Whisknladle - Restaurant Week Fall 2011

>> Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Date of Dining: 9/18/2011
Price: Restaurant Week - $40 for 3 course menu
Location: 1044 Wall St., La Jolla, CA 92037

The Quick Bit:
+ Meat Temperatures were spot on
+ Some dishes were truly inspired
+ The London's Burning cocktail is a must get
+ Desserts were well balanced and enjoyable
Δ Pasta dishes could have been more balanced
Δ Some entrees could be more refined.

San Diego Restaurant Week is a bi-annual affair where many restaurants in San Diego offer discounted three course menus for $20, $30, or $40. Being the analytic cynic that I am, I generally consider Restaurant Week the the two four weeks of the year to NOT eat out (it's four weeks because they always end up extending it into a second week). However this year (probably cause I have the blog now), I have two restaurant visits lined up on the docket. Whisknladle is the first restaurant and was chosen because it is one of the two restaurants that offers its entire menu (unchanged) for restaurant week. 
Whisknladle is a farm-to-table concept that focuses on comfort food. It contains a mix of Southern American and Italian flavors using local produce. Whisknladle's kitchen is headed by Chef Ryan Johnston. Chef Johnston is a graduate of CIA Hyde Park and has worked in Cafe Chardonnay, Darrel & Oliver's Cafe Maxx, and Bouchon in Yountville, CA. At Bouchon, Johnston worked under the tutelage of Thomas Keller. Prior to arriving at Whisknladle Chef Johnston showed his prowess for restaurant menus by consulting for and providing menus for Bizou, Tonno Rosso, Blackhorse Grille, and Fresh[er] Restaurant. When Chef Keller recently visited San Diego, he had dinner at Whisknlade and thoroughly enjoyed the meal.
To take full advantage of Whisknladle's restaurant week selection, I dined with several others including Bobby at Gourmand's Review. We took the strategy of ordering different things and sharing all the dishes with each other, so we were able to taste most of the menu.

Flatbread - porchetta, currant, gruyere and rosemary
The flatbread was a perfect way to start off the meal. The porchetta was enjoyable with the little bits of fatty pork goodness, and the currants provided an element of restrained and sophisticated sweetness that elevated the dish.
Steak Tartare - Cornichon, Farm Egg Yolk, Capers, Shallot & Dijon with Brioche
The tartare was a nicely balanced dish flavor wise, but it lacked a few qualities for me that would have made it a true winner. The part that would have taken the dish over the top for me was the texture; I thought the cut of the steak was a little too fine and it seemed to resemble ground beef to some extent. While I respect that some diners may not find large chewy pieces of raw beef palatable, this was simply my take on an otherwise nice dish.
Local Venus Clams - Tomato-Clam Jus, Merguez Sausage. Charred Rapini, Preserved Orange & Grilled Bread
I thought this clam dish was great! The first thing that I noticed was that the Tomato-Clam Jus had an amazing flavor; I just wish there had been more of it. The next surprise came while slurping down a clam; the preserved oranges had been cut into small cubes and mixed in with the clams. This added a nice element of acid and really brought out the flavor of the clams. The final surprise was the Merguez sausage. This Merguez appeared to be mostly lamb and the gamey flavor of the lamb really provided a nice meaty contrast to the clams. This was surf and turf at its finest.
Chorizo Date Fritters - Local Medjool Dates & Moroccan Tomato Sauce
I didn't think I was going to like this dish, but I was pleasantly surprised. The chorizo and date paired extremely well as the dates brought a tiny bit of sweetness to the chorizo. The deep fried batter was well done and provided both the textural contrast and serving vessel to pair with the spiced tomato dipping sauce.

Tagliatelle - Spicy Pork Sausage Sugo, Pepperonata, Housemade Ricotta & Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
There was nothing wrong with this dish, but there was also nothing spectacular. While I did enjoy the pepperonata, this dish was mainly "familiar" Italian flavors that did not excel past similar dishes in other Italian restaurants. I also felt that this dish was hurt the combination of a really thick pasta and very tiny cuts of sausage.
Potato Gnocchi - Brown butter ale creme, gratinee of brie de Meaux & Chives
Our server explained that gnocchi tends to be boots or pillows - these were far on the boot side. The restaurant offered to replace the dish (+service!), but we thought the next batch was likely to have the same problem so we passed.
Squid Ink Linguine - Fried Basilica Chiles, Garlic Confit, Lemon & Shaved Bottarga
This was the best of the pasta dishes, but it was not without its flaws. This dish really lacked acid - a small squeeze of lemon into the pasta really unlocked the flavor of the pasta and made it a wonderful dish. The Bottarga was also initially heavy and added too much salt to the dish (the lemon balanced this as well). I'm a sucker for fried chiles in general and these were no less enjoyable than usual.

