PrepKitchen (Little Italy)

>> Thursday, February 16, 2012

Date of Dining: 2/11/2012
Price: $8-24 appetizers, $14-30 entrees
Location: 1660 India Street, San Diego, CA 92101
website


The Quick Bit:
+ large location overlooking much of Little Italy
+ well cooked, well seasoned food
+ wide range of interesting appetizer choices
Δ entrees could be more exciting in concept
Δ space could be more conducive to dinner conversation
Δ service could iron out some kinks.


From the minds that brought us Whisknladle (which I previously covered), PrepKitchen Little Italy has been in the works for the greater part of a year. I first heard about PrepKitchen Little Italy when I dined at Whisknladle during restaurant week, and it finally became a reality on 2/1/2012. 
PrepKitchen Little Italy is still managed by Chef Ryan Johnston, but it seems like he is not the one managing the kitchen. At the time of this writing, I was unable to locate information to who was running the kitchen. However, the feel of the dishes was still as if Chef Johnston was in charge of the menu.
The goal of PrepKitchen was to provide a place to "eat Whisknladle quality food on a regular basis while sticking to our restaurant employee budgets." While the other PrepKitchen locations in Del Mar and La Jolla did stick to this concept, the Little Italy location definitely should be called "Whisknladle South." This is a bit unfortunate as Little Italy also seems to be an area that generally caters to two forks instead of three forks on the pricing scale. As the location is the largest of all the restaurants, it seems as if PrepKitchen Little Italy has the potential to become the flagship restaurant of the Whisknladle Hospitality Group.
I attended the dinner at PrepKitchen with fellow bloggers Gourmand's Review and Rodzilla. We were given a prime table overlooking the India and Date St intersection. One interesting part of the meal was that despite the reservation size we made, our table was short of a chair and I was standing around waiting for about 10 minutes before a chair was brought over for me. Once we agreed to share all the dishes that were ordered, Rodzilla pointed out that Gourmand's Review had a really interesting ordering style. It went along the lines of "we want everything on the menu from here to here" (it was about a third of the menu).

Appetizers:
cutting board (full) - house cured meats, cheeses & accompaniments
The cutting board was the equivalent of a charcuterie board. The cheeses that seemed to be featured were swiss, brie, and comte. The meats included a sopressata, pate, and terrine. The accompaniments were dried berries, candied walnuts, olives, and pickles.
The great part of a charcuterie plate is that there are so many different flavors and sweets and sours all over the plate; it is a great way to experience a variety of flavors in the meal. My favorite cheese was the comte as it had a nice bit of saltiness and a balanced flavor that neither too overwhelming or too weak to stand up to the other flavors. From the meats, I enjoyed the pate the most as it was full of strong flavors. My favorite accompaniment was the candied walnuts; it seemed like the walnuts were dipped in a local honey as the sweetness had a floral quality to it.
scallop crudo - kumquat, fennel, celery, tarragon & sea salt crackers
The scallop crudo was a great balanced appetizer and one of my favorites. The scallops were full of flavor and surprisingly not overwhelmed by the flavors of the accompanying herbs and kumquat; the strength of the kumquat acid actually cancelled some of the herbs so that the flavor of the scallop still came through.
terrine of the day - duck "meatloaf" (liver)
Since the only thing to go off was the waitress's description of the food, she described the terrine as a "duck meatloaf." Fortunately the website does clarify the terrine as being a duck liver terrine. While duck liver seems to suggest foie, this terrine unfortunately was not a foie gras terrine. It was however very well made and full of savory duck flavors. I found the accompanying watercress to be a great touch. The mild peppery yet fresh flavor of the watercress was the perfect herb to pair with the terrine.
flatbread - gouda, pancetta, pickled cippolini onions, gala apples, thyme, and parmesan
I have been a huge fan of the whisknladle flatbreads in the past. Instead of coming up with another juxtaposition of chili and cornbread comment, I'll just wish that the flatbread had some porchetta and black currants instead.
local mussels and frites - garlic, white wine, aioli
 The mussels were cooked perfectly tender and the garlic white wine sauce was a nice accompaniment. The combination was a classic preparation and really featured the freshness and flavor of the mussels themselves. The sauce was perfectly seasoned as well, which is sometimes a problem with these dishes.
confit pork belly - pickled fennel, escarole & cider glaze
This was the second best dish of the evening. The pork belly was cooked perfectly and the savory flavor mixed with the fat was extremely satisfying. I had a little trouble locating the pickled fennel on the plate, but I'll forgive the kitchen as the pork belly really stood on its own. The cider glaze added just enough of a sweetness to really bring out the savoriness of the meat.
cotechino sausage stuffed squid - putanesca and breadcrumb salsa
This was my favorite dish of the night. The squid was cooked perfectly so it was tender and the sausage had a great balance of salt, fat, and spice to contrast the squid. The putanesca sauce and breadcrumb salsa added the needed bit of acid and tomato sauce to really round out the flavors of the dish. 

Entrees:
blue plate - bay scallop risotto with baby fennel and tarragon gremolata
When we heard the blue plate special, we were excited enough to break form and each order a plate of the entree. This was perhaps an error on our part as the dish failed to live up to the expectation. Of all the dishes, this was the most under-seasoned. The portion to cost ratio of the dish can probably be really called into question as well.

Desserts: (stressed backwards)
bread pudding- banana, dulce de leche & coconut candied walnuts
The bread pudding was a nice surprise to me as I had previously had some rather poor experiences with desserts at Whisknladle. Fortunately, this bread pudding was really well-made and packed full of flavor. The ice cream, walnuts, and bread pudding really came together well to form a great way to end the meal.
Jojo's Cookie Plate - (right to left) lemon bar, nutter butter, chocolate chip
These cookies were well made. The nutter butter recreation was perhaps the best elevated re-creation of the three cookies, but all the cookies were very enjoyable.

Conclusion:
Comparing Whisknladle to PrepKitchen Little Italy, I definitely prefer Whisknladle. However, that is not to say that PrepKitchen Little Italy was not a success in itself. Most of the appetizers were outstanding; -perhaps some of them were better than dishes at Whisknladle. I was really impressed by both the stuffed squid and confit pork belly. As with any new restaurant, PrepKitchen Little Italy still has a few issues to iron out. Service seemed to have a few kinks, and the entrees on the menu deserve an upgrade.
In the end, it is still hard to overlook the great tasting and well-prepared food. PrepKitchen Little Italy is definitely one of the spots to check out in Little Italy. I'll be looking forward to visiting again in the future.

2 comments:

Rodzilla February 17, 2012 at 12:04 AM  

I think it might be Chef Sam Burman in the kitchen, previously of Quality Social - I at least know that your (and my) favorite dish of the evening was one of his.

Haha, I liked our waitresses meatloaf description, pretty accurate for anyone unfamiliar with rillettes. Oh, and she was cute.

Bread pudding was pretty awesome, but the house-made nutter butters were the winner for me.

Pics came out great, it was dark in there!

Michelle Tran February 21, 2012 at 3:20 PM  

Whisknladle is our go-to restaurant week place. We'll have to try PrepKitchen sometime.

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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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