimney to a full time location, it looks like the Indian standard was picked up by new truck India on Wheels (making its debut). As a "barbaric American" I personally don't really see how an Indian Food truck can succeed without having a Tandoori oven in the truck to make fresh naan, but I'll allow myself to be surprised. India On Wheels seems to be an all vegetarian truck, which again will probably make it hard to be accepted. I would have really liked for them to offer some sort of tasting portion at a cheaper price, but that didn't seem to be the case as I wasn't really prepared to drop $6 for the paneer.
Masala Paratha
Masala Paratha Opened
Instead I ordered the Masala Paratha to see how close I could get to the naan experience. I think they threw in some complimentary Raita, but I wasn't really interested in that. What surprised me about this dish was that how a dish containing so much onion and cilantro stuffed inside could be so bland. This dish was missing all the goodness of Indian Spices and the flour overpowered what should have otherwise been a nice dish.
Last but not least, Devilicious was at the event as well. When I arrived, it was the only truck that was remotely crowded as there was already a crowd. At 5:45, the ran out of the Lobster Grilled Cheese, and by 6:30 they had run out of everything.
Fried Yummies - Risotto Balls
Inside was a panchetta and asparagus risotto with parmesan
Luckily I was able to get some fried yummies of Risotto Balls. As is dangerous with parmesan, these particular yummies had a healthy hit of the salt monster. The problem is that parmesan itself has salt so adding additional salt can be heavy handed.

While there was bad weather and the food trucks seemingly were uprepared for the crowds, the owner of Fifty-Seven Degrees declared the event a success and that he would continue to hold the gathering every 3rd Friday of the month. Hopefully more trucks will show up to the next event and the trucks will also be more prepared for the large crowds.


Relate at Bistro St Germains

>> Sunday, February 13, 2011

Date of Dining: 2/10/2011
Price: $55 for 5 course tasting menu
Location: Bistro St. Germain's, 1010 S. Coast Highway 101 #103, Encinitas, CA

The Quick Bit:
+ Well-cooked proteins and veg
+ Very friendly wait staff
+ The Chef's parents helped
+ Not overly heavy or rich
+ Dessert fit well with the progression
Δ Pacing of the courses needs work
Δ A lot of toast was consumed
Δ Indoor/outdoor dynamic of the restaurant space needs to be figured out
Δ Dishes could be explained when brought out
Δ The Chef was quoted paraphrased in a newspaper article of targeting "an older demographic"

While my party did order items from the a la carte menu, I later (after leaving) determined that we were not charged for them. I'm not sure if this was an oversight by the restaurant or because I informed the chef that I had been speaking with him online. Nothing was mentioned of this when the bill arrived.
UPDATE - Chef Moody contacted me to say this was in fact a mistake, but that I should not worry about mistakes made by the wait staff.

Because restaurants require a sizable investment to start and operate, chefs in the culinary industry have been driven to develop new ways for starting their own business. This need has resulted in two growing movements that we are seeing in the culinary industry: gourmet food trucks and pop-up restaurants. While gourmet food trucks tend to focus on volume by bringing the food to the customers, pop-up restaurants tend to offer set tasting menus to the customers. Pop-up restaurants are an economical method for a chef who is try and make a name for him/herself. Usually a pop-up restaurant is hosted at a location that does not serve dinner. This allows the pop-up chef to legally serve food and alcohol in an existing space without a large investment, and it provides extra revenue to the restaurant that is otherwise not operating during dinner hours. While this arrangement sounds symbiotic, it only works for the pop-up chef for a temporary time. The temporary nature of the restaurant generates buzz and a sense of urgency, so people are more likely to visit. If the pop-up is around for too long, it "wears out its welcome" so it is only in the interest of the restaurant to remain for a short time.

Chef Dan Moody, the self-prescribed "RelationChef" is a native to San Diego. When I first heard the "RelationChef" moniker and read the description on his website, I literally rolled my eyes and moved on. However, other local foodies were more optimistic about the pop-up restaurant and started talking with Chef Moody. Ultimately, Chef Moody jumped through the hoops to register himself on our local foodie forum and alleviated my initial fears. Additionally, he further clarified that his philosophy on food is more about bringing people together to eat rather than the "relationship" aspect. Because I feel about the food the same way, I can respect that philosophy very well.