Maine Diver Scallops - Chilled Green Curry, Roasted Squash, Tinkerbell Peppers, Spunach & Capelin Roe
This was one of those "Wow" dishes that you remember for a very long time. The scallops were cooked perfectly and had a great succulent sweetness to them. Instead of playing it safe, Chef Johnston added the capelin roe to the top of the seared portion. The roe provided an extra element of the sea as well as the textural element of the popping in the mouth while eating the scallop. If that wasn't enough, the aroma of this dish upon arriving was completely mouth watering. I had to do everything I could to restrain myself and actually take photos before eating. The curry sauce had a strong element of seafood infusion which made it extremely successful as well.
Local Line Caught Albacore - Sweet & Sour Beets, Mustard Creme, Braised Cucumber & Celery
The albacore was truly fresh and wonderful, but it lacked some season. I think the conception of the dish is to dip the albacore into the mustard as the seasoning, but I would have liked the light sear on the outside of the albacore to contain some more aggressively seasoned crust. The beets were well cooked and enjoyable as well, but I didn't really understand the conceptualization of the braised cucumber and celery.
Tribal Caught Keta Salmon - Flageoulet Puree, Braised Gem Lettuce, Buerre Monte & Radicchio Marmalade
If you remove the flageoulet puree, this dish would have been a winner. The beans were surprisingly strong and flavor and completely overwhelmed the flavor of the salmon. There was also a little too much bean puree on the plate. The salmon was wonderfully cooked and the marmalade added an interesting sweet and sour effect to complement the fish.

Note: We were served a burger, but it has been redacted from this review for the burger shootout
Fulton Farms Chicken - Sweet Pickled Lacinato Kale, Piquillo Peppers, Lemon Chicken Jus & wild rice
 The dark meat portion of this dish was cooked wonderfully, but unfortunately that meant the white meat was a little dry. The kale and piquillo peppers were a nice complement offering some bitterness (from the kale) and sweet spice (from the peppers), but the surprise was the wild rice. The rice was cooked "al dente" and had a real nice textural contrast that paired well with the meat.
Prime Meyer Ranch Striploin - pommes Sarladaise, Haricot Verts & Chanterelles
The beef was cooked perfectly as were the chanterelles and the haricot vert. However, my arch nemesis (the potato) reared its ugly head as these potatoes were really hard and heavy. Ignoring those, this dish was an excellent and satisfying steak dish.
Grilled House Made spicy sausage, Salty Rib, and Pork Belly - Grilled Treviso, Black Eyed Peas & Pickled Okra
This dish was the huge surprise of the night; it would have been the best dish if not for the scallops. The pork belly (the bacon thing between the rib and sausage) was cooked extremely well to convey all the flavors of the Berkshire pork. The sausage contained an excellent and complex spice mix that made it extremely enjoyable as well. Finally, the black eyed peas cooked with a sweet barbecue sauce rounded out the flavors nicely. As I'm usually a hater of beans (ask the flageoulet puree) I was completely surprised to love the black eyed peas in this dish. Oh yeah, the rib was good too, but was outclassed by the sausage and pork belly.

Apple Upside Down Cake - Rum Raisin Ice Cream, Walnut Streusel
This was my favorite dessert of the set. The cake was soft, warm, and contained a nice balance of flavor to sweetness. The Rum Raisin ice cream was perhaps on the sweet side as I commented it tasted more like a maple syrup ice cream. The walnut streusel added a good textural and savory contrast to round out the dish.
Dark Chocolate Pots De Creme - Salted Caramel, Roasted Banana Cake
This was perhaps our least favorite dessert. The salted caramel on top of the banana cake was good, but the pots de creme didn't really work for me.
Tiramisu Semifreddo - Mocha Sauce, Chocolate covered Espresso Beans
The tiramisu was refined and had a nice coffee flavor. What really struck me about this plate was the plating as I liked the black on white plating of the tiramisu against the mocha sauce. What really worked in this dish was the mocha sauce as it added that strong coffee flavor that some restaurants seem to shy away from in tiramisu these days.
Ice Cream and Sorbet duo - Chocolate, Cheesecake, ? ice cream, Coconut, Raspberry, Tamarind Sorbet
These ice creams and sorbets were a nice way to finish off the meal. The chocolate ice cream was very rich and decadent. The sorbets were the stars as the tamarind was actually a little spicy and was a nice surprise. My personal favorite was the raspberry.
Overall, we had a great meal at Whisknladle. If all restaurants can set the bar this high, then perhaps it is smart to go out to eat during restaurant week. In the meantime, Whisknlade will provide one alternative for eating in during those four weeks of the year.
On merit of the scallop dish alone, Whisknlade gets the megabyte award. While I would have loved to award it the gigabyte, there were a few dishes that were just not refined enough to carry it to the next level. It will definitely warrant a revisit to see if it can get to the next level though.


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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.
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