Chive - Gas Lamp - San Diego - CA
Chive 558 4th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101 in the Gas Lamp District, (619) 232-4483
Because I was working so hard prior to my Memorial Weekend trip to San Diego, I didn't do too much research into where the best places to eat might be. A quick google on the internet brought up a few good mentions of a place called Chive, in the Gas Lamp District, not too far from our hotel.
I used Opentable to make a reservation at Chive for 8pm on Saturday night. The day before we left San Francisco there was a message from the restaurant on my cell phone telling me that the street outside Chive would be completely shut down on Saturday for a huge Jazz Festival and the only way we would be able to gain access would be with a free wrist band that would be waiting or us at the Festival's will call tent.
I guess we lucked out. We arrived an hour before we were due to eat, so we got to enjoy the Festival's closing act, Brian Culbertson (an energetic, funky, young musician) over a glass of Chive's Elder Fizz. The audience was having a great time, and it made for a lively start to our evening.
As the Jazz came to an end, it was time to sit down and eat. Inside Chive the liveliness continued with jazz revellers spilling into the cool orange bar to pick up a post festival cocktail and listen to another band who had burst into tune at the front of the restaurant as soon as the Festival's final stage act had ended.
Inside, the restaurant is stylish and modern. Banquette seating piled with comfy cushions, back lit glass shelves dividing the kitchen from the dining area at the same time as emitting a mysterious glow and white washed exposed brick walls all add up to a modern, cool space. An equally stylish waiter quickly brought us the menus, a bowl of warm, salted edamame beans and a well chilled bottle of tap water. It is obvious that presentation is important at Chive. I cross my fingers that the meal will not suffer from style taking precedence over substance like it did at Rice.
My chosen appetizer, house cured salmon, herbed ciabatta crostini, goat cheese, caper berry, tomato jam $14 made a dramatic entrance on a large wooden serving board with each listed ingredient playing out its own small part around the edge of the main stage where little piles of pepper and salts, including a pretty pink one took the central position. I wanted to love this dish as much as I appreciated its presentation but unfortunately some of the performers were lacking. The cured salmon itself was very good, but the neighbouring plump juicy red roe were too strongly fishy thereby overpowering the delicacy of the fish. The crostini were not herbed, as suggested on the menu and the ciabatta had apparently been toasted too far in advance causing them to taste slightly stale. The herb element came to play in the mild goat cheese instead. I would have preferred a cheese with more picquancy. On a high note, the capers were fat and delicious making a great partner for the tasty tomato jam.
Fred started with a braised pork spring roll, apple and watercress salad, creme fraiche and sweet chili drizzle $9 that he would have raved about profusely if only the meat had been more seasoned. I tried it and thought it was pretty tasty. The pork was deliciously succulent and tender with a great flavour being imparted from the meat's fat.
If I go to a restaurant and find duck on the menu, it is hard for me to resist it. Chive's tempting sounding duck two ways, leg and breast, black pepper spaetzle, spaghetti squash, vanilla, sage, cinnamon gastrique $23 therefore grabbed my attention. The leg meat, mixed up with the spaghetti squash was truly delicious, the duck's fat rendering it into something that tasted far more sinful than a simple vegetable. The breast, too, was good and I didn't mind the spatzle either which, although they were a little bland, made a solid base for the other ingredients. What didn't work for me was the gastrique which, because of the overpowering cinnamon, tasted too much like Christmas had descended early upon my plate. This didn't bother me a great deal as I was able to avoid the sauce and the sprinking of decorative seeds, pumpkin I think, which, like the crostini in my starter, had a tinge of staleness about them, and still enjoy the dish.
Surprise, surprise, Fred chose the beef tenderloin c.a.b. potato and white cheddar gratin, mustard green, red port reduction $32. The meat was incredible. One of the best steaks we have tried this year. It was juicy and tender, everything a good steak should be. This time they got the sauce right too, causing Fred to describe it, and the partnering soft greens, as a perfect combination. Unfortunately the same could not be said of the gratin which was totally ovepowered by truffle oil (why, oh why, do so - many restaurants insist on drowning their creations in truffle flavour?)
We concluded our meal with a spicy basque pot de creme, chocolate, espellete pepper, sea salt sable cookie $8. Based on our experience, our advice would be not to bother with this particular dessert. Despite the fiery sounding description, this pudding is probably not going to kindle your tastebuds into any kind of salivation. I think the Peter Pepper got lost on its way to the kitchen. Maybe he eloped with Salty Sal, cos she was nowhere to be found cookie-side either.
Conclusion. Ok - it wasn't perfect, but when they were good, they were very, very good. Service was superb, the atmosphere was lively, and the food had great potential. There were some great ideas and some superb tastes to be found on the menu. Unfortunately they let themselves down in some areas which shouldn't be too difficult to get right. (No excuse for stale toast). If I ever was in San Diego again, I wouldn't hesitate to give Chive at least one more chance because on our first visit they helped give us an amazing fun evening. One to remember.
This review was a First Impression
Newsflash: Hangar One Raspberry made from fresh, ripe Meeker raspberries from the Fraser River Valley, is back on the shelves again. We spotted some yesterday at K & L Wines in San Francisco. Hangar One's website tells us it is the first release of an annual bottling, in season, with limited availability.
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Chive - Gas Lamp - San Diego - CA