Restaurants & Bars 4

Region (SD); an off-the-cuff review

Jim Strain | Feb 4, 200410:58 AM

For Gayla.

Di and I ate at Region in mid-December, and I should have posted a review then, when my memory of the details was fresher, but my *impression* of the place and the meal is vivid, so here goes. Please forgive the lack of specifics.

Region opened a few months ago, and we had read that it was Michael Stebner’s place; Stebner was formerly the chef at 910 in La Jolla, and Di especially was a fan of his. The restaurant is in the building previously occupied by Mixx (3671 Fifth Ave. in Hillcrest), and I’ll confess that I’ve never much cared for the space. It’s nicely decorated, but the dining room (sort of at mezzanine level) is long and narrow, and to me, feels crowded rather than cozy.

The menu is printed up daily, so any specials are listed. Our waiter advised that if we wanted to be adventurous, we should order the multi-course Chefs’ Choice, which seemed like a great value, but for our first time, we both wanted to make our own selections from the menu. The reviews I read subsequently all recommended the Chefs’ Choice as the “must” of the place, so I’ve been kicking myself ever since. Well, not really, because what we *did* have was fantastic.

We arrived early for a 7 p.m. reservation, so we did something we almost never do: We had a drink in the bar. Unlike the restaurant, the bar *does* have blackboard specials, so we had a cocktail of a champagne splashed with Chambord (the raspberry liqueur). Good, but at $8.50 apiece, it struck me as steep. Is that the going rate now? Like I said, we don’t often do the cocktail thing.

Among the appetizers on the menu was fresh anchovy fillets. This seemed kind of bizarre to me, but I learned some time ago that if a really first-rate chef offers you an unusual or unexpected dish, the chances are it will be worth the risk. The appetizer arrived with these beautiful blue and silver fish (fresh, not canned) arrayed on a small plate and surrounded by pieces of cardoons (a seldom-seen veggie that comes in stalks and has a wonderful artichoke-like texture, and a mild flavor) from Chino’s and garnished with tiny tangerine segments. We devoured them. We also ordered the house bruschetta, redolent of garlic and topped with (if I’m remembering correctly) an onion marmalade.

Next was the soup, vegetarian butternut squash. It seemed like it was cream based, but the waiter said it was strictly a vegetable stock. I never knew veggies could taste *that* good. It was simply one of the best soups I’ve ever eaten. Salad was a cool crunchy concoction that featured fennel (which my wife says I’m unreasonably fond of) and which was also marvelous.

For the entree, Di ordered the roast chicken, mainly to get her hands on the mashed sweet potatoes (which I contend she is unreasonably fond of), but even I had to concede they were very good. The chicken was just...what’s the word...Perfect, I guess. Crisp and flavorful skin enclosing perfectly cooked meat oozing with succulent juices. I had the big day-boat scallops. The only thing I remember about them is that they must have been good, because my overall impression of our meal was that it was terrific.

The wine list is a good one, and the prices are reasonable enough that you can try a less familiar label or region without mortgaging the house. We had a bottle of Scarpantoni unwooded Chardonnay, an Aussie wine that was new to me, but very good, indeed, and a bargain at $28.

For dessert, Di had “Doughnuts” -- tiny little fried donuts like my mom used to make in our Sunbeam deep fryer, on a plate drizzled with a fruit puree and a wonderful ice cream. I had the Panna Cotta, a very light, very lovely Italian pudding. Again, I don’t remember the particulars, but I do recall raving about it at the time. Espresso woke me up for the drive home.

Excluding tax and tip, our dinner check was $107.25, plus the $17 for our cocktail.
To sum up, I still don’t care for the room, and parking is a royal pain (as it is throughout San Diego these days), but with the super service from young, but very professional waiters, and the absolutely wonderful food, it’s a cinch we’ll be back, and next time we’ll have the “Trust the Chefs” dinner.

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