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Restaurants & Bars 3

Eat Desserts First

Gayla | Sep 24, 2004 12:33 AM

I always thought it was a good idea to eat desserts first because, you see, desserts is nothing more than stressed spelled backwards. So it wasn't much of a stretch in trying to justify eating desserts after a stressed out day. Last night I had 4 desserts............

There were, however, quite a few great dishes leading up to dessert as the ladies that dine on Wednesday night met at Terra in Hillcrest for a few nips after which we tucked into some really good food and enjoyed dining al fresco. Terra doesn't have a huge menu, probably no more than 10 apps and 10 entrees, and almost all of them are pretty darned good.

We started with 4 of the small plates plus the cheese plate, which provided us with a wide variety of flavors, tastes and textures. The small plates will serve 1 generously, 2 reasonably well, but was really only a taste for the 5 of us. But that's okay we were in to quality not quantity. We had --

- Thai Spiced Chicken Lettuce Wraps with Napa Slaw, Habanero Sauce and Cilantro. This dish was a real winner. The kitchen was generous with the chicken and cool iceberg lettuce leaves and the Habanero sauce supplied a lingering kick.

- Ginger Chicken Pot Stickers with Chile Oil arrived as 4 medium sized pot stickers bathed in the chile oil. Good, but better was waiting.

- Pumpkin Ravioli in Hazelnut Sauce. To use a tired phrase, these were "to die for" good. 5 large, round raviolis were stuffed with a savory pumpkin filling that had a hint of sweetness to it, but it was the hazelnut sauce that was the real revelation. What a great pairing. This dish was rich without being overpowering or filling. I'd come back just to eat these raviolis along with a house salad and a glass (or two) of a nice wine.

- Eggplant & Heirloom Tomato Napoleon was one of those architectural affairs. The eggplant and tomato were layered with smoked cheddar cheese and set in a pool of Thai basil puree which was very much like pesto. Visually, a very attractive plate. I only got one bite so I'm not sure how good or not this was, but I can attest to the fact the Thai Basil puree was excellent :-)

- The Cheese Plate consisted of a small mound of micro-greens, a mango chutney/salsa, a few olives, sugared pecans, some blue cheese, manchego and a soft, rather stinky cheese I didn't recognize.

- Bruschetta is on the Small Plates menu, and while we didn't order it with the first round of food, we did order it with dessert. Sonoma goat cheese was spread on chewy, country style bread and topped with carmelized red onions and, I think, some tomatoes possibly. I was more involved with the desserts at this point and the bruschetta wasn't attracting my attention that much.

After the Small Plates we decided we were still hungry and opted to order a couple of the entrees and share them. Our choices were -

- Pan Seared Scallops with Dill & Mushroom Reduction. They were served with some really great lumpy mashed potatoes and a lightly steamed leafy green no one could identify but which was pretty tasty nonetheless. The scallops were sweet and tender and the Dill/Mushroom reduction complemented them well.

- Lobster Mac & Cheese. Okay, so we ordered this dish just to see how decadent you could make mac & cheese by using 4 cheeses and adding lobster. Pretty decadent. Small penne pasta had been cooked al dente and combined with a cheese sauce made of Asiago, Brie, Parm and another cheese I've forgotten. The lobster was not abundent and seemed somewhat like an after-thought. Frankly, the mac & cheese could have stood on it's own it was that good. It also came with a lightly steam green that tasted an awful lot like bok choy.

One of the nice things about having a number of people in your party is that you can order a lot of different things, have a few tastes, not get filled up and still have room left for dessert. So after 4 apps, 2 entress and cheese plate we needed something sweet to fill in the gaps, and I'd had enough stress for the day that I needed to drowned it with some sugar. The desserts were all uniformly good, a couple were a little bit more uniformly good than the others.

- Tahitian Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee had the requisite smooth creaminess, golden, brittle crust and vanilla flavor. If you like creme brulee, this is a nice rendition.

- Cheesecake with Hazelnut crust arrived as a small, tall disk of cheesecake sitting on a dense, cookie-like round of hazelnut crust. Like the creme brulee, if you like cheesecake, you'll probably like this one. It's more in the dry, crumbly cheesecake style than smooth and creamy.

- Lemon Curd Tart was a large wedge of tart dusted with powdered sugar, raspberries and accompanied by whipped cream. It was puckery, lemony and excellent. The crust was a bit hard, could have been flakier, but this was a winner.

- Warm Apple Tart came out as an individual sized tart. The apples were still firm and had some resistence left to the bite, they had not become mushy in the baking process. The tart was adorned with a struesel mixture, and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream topped the whole thing slowly melting into struesel and apples. Big thumbs up from the table on this dessert.

It must be noted that while Terra does not offer a vegetable plate per se, they are generous in their use of vegetables and do an exceptional job in their preparation. You will not find the usual steamed broccoli, cauliflower, carrot blend here. Terra usually offers a wide and varied selection of carefully prepared veggies. This kitchen does not underestimate the power of a vegetable.

Service as always was very good, attentive but not overbearing. Helpful, good at answering questions about the menu, but not overly solicitious.

So for 5 Small Plates (appetizers), 1 Cheese Plate, 2 Entrees, 4 Desserts, 5 glasses of wine + 1 wine flight, 1 capuccino and 1 other fancy after dinner coffee drink (Baily's and Tuaca), the total tab including tip came to $230. Most Small Plates are in the $6-12 range. Most Entrees are in the $22-29 range, although the chicken and a pasta dish were under $20. Desserts were in the $5-6 range. It is possible to eat well at Terra for about $20. They also do one of the most under-rated Sunday Brunches in the city of San Diego.

And if you've had an especially stressful day, think desserts...............

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