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Region - San Diego (Hillcrest) lengthy thoughts

Rotochicken | Aug 14, 200404:42 AM

Went to Region tonight. Made a 6:45 reservation and arrived a little early (lucky with traffic and parking). Despite the hype and a Friday night I believe there was at least one open table the entire night (left at about 8:45) and plenty available well past 7. In any case, to address previous posts about service and timing - basically everybody has a point. The lulls between courses exist, but did not exceed 15 minutes. You will definitely not feel rushed, and depending on attitude may get a little annoyed. We did not mind, but any longer and it would have been too much. IMO a little faster for the 'slow food' thing and it would be better. We were seated at 6:45 ordered the 4 course Trust the Chef and left at 8:45. Not too long, and not rushed, but a couple lulls edged up to the point of being (or feeling like) lax service. Be prepared for a slow pace and you'll be fine.
On to the meal. We both ordered the Trust the Chef four course meal, one without wine and one with ($45 and $75). Menu is small, 5-6 starters, two pastas, 5 entrees, 6-7 desserts, cheese plate. I will say right off the bat, do not do the Trust the Chef. Sounds cool and we were excited by the idea, but the fact is you end up getting a sampler starter platter for two, then one of each the pastas, two different entrees and two different desserts. Sounds great right? Well, the point is every item served was from the menu. Not a single alteration, variation, or any component not on the menu (other than putting multiple small starters on one plate). So what is the point? It is just a prix fixe where you can't choose. And you cannot really request anything. My date did not want either fish for an entree and asked (and received) a non-fish. However, she also really wanted the fig tart for dessert but no dice. So again, what is the point? A diner wants a certain thing why not give it to them? As the waiter said, 'then it wouldn't really be trusting the chef.' Reasonable point, but since every item you get is from the menu you are automatically trusting the chef by ordering. And there is no feeling that the particular arrangement of dishes is special or appropriate for you or whatever, it just seemed weird. I seriously doubt anyone would get the Trust the chef twice. If they want that concept to succeed they absolutely need to either let you choose or do something - anything - that is not on the menu. Many other places around town (ie Laurel, Cuvee) will toss you a little foie gras tartlet or small cup of bisque or a sorbet between courses just because. Region absolutely NEEDS something like that on their trust the Chef thing. It would be like getting omakase at a sushi bar and having the chef give you sashimi platter A and 2 rolls from the menu. What would be the point? In the end if you have absolutely no preference for any course and are going to get 4 courses - go for it. If not, do not because there is nothing there you can't just order. And if you do want something you should order it or you may not get it and be disappointed. Anyway, on to the food.
First course, sampler platter of most of the starters (except, of course the grilled sardines which I would have ordered) bruschetta with fig, arugla, blue cheese, balsamico. Verdict, tasty, but not quite great. Blue cheese was shaved too fine and was drowned out by the balsamico which was a bit too liberally applied. And the toast was quite hard. Very tasty, don't get me wrong, but should have been better. Pork sausage and mixed green salad. Very good sausage if not spectacular, greens superb. Mozzarella, tomato, basil. House made mozzarella very, very good, tomato excellent, could have used more basil and was better with a little sea salt (on table). Carmelized onions (reduced in Chimay I think she said), good, sweet, nice touch. Prosciutto type ham around melon (not prosciutto - less cured, softer, a little spicier, cant recall name). Very good melon. It is what it is, classic, good. Ah, I almost forgot my wine - oh, so did the waiter. I was not served my first course wine. In return I received a full pour (instead of a either a 3/4 pour I guess) of the next three wines. Seemed reasonable, but more on this later.
Second course. We each received one of the offered pastas. Pasta fresh and house made and as good as it gets. One a chicken and mortadella ravioli. Very good in an excellent chicken broth. Pasta carbonara. Lite on the peas, excellent ham, egg yolk stirred in as a sauce. Wine dolcetto d'alba, good not great, well paired. Both pastas really superb and portions a good size - not too much.
