We went to Laurel last year for Restaurant Week and had a great meal - reminiscent of the old French-style Laurel. This year we decided to give the new Modern/Fusion cuisine Laurel a try, even though their menu was not posted online anywhere. This was a mistake.
We arrived 15 minutes early but were seated immediately by a really friendly staff. The bar was nearly empty and the restaurant was almost full. Seemed peculiar for Restaurant Week. Looking at the menu we were surprised by a few things. One, the menu was truncated dramatically - 6 starters, 6 entrees, 4 sides, and 3 desserts. Two, at the top there was a notice inside the box describing Restaurant Week indicating that price for RW was $30 PLUS A 20% SERVICE CHARGE. Hmmmm. Not really RW then now is it? Further, the menu (RW and a la carte) was a bit disappointing. For the first course the had - comice salad, elk carpaccio, ahi tartare. Oooops - out of the Elk - at 7:35! Instead of the Elk you could get mussels or carmelized onion pizette. We got mussels and the pizette. Mussels were good if not outstanding, somehow slightly dull, or more accurately, not vibrant. Good though. Pizette was very good, goat cheese, comte, onions, prosciutto. A couple parts of the crust were charred/burned, but otherwise very good. The other starter on the menu was foie gras ($18).
Main courses had three options - moonfish (I have no idea what that is, but it definitely said 'moonfish' - not monkfish or anything else), free range chicken, and lamb osso buco. Very disappointing choices. The other three mains on the menu were mushroom agnolotti ($20), steak ($34), snapper ($24 ?). I had the lamb. It was good, not great. It was HUGE, definitely Flintstone portion, with polenta (good, not great) and veggies (dull). Lamb was very good, but nothing special. My date had the chicken (not a fish person, not a lamb person). Chicken was really disappointing. I think it was on the menu for $25 (it says $29 online), which would be criminal. A smallish breast portion on Israeli cous-cous and a green olive flavoring. The chicken was really, really chewy and somewhat dry. I know, its free range. However, the flavor was simply not there - a home roasted foster farms chicken has superior flavor, by a lot. Very disappointing.
Desserts were either pot de creme trio or chocolate torte. We both got the pots de creme. There was a vanilla (?) with pomegranite seeds - good. An expresso, strong, less good. And a butterscotch, very very good - the only outstanding thing we had all night.
I also had a 2 glasses of wine and a cocktail (total $26). All good, but not outstanding - they were the choices listed on the menu as recommended with each course. Frankly, they didn't add particularly much.
Final damage, $60 prix fixe, $26 drinks, and drum roll please - $17.20 service charge, $8 tax for $111, plus tip - $131 total. So, for the math-challenged - the 20% service charge applied to the entire bill - not just Restaurant Week. Are other places doing this now? I remember during the energy crisis places were adding on a service charge, but I have not seen it anywhere recently. Personally, I found it a more than a bit underhanded. Seriously, 20% of the entire bill? That $18 foie becomes $21+, that $25 chicken becomes $30, that $10 cab becomes $12, etc. 20%?
There is absolutely no doubt you can find a far, far superior meal for $131 in San Diego. And at their normal prices that meal as we had it would have been around $170 (if that 20% applies). For $170 you can definitely find a FAR better meal in San Diego.
In the end, there is absolutely no chance we will be going back to Laurel. Their food style is similar to that of Nine-ten, Arterra, Meritage, Sbicca. Their prices are in the Arterra, Nine-ten range. Their food was in the Meritage, Sbicca range - maybe a bit better, but not much - think Sbicca on a good day.
Perhaps it was an off day, but for that kind of money we won't be finding that out. Too bad, the 'old' Laurel was so good - loved the 5 course prix fixe, the bread (no bread served tonight), and, of course, the usual foie gras tartlet amuse bouche. Sigh.
In any case, I withdraw my prior recommendations for Laurel and definitely will not be suggesting it again.
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