It’s not often that I look at any restaurant menu and want to eat everything I see, especially when it boasts 66 unique raw, cooked, cured and diverse items. Such was the case this past Friday evening at the new Blush Ice Bar + East-West Kitchen in San Diego’s Gaslamp.
Of course, everything looking good on the menu doesn’t always translate to the equivalent on the plate. What’s a Bro to do but order a nice cross section of items and see how they shake out?
We started the evening out with the steamed mussels and clams. They were juicy and succulent. We quickly found, however, that they were simply an obstacle for us to work through in order to get to the fabulous green curry broth that they were soaking in. This sauce was so good, I expect to see it on the menu as a stand alone soup sometime soon. I’m not sure how they’re going to keep up with demand on this — I mean, how many 55 gallons drums are you allowed to store in a kitchen?
Next up was the smoked duck bao. A “bao” is a Chinese steamed bun that is traditionally filled with all sorts of items from meat to veggie, savory to sweet. This version, served with pulled house smoked duck leg and a tangy pickled onion relish and house garlic sauce was spectacular. The only issue here is that there were three of them. After a couple of surreptitious glances at my Doll, I deftly cut the third one almost in half — she might have gotten the smaller half. Hard to tell – the lighting wasn’t great, the music was loud and throwing off my equilibrium, my blood sugar was low causing my hands to tremble, there might have been a small seismic event – the horror!
We had a hard time choosing between the garlic noodles and the kimchi fried rice on the menu. The last time we had garlic noodles was a month or so ago in San Francisco at the renowned Thanh Leong. At that establishment, about the only two things you see on any table are their world famous roasted garlic crab and the garlic noodles. At the end of the meal, you still see a lot of noodles sitting on the table – the noodles are a bit gummy and the garlic sauce the noodles are tossed in pales in comparison to the roasted garlic on the crab.
Not so with these. The noodles had a nice, very slight chewiness to them — not quite al dente in the traditional sense of the word, but then again, I’m not sure Asian noodles are meant to be served in that way. These had a nice bit of toothiness while still being tender, but somehow they soaked up the fabulous house garlic sauce into every pore instead of having it slide off the outside of the noodle, providing a consistent, rich garlic flavor in every bite.
Okay, so I failed as a decision maker. We didn’t actually choose between the noodles and the rice. We ordered both. Call the noodle and rice police. This succulent dish had both house made kimchi and house cured bacon in it, probably a drizzle of house made soy sauce to boot, with a golden poached egg on top. Crack the egg, mix it in and use your lifeline, ‘cause you’re going to need someone to pick you up off the floor after eating a few bites of this. If I had to pick a favorite between the two, I’d still order both.
About three weeks ago when I did the pre-opening interview for Blush, Chef Daniel Barron showed me the beef he was dry aging. The short loins he had hanging were not going to be ready for…three weeks. Though we had stopped by a few times for the soft opening, grand opening and National Oyster Day, I purposely timed our first full-on dinner visit so that these babies would be off the rack and sliced for consumption.
This is a 40 oz. 30 day dry aged porterhouse, suitable for 2-4 people, dressed in its own rendered fat, sea salt, brown butter and Pedro Ximenez sherry with a little lagniappe of bone marrow on the side. It is sliced off the bone for serving, but don’t let that stop you from picking up the bone and gnawing at the meat still sticking to it. In fact, maybe go for the bone before eating your share of the meat just to make sure you get to it first.
Aside from the flavor of the meat which really must be experienced to understand, the texture was unique. The dry aging process that Chef Daniel uses apparently reduces the water level of the meat by about 8% without sacrificing any of the natural juice or fat. This results in an ethereal snap (for lack of a better word) to the meat when biting into it, with each bite releasing the stored juices and flavor. People all over the restaurant were biting into this steak, throwing their heads back and screaming, “Oh, My God!” I might have been one of them…
Dessert was not an option — more of a mandate after that meal. The banana miso ice cream, quick frozen with liquid nitrogen was the perfect palate cleanser with a subtle flavor that had us (okay, me) licking the bowl so as not to miss a drop.
Blush is in the heart of the Gaslamp District with an open, busy corner view and 230 seats. Most seats have a bit of a view of the raw bar, a corner of which has now been converted to a dessert station. When is the last time you saw a cotton candy machine in a restaurant? As with the savory dishes, Blush boasts creative and exciting desserts to please any palate or preference.
Chef Daniel is taking the culinary portion of Blush and carrying it on his shoulders. Here he oversees the application of liquid nitrogen into a new batch of ice cream. Initially, I ran over with a fire extinguisher, then realized it was a Raw bar and that it wasn’t on fire, so I grabbed my phone instead to take a picture.
Getting a close up view of the chefs and cooks at work here is pretty much indicative of the experience you can expect. There is a controlled energy that abounds at Blush. You would think that being in the thick of the nightlife, a bar scene would rapidly ensue at this hip of a spot. Yet, while Blush boasts some fine cocktails and a diverse selection of spirits, the crowd around the bar is mostly seated, animated to be sure, yet settled in without the raw edginess that can be off putting when trying to enjoy a dinner date night.
Parking…not really a problem. Kitty corner to Blush on the Northeast corner of 6th and Market is Park it on Market – $1 an hour – probably the best deal in the Gaslamp. Heck, at that price I like to drive down there and park for no particular reason other than to save money.
Do yourself a favor…drop the fire extinguisher or whatever else you might have in your hand at the moment, grab your phone and run down to Blush yourself. You may discover your new favorite San Diego restaurant. If you order anything you don’t like, give me a call — I’ll be right there. Cheers, my friends!
555 Market St.
San Diego, CA 92101