Main course. Date received the flat iron steak, I got the cod. Other choices were pork, chicken-under-brick, and black bass. Cod was very good, slighty crusty outside, perfectly cooked throuhout. Served on a bed of veggies including some out of this world eggplant. Wine was a Keller 2002 Pinot Noir. Wine was fantastic but not a great pairing (and no, I am not caught on the red wine with fish thing I often have pinot with fish). Flat iron steak served with a bitter green (kale? wasn't chard) and fresh, raw tomatoes that are as good as tomatoes can be. Steak was fantastic, perfectly cooked to a rarish medium rare. Really done well, easy to make flat iron tough but they had it perfectly tender and full of flavor (of course its flat iron!). Really, really good.
Dessert course. Date had chocolate hazelnut cake, with lace cookie and malted choc. ice cream. Cookie and ice cream great. Cake ok, somehow hazelnut and choc. did not meld into the perfect combo they usually are. And date slightly disappointed in not getting the tart for her birthday (and not a big choc. fan). I had panna cotta with peach sorbet. Panna cotta was absolutely tremendous. Served a very good, though not great, moscata di asti. Other desserts were french toast something, aforementioned tart, and something else chocolatey. Cheese plate looked good $11). Other starters not mentioned were corn on the cob, grilled sardines, watermelon goat cheese salad,
About the wine. The wine list looked excellent, and it appeared to me to have very reasonable markups (maybe a standard 15-20 above retail. Many very interesting bottles for $35-50. Wines by the glass - there were many, all about $8-10. IMO for the $30 extra for the Trust wine pairings you get no value. I could have ordered the three wines I got for $30 (maybe less) and if you get the four they are smaller pours so you get the advantage of one extra, but no deal as it were. Would prefer to come with one or 2 people who partake and choose a bottle. Or, if the sole drinker I would get a glass, possibly two. If I wanted help I am certain they would suggest the wine they are serving with the trust the chef thing.
In the end the bill was over $155. Food was very very good. We will go again but will definitively not get the Trust the chef. I would have preferred a meal of grilled sardines ($8), black bass (about $24) and panna cotta ($7) with a superb Viogner ($9). My date would have preferred starter ($8), steak ($24) or possibly carbonara ($9), and tart ($7). Would have been much less than $155.
We did not stop by the bar, but it looked spacious - maybe because it was nearly empty - even when we left. It also looked like some interesting things - were featuring a lemon based summer drink with limoncello that looked interedting.
Ok, now don't get me wrong. The food was very good. Very. Almost everything prepared extremely well and the ingredients were top notch. We will go back. We might try and stop by and glance at the menu before committing. I think they could tremendously improve the restaurant by offering 1 or 2 more entrees. they would also be more highly thought of if they changed the Trust the Chef thing to either have meaning (ie have something other than menu items) or to a prix fixe (even with limited choices). Not to rail on this too much, but can anybody explain what the point of Trust the Chef is if you do not get a single item, side dish, garnish, or sauce that you wouldn't get by ordering from the menu? A la carte the four items would be about $47. Save $2 lose your choices and get to sample multiple starters.
Service was fine other than the forgotten first wine. In the end a very good meal, but next time I want to spend over $150 on a meal for two I am going to Laurel or the Marine Room, but I would go back for $100. laurel is a good comparison. Laurel has a five course prix fixe for $75 with wine. If choosing between the two $75 meals I would select laurel hands down (unless Region had something I absolutely could not resist - but then, ironically, I guess I would be forced to order it from the menu so I knew I'd get it - and Laurels foie gras tart is as irresisible as it gets : )).
I recommend Region with caveats. Check the menu before you go in - with only half a dozen (or less) entrees you may not be excited about anything. And I do not recommend the Trust the Chef unless you literally cannot decide on anything you see and would be literally equally happy with anything.
Just my thoughts. I am wondering about the lack of a crowd, I was afraid it would be a mad house.
Anyway, good eating, all!


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