Prior to visiting the restaurant, I called ahead to confirm the reservations. The hostess was extremely friendly and helpful, but warned that I would likely be dining outdoors. Now San Diego has great weather, but evening outdoor dining in February with "fine dining" set off a kernel panic in my mind. I was thinking that it would require Bill Gates to actually end up looking cooler than Steve Jobs in an Apple commercial. Luckily, my co-worker (that lives in Encinitas) explained to me that Bistro St. Germain's is primarily an outdoor restaurant; In a properly seated restaurant about 2/3 of the seats are actually outdoors. However, I think this fact is one of the problems with Relate. Like my initial fears, most of the diners that come to the restaurant will expect to be seated indoors. At the same time, Relate is forced to try and turn the tables and get two seatings per evening to make sure the investment is profitable.

When my party arrived at Relate, the scenario that the hostess warned about over the phone played out exactly as she warned. We were given the choice to sit outdoors or wait 30 minutes for a table indoors (despite having reservations and arriving on time). Since I had properly warned everyone about the possibility of dining outdoors and we didn't want to wait 30 minutes, we chose to sit outdoors. That turned out to be a great choice as it was much quieter and I assume we turned out to be a fairly "needy" group.

As Relate's wine list only featured wines from Mount Palomar winery, we elected to bring our own wine and were only charged a nominal $5 corkage fee per bottle. The 2008 Foxen Pinot Noir Julia's Vineyard was opened first and easily the best pinot I've ever had. There was a very bold and fruity up-front flavor of strawberries and blackberries that finished with a hint of figs. As the wine opened, the taste almost started to feel syrupy. The wine was a great compliment to most of the earlier courses. We also opened the 1995 Chateau Bertinat Lartigue (to let it open). This wine was perhaps a few years over as most of the fruit had left the wine. Even after two hours, I feel as if the the wine never truly opened up fully. However, after being open for over an hour, the wine did pair well with the beef. As expected from a 1995 Bordeaux, the wine was very smooth. My party did not end up finishing the entire bottle, so we probably sent the last 2 glasses to the chef (in the decanter). As we were leaving, the Chef's mother was wondering whether they served that wine to any table as she discovered there was a lot of sediment at the bottom of the decanter.

I'd probably say the menu is something like trying to overclock your CPU and learning that it doesn't overclock well. There's nothing wrong persay in this scenario, but you are disappointed that you don't get any additional value for your money. The menu was very "safe" with perhaps the most adventurous ingredient being chicken liver. While I can't really fault Chef Moody for being safe to the San Diego demographic, as an avid foodie I was hoping to eek out a few more megahertz.

