Nine Ten - Happy Hour

>> Sunday, November 13, 2011

Date of Dining: 9/9/2011
Price: $5-8 per dish during happy hour
Location: 910 Prospect St, La Jolla, 92037

The Quick Bit:
+ Great price point at happy hour
+ High quality ingredients
+ Great desserts
Δ Seasoning of dishes was extremely uneven
Δ charcuterie could have been more inspired

While on the hunt for burgers, a friend passed me a tip to try the burger at Nine-Ten during happy hour. As I was already there, I went ahead and decided to sample more dishes off the happy hour menu in addition to the burger. Nine-Ten has a great happy hour deal as all the bar dishes are half priced during happy hour. Additionally, they have a $5 glass of red and white wine which rotates regularly.
Nine-Ten is located as part of the Grande Colonial Hotel in La Jolla. Nine-Ten is headed by Chef Jason Knibb whose food is characterized as "earth-to-table" meaning he only uses the freshest regional ingredients in his cuisine. Chef Knibb has trained under many chefs including Wolfgang Puck at Eureka, Roy Yamaguchi at Roy's Kahana Bar and Grill in Maui, and Trey Foshee at Tree Restaurant. 
While the fine dining restaurants are usually expensive to be inaccessible to many people, a lot of these restaurants will have a happy hour menu where the food is cheaper. A lot of times, this is the best way to sample the food of a restaurant to decide if you enjoy the food before committing to a larger and more expensive tasting menu. 
At Nine-Ten I ordered a selection of dishes and asked them to be coursed out. I did also order a burger, but that will be covered as part of a later blog post.

Charctuerie plate - La Quercia proscuitto, house-made rabbit rilletes, varzi salami
While La Quercia is a great proscuitto to have at home when purchasing from the market, the quality is not quite at the level of what should be expected from a fine dining restaurant. The rabbit rilletes (back) were the best item on this plate as they were full of flavor and well balanced. What brought this dish down was the pickles. Most of these were too strongly pickled and had a really strong acidic odor from the pickling liquid. 

tuna tartare
The quality of the tuna was exceptional. Mixed with the avocado puree and the konbu, the tuna was perfect. Unfortunately, there were some soy-ponzu spheres that were also served with this dish. When these spheres were broken, the resulting flavors were very strong and overpowered the other rather delicate flavors of the dish. Fortunately it was easy to avoid the spheres so the dish was still very enjoyable.
hamachi sashimi
Again, the quality of the hamachi sashimi was exceptional. Alone, the taste, texture and oil of the hamachi didn't need much extra to really highlight the natural flavors. However, the button mushrooms seemed to have either been pickled or marinated in an overly aggressive and salty liquid, which completely ruined the dish. Had this not been a happy hour bar menu, I would have sent this dish back.

lamb meatballs - pine nuts, saltanas, san marzano tomato sauce, grilled artisan bread
The San Marzano tomato sauce was the highlight of this dish. Mixed with the pine nuts, the sauce was extremely flavorful, sweet, and interesting. Unfortunately, the lamb meatballs did not stand up to the sauce. The integration of the lamb into a meatball killed most of the gamey meat flavor that would have been necessary to contrast the sauce.
short rib panini - aged cheddar, onion marmalade
This was the best savory course of the evening. The panini was cooked very well and the onion marmalade was an excellent contrast to the tender and flavorful short rib. The cheese tied all the flavors together. This dish was so good on the savory side that I would return in the future to just order this dish. At $6 during happy hour, this is an absolute steal.

Strauss yogurt panna cotta
This was the best dish of the night. The texture of the panna cotta was just right and the flavor gave just the perfect hint of sweetness. The lychee and raspberry added a nice contrast of sweet and tart, and the toasted granola gave the nice textural contrast that was needed to round out the dish.
warm hazelnut cake - marscapone cream, plum, figs
While this dish was also well composed and very enjoyable, it was completely overshadowed by the panna cotta so I don't remember too many details about it. The figs were perfectly ripened and very enjoyable on their own.

I was extremely impressed with Pasty Chef Jack Fisher's desserts. As I had almost not even ordered dessert, it was a good thing that my companion insisted that the dessert was ordered. On the savory side, I felt that many of the courses left an extra element to be desired. The only really good dish from that side was the short rib panini.
On the other hand, if I was to evaluate each of the dishes I had at the happy hour price, I would be extremely happy with the food to price ratio. For the price in which the food is being delivered, it is a smoking hot deal. If you're in La Jolla during happy hour, I would definitely recommend stopping by to enjoy the slightly diminished fine dining food at happy hour prices.
As an additional comment, I really disagreed with their choice of artisan bread as the bread left a strange aftertaste almost of raw flour in my mouth. I'm sure others really enjoy the bread that was used, but any courses containing bread seemed to be diminished for me if only because of the bread.


Bobby @ Gourmands Review November 13, 2011 at 8:43 PM  

that panini looks great. I might have to go just for that alone. Was that on the lunch menu by chance?

James November 13, 2011 at 9:50 PM  

@Bobby - ya it's on their lunch menu but it will probably be double the price since it's not happy hour.

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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.
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