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5 Hits and 2 Misses - Region in San Diego

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5 Hits and 2 Misses - Region in San Diego

Gayla | Apr 8, 2004 01:41 PM

It says it right there on the celedon green West wall......in 2 foot high metal letters.......TRUST. Something the restaurant Region asks you to do, and, by the end of the meal, something you're ready to do. Region turns out to be a restaurant you really can trust.

The menu is small, 5 or 6 starters, 2 pasta dishes, 4 entrees, 5 desserts and a cheese plate. Region's mission to source and prepare local ingredients the best way possible is clearly stated on the menu. Interestingly, menu items from members of the Slow Food Movement are also marked and clearly identified.

Then there is the "Trust the Chef" selection, in which you turn yourself entirely over to the kitchen and let them choose your meal. 4 courses for $45. Add $30 if you want them to also pair an appropriate wine selection with each course. Opting for Trust the Chef is a lot like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates - you never know exactly what you'll get. Nonetheless, this is what Chilepm and I choose to do last night, and we were not disappointed. Of the 7 dishes we sampled, 5 were solid hits, 1 was a solid miss and 1 was probably more like a pop-fly, some components worked and some didn't. In spite of the 2 dishes that were not quite as successful, the cooking at Region *is* solid and well worth seeking out.

The first course in Trust the Chef was a shared cold antipasti plate, this one showing it's Mediterranean roots. Included were several delicate anchovy filets, slices of Manchego cheese (sadly no membrillo), some house marinated carrots and fennel, meltingly soft and gentle red onion confit, a handful of Petrou olives, 2 types of cured salami-style meats, several leaves of lightly dressed arugula and some garlic rubbed brushcetta. The plate was not overloaded and did not look like an especially generous serving for 2 people, but ultimately proved to be just the right amount of food to whet the appetite without killing it.

From the anitpasti we proceeded to the pasta course. Chilepm received the Chive Pasta with Asparagus and Truffle Oil. I ended up with Veal Boulagnese over Papparadelle. Both pastas are house made and both were good. The Veal Bolagnese was light, flavorful (if not somewhat salty) and a good match for the wide pasta. It was also surprisingly light. But it really couldn't compare to the Chive pasta, which was outstanding. Thin spears of apsaragus had been split and lightly cooked to retain some texture, but it was the heady aroma of the truffle oil that really pulled the dish together.

Chilepm scored the biggest hit of the evening with the entree she was served, the Monk Cheeks on Pea Risotto. This dish worked in spades and I'd go back just to order it ($22.95 on the menu). The risotto contained a generous mix of 3 different types if peas and was used as a base to support 2 gloriously cooked monk fish cheeks. It was topped off with a couple of onion rings that had been deep fried in a tempura batter, along with a couple of paper-thin lemon sliced that had also been deep fried in the tempura batter. Luckily, Chilepm has no problem sharing, and I was the happy recipient of a small portion of monk cheek and risotto. The monk fish cheeks were tender, flavorful, with that slightly chewy resiliency monk fish is so famous for.

Unfortunately, my entree was not nearly as successful. I was served the Roasted Chicken on what turned out to be a bread salad. The chicken was a vegeterian (?), free-range bird according to our server. I was served 1/2 the chicken (2nd and 3rd wing joints had been removed), and I do have to admit the breast meat was still moist and it was not overcooked. That's about the best I can say for this dish. The bird was served pretty naked, no sauce, no jus, not even a garnish. And it did not work well with the bread salad on which it arrived.

Bread (from Bread et Cie) is served continuously throughout the meal. It arrives at your table shortly after you're seated. It is served as brushcetta with the antipasti plates, it's replenished with the pasta course if you want it. So why did the kitchen think I needed even more bread with the chicken. It's a lot like putting white with white, or in this case, bland with bland. The bread cubes were hard and there was very little liquid of any kind on the plate to soften them up. Sure there was a leaf of cooked red chard mixed in along with 3 or 4 pieces of zucchini (a vegetable for which I can find no useful purpose, and one that should have been left off the Ark) mixed in, but none of it had much flavor and it didn't do a thing to enhance or compliment the chicken.

The service of the chicken did 2 things for me. First it made me wonder if the kitchen was trying to use up leftover bread. Second, and more importantly, compared to the opulance of Monk Cheek entree, I felt clearly second class and second rate in the entree I was served. The chicken itself was good, no question, but chicken is chicken. I grew up on a poultry ranch, I can cook chicken as well as this, or better at home. I almost never order chicken when I dine out, especially at mid to upper end restaurants. The 2 entrees served at our table were clearly not equal, the chicken just isn't even in the same league as the monk cheeks.

I was served a Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake with Blueberries for dessert. Chilepm received a Creme Fraiche Panna Cotta. Both desserts were good, but the panna cotta was truly outstanding. There was little discernible lemon flavor in the pudding cake, which was acutally more like a round of lemon geniose topped with some lemon curd. Granted Meyer lemons lack the bite or assertiveness of the more common Eureka lemon, and you can almost never call a lemon dessert bland, but the lemon pudding cake was bland and not assertive at all. It was, however, accompanied by some really wonderful small, sweet blueberries. Unfortunately, it was also accompanied by a gremolata sorbet with quite a parsely kick to it. I'll choose a lemon dessert over anything else when offered, so I was really happy to when I was served this one. It's good, has lots of potential, but needs a little tweaking to elevate it to the realms of a really special lemon dessert.

By comparison, the panna cotta *was* spectacular. Served with some poached rhubarb and an exceptional mint sorbet, it was light and rich at the same time.

When we compared notes after the meal, Chilepm and I both agreed, she had by far the better meal than I, and there was certainly nothing wrong with mine!! (except for the insipid bread salad). For a young restaurant the kitchen is really doing well and showing a huge amount of potential. Tables are close so we got to see several other menu items. The salad with house made cheese looked like a winner as did the grilled sardines and the pork entree looked terrific.

The other thing Chilepm and I liked about Region was the pacing of the meal. The courses did not arrive one right after the other, or before we were done with a course. There was time after each course to settle in a bit, rest, have a conversation. We were not rushed or hurried through the meal, and we never felt like the restaurant wanted to turn our table to squeeze in another round of diners.

The waitstaff is young and efficient. It is also evident that they've received a fair amount of training and that they're being held to some service standards. In the course of the meal we had 4 different members of the waitstaff serve us. They knew what was in each dish, could knowledgeably answer questions when asked, did not have attitudes, didn't hover and were all very gracious.

Region has a tremendous amount going for it. Chilepm and I both liked it a lot and plan on returning frequently. I like that they're using local products, organics where possible and that they support the slow food movement. The meal we were served had strong, clear flavors in which the quality of the raw ingredients easily shines as does the respect and skill with which the kitchen handles these ingredients. Region makes it easy for the diner to TRUST that they will get a good meal.

(Region is on 5th Ave., Pennsylvania is the cross street. Street parking, easy to difficult depending upon day and time)

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