March 25, 2008

"Ritual"-istic Dining

Yet again, Justin and Olaina staked out a great place to eat to take me to in North Park area of San Diego. The first time we went was late Wednesday night. We all ate lightly. But I was so hooked and they couldn't stop thinking about the food either so we returned on Friday.

The place is living up to its name for my brief stay in San Diego.

Ritual Tavern with subtitle of "Taps and Cookery" was a perfect place for foodies and beer snobs alike. You walked through the door; one side is the bar and the other is the restaurant.

It definitely feels like a real pub over on the bar side. Local brews on tap and 30 some bottles from all over the world. I mean, there is even a gluten-free beer! The staff is definitely knowledgeable. (I think our bartender and server on Friday was Chris...?) Olaina asked him to recommend a beer to go with her bread pudding with bourbon sauce. He suggested St. Bernardus Apt 12. The match was so perfect the girl washed the whole hefty piece of pudding down with that beer. Need I say more?

Over on the restaurant side, it was definitely cozy. Playing up pub grub to a few notched down from snooty gastropub, the food here is just divine. They use local and organic produces and make their own condiments. And the price is definitely reasonable. Actually, if they would charge more--not that they should--I would totally pay for it.

The first time I was there, I ordered shrimp scampi appetizer which was cooked with garlic, butter and, not with white wine but sherry. was served up with plenty of sauce and grilled ciabatta to sop it up with. I damn near bit the waiter's hand off when he tried to take my plate away as left the bread in the bowl to soak up very last little bit of yumminess. THAT was just how good it was. And of course, I came back two days later to once again have it for dinner.

Justin ordered the beer battered vegetables. Light, crispy, not oily. Veggies were cooked just right, still had a bite to them. Simple. Perfect.

And Olaina? Well, you already read about the bread pudding and the beer. :)

As mentioned, we returned 2 days later for a sit-down dinner. Just couldn't resist.

We ordered the cheese board to start with. With a side of blackberries and raw almonds, three artisan cheeses for the day was Cashel Blue Irish Farmhouse Cheese, Cahill's Irish Porter Cheddar, and what I jotted down as "Beamish Gouda", aged for 18 months. The herbed goat cheese was from Santa Barbara and had a great zip to it. I can eat that cheese board for the rest of my life.


For dinner, I ordered the scampi, of course, and their special of oyster rockefeller. It was economical for oysters. And then I realized that they did have a fresh oyster bar Thursday. Indeed, I was suckered into having not so fresh seafood, but I was a very happy sucker. The oysters maybe tiny, but the flavors of the crumbs and everything was great.

Justin ordered the gluten-free shepherd's pie with Niman Ranch lamb and beef. I have had several different variety of the pie before, but none like this. This is essentially a crock of fall-off-the-fork tender lamb and beef stew, topped with mashed potatoes and baked. I am drooling just thinking about the flavors.

Now, our dessert girl went with butternut squash soup and the sea bass special with fennel something something reduction. (I didn't jot that one down). The soup came in drizzled with olive oil. It was light and butternutty. The sea bass was cooked to perfection, piled high with baked (or boiled?) purple potatoes. It was fantastic.

Finally, we did share the bread pudding. Spicy, custardy, and not overly sweet or rich. We nibbled on the pudding while continuing our conversation and people watch. It was a perfect end to a perfect visit in San Diego for me.


And a beginning of a brand new habit.

Why does San Diego have to be so far away?!?!?

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