Yesterday was our 6th wedding anniversary - to celebrate, we had dinner at The Better Half in Hillcrest, a San Diego neighborhood. As the name implies, their wine is sold in half bottles - cutest things you've ever seen, allowing you to have one wine with the first course and another with the second (and another with dessert, if you're so inclined). The wine list was extensive and covered a broad spectrum. It did seem slightly overpriced, however. Double the half-bottle price seemed about 20-30% higher than full-bottle prices at other restaurants. However, I heard a rumor that they offer $5 corkage, if you want to bring your own.
That being said...this is the best dinner I have ever had at a San Diego restaurant. Charles, our server, was amiable and extremely helpful for our wine pairings. The chef, John Robert Kennedy, who has worked with Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter, came to our table twice, and discussed the menu, our particular dishes, and his future plans, at length. I'd love to have a beer or 2 with this guy and talk about food.
Here's what we had:
Amouse bouche - foie gras in a cone. I have absolutely no idea what was in this. But it was lovely. Hubby says: "Bits of joy. Sunshine."
Mediterranean Indigo Mussels: shallot and garlic sautéed green-lipped mussels in saffron lemongrass broth. These were, hands down, the best mussels I've ever had. From the description, I was expecting a lighter broth, but what we got was more of a saffron cream sauce, with a hint of lemongrass and curry. Absolutely amazing.
To go with the mussels, a half bottle of a bubbly pouilly-fouisse, forget the vintner, but the bubbles were great for cutting through the richness of the saffron cream sauce.
Intermezzo: orange sorbet in a cone. Cute, palate-cleansing, and delicious.
Duo of Duck: pan-seared Muscovy duck breast, long-grain rice pilaf, confit jus, White Pekin duck confit, pappardelle pasta, marinara demi-glace. The seared breast was lovely, the skin crisped perfectly, the whole duck/rice plate drizzled lightly with something red and sweet, perhaps a wine reduction mixed with the fond from cooking the duck. But I'm probably wrong. :-) The confit with pasta was the only disappointment of the evening. Taste was good, but the pasta was slightly undercooked, and at a much lower temperature than the pieces of duck. The sauce was tasty, but it either needed to be more assertive, or have a higher sauce to stuff ratio.
Cabernet Short Rib: Chilean cabernet-braised beef short ribs, cauliflower-horseradish mash, morel mushroom cream sauce, fried leeks. I got one bite of this. So I'm going off the taste memory of that one, single, solitary, lonely bite, plus Hubby's comments: the beef was falling-apart-tender. It had to have been braising all day. The cauliflower-horseradish mash was a unique experience. The only way to describe it is: cauliflower, horseradish, and something else, combined into something sublime. The morel sauce was hearty, yet refined, and matched perfectly with the beef and cauliflower. Fried leeks? Yes, please!
And brought to the table with the second courses, brussels sprouts, cooked in a hot cast iron skillet with caramelized shallots. I need to figure out how to make these myself.
With the duck and beef, a 2006 La Crema Pinot Noir. Seriously, this smells like a cream soda with some exotic imaginary berry thrown in. Plus some other stuff that a wine geek would be able to tell you about. It paired well with both main courses, holding its own, yet not overpowering.
Dessert: Bread pudding with pecans and dried figs, drizzled with a creamy something and a sweet honey something. (And I can't understand why the NY Times won't hire me as a food writer! ) Neither one of us were really up for dessert, but every person we talked to and review we read said the bread pudding was extraordinary. And it was.
Verdict: If you live in the San Diego area, you'd be missing something special if you didn't have dinner here at least once.