Prior to starting the meal, Chef Moody came out to greet our party. He explained the restaurant and hoped we would enjoy the meal. We asked him about the challenges of the restaurant so far, and he indicated that service has been a complaint (but didn't elaborate any further).
Amouse Bouche: French Onion Soup
As a generalization, nobody ever said anything about the courses when they were served. Moreover, the waitress waited for us to eat the amouse and then explained that she never explains what it is since most people think it is going to be a chicken nugget. Upon biting into the amouse, it was very clear that it was the French Onion Soup. The soup is in the middle of the nugget, which is wrapped in grilled onions and then breaded and deep fried. We thought that we detected an extra hit of sweetness within the soup as well, which made for a good amouse.
1st Course: Foie Gras & Chicken Liver Mousse, Sauteed Apples, Onion Jam, Baby Lettuce, Golden Beet Vinaigrette
While foie gras and chicken liver are both livers of different birds, they were blended here into a mousse. The toast that the mousse was served on was toasted golden brown and hard throughout. I found that the apple really tied the toast together. My initial bite didn't contain any apple and tasted out of balance. However, the following bites containing apple really utilized the sweetness to balance the offal element of the liver. As for the salad, I thought it was a little lonely with only two small pieces of lettuce. It was really a shame as the Golden Beet Vinaigrette was amazing. I don't really understand how the salad integrates with the liver mousse, but it was a tasty salad.
2nd Course: Seared Local Redrock, White Bean Puree, Wilted Kale, Garam Masala Buerre Blanc
This was my favorite dish of the night. I'm not really a fan of beans or kale, but the garam masala buerre blanc really tied all the elements together very well. It helped that the fish was cooked very well. The fish skin is somewhat of a dichotomy. Usually, I prefer the skin to be cooked to be crispy so it maximizes that unami flavor, but I really appreciate the natural red skin visual of the fish as it is presented here. Additionally, while it was not overly salty, the kale did seem a bit saltier than the other elements. This threw the balance of the dish off slightly.
A la carte #1: Crispy Escargots on Toast with Garlic Creme Anglaise
The quality of these escargots was very good. Usually when I order escargot in the US, I suspect it's something out of a can, and it doesn't really contain any flavor of note. These escargots were packed full of flavor. My problem with the escargots was that the garlic wasn't strong enough. While I do appreciate being able to taste the escargot, it's not entirely appealing on its own without the butter and garlic. Furthermore I did not really understand the progression of having the escargot at this juncture.
A la carte #2: Truffle Foie Gras Terrine served with toast, fennel jam, and lemon confit
I was extremely worried about this dish arriving at this point of the progression. I was fearing that the truffle and foie would blow out my palette and ruin the rest of the meal. Luckily, the terrine was about as light as possible for a foie and truffle terrine. It was also the first foie terrine that I can say I genuinely appreciated as I usually prefer the seared foie. As a slight criticism, I thought the serving size of this was a bit overzealous. We ordered of these for the entire table and we also didn't finish it as we were worried about the richness of the foie.
3rd Course: Sauteed Scallop, Miso Lentils, Baby Bok Choi
The scallop and the bok choy were cooked to perfection; the scallop had a nice sear on the outside and wasn't overdone in the middle while the bok choy stems were soft enough to eat easily while still retaining some of the natural crunch. Where this dish fell was the lentils. First, none of the advertised miso taste was available and second, there was a whole lot of lentils in the bottom of the bowl. Because this dish is only about eating a single scallop and some bok choy, the amount of lentils seemed out of proportion to the rest of the dish, and the problem was compounded as they weren't very good. I believe that have a savory element carrying the miso flavor would ultimately make this dish work, but the natural flavor of the lentils seems to overwhelm the miso, so the lentils should be replaced.
4th Course: Spiced Beef, Spinach Avocado Puree, Crispy Porcini spaetzle, Green Flash Double Stout Gastrique
When this dish was brought out, I believe it was mentioned that this was the chef's signature dish. When we talked to him after the meal, he also mentioned that this dish was unlikely to be removed from the menu for this incarnation of relate. Overall, this dish was very good, but it lacked a certain wow factor element. The beef is cooked sous-vide so that it is tender and the right temperature, and then it is seared off with a spice mix prior to service. The spice tasted something like a hit of allspice that gives you a hit of spice and then quickly wears off. This was a great surprise in the first bite, but I'm personally not convinced that it was needed with all of the beef. Was the spaetzle was supposed to be crispy, I found a lot of mine to be doughy, which simply made it taste like raw flour. I understand that spaetzle is supposed to taste like that, but I just thought it didn't work with the dish. The green flash gastrique and the spinach avocado puree were very well executed and they brought an element of balance to the dish to tie it together. If anything, I thought a little more gastrique could have been present to counter the spice on the beef.
5th Course: Mascarpone Mousse Napoleon, Lemon, Dragon Fruit, Orange
Aside from the dragon fruit, this dessert was a huge success. The citrus and mascarpone napoleon worked very well with the progression of the meal. As usual for dragon fruit found in the US, it was pretty much tasteless. If there was one complaint about dessert, it was that it was rushed out after the main. Not 5 minutes after finishing the entree, dessert appeared immediately as if to say "please finish and leave." This was enough of a problem that one of my companions decided to sit for 5 extra minutes to let his stomach settle before eating.

Overall, I was very happy with Relate; I just wasn't blown away. In terms of value, Relate is a great value for fine dining. When you compare what is served  with what you get for during Restaurant Week, I'd pay the extra money any day. We didn't experience any of the service issues that people complained about, but I would have liked the waiter or waitress to explain the dishes as they were being served. The technical execution of the food was on par with the better more expensive fine dining options in San Diego such as Addison and Blanca, but the price was lower. I would have liked the menu to be a little more adventurous, but I feel that will come with time as the community comes to accept Chef Moody. I will be returning with the other local foodie buddies for closing night, so stay tuned for another review.


About This Blog

gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
None of the reviews are meant to dissuade you from trying anything by yourself, but simply to provide information for you to make a more informed choice.
If any special treatment is provided to the blogger, full disclosure is presented at the beginning of the post.

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