Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Tractor Room

Our November restaurant pick: The Tractor Room, located in Hillcrest, north west of Balboa Park in San Diego.

Atmosphere: Dark and brooding with a hip, old-fashioned hunter/farmer feel. We loved the antler chandelier, the rich colors, and the long wooden family table that gave a homey feel to the meal. The cow skin chairs at the bar and thick curtains covering the door completed the look.

What we drank: Elisabeth had the Organic Margarita: Casa Noble organic silver, lime, organic agave, Cointreau, glacier ice with a grey salt rim. Jen requested the Roman Holiday but was told they were out of the ingredients so she went with the Purple Bowtie: muddled fresh lime, Matusalem rum, purple basil, clover honey.

Appetizers: We shared two, the Smoked Salmon and Rock Shrimp Cakes with Crisp Crostini and the Cornmeal Crusted Calamari with Famous Chili Mayo.

Entrees: Jen had the Venison Meatloaf, and Elisabeth ordered the Filet Mignon Skewers. For our sides (sold separately!), Elisabeth picked the Acorn Squash with Bacon Maple Farmer's Butter, while Jen chose the Smoked Wisconsin Cheddar Mac & Cheese.

Dessert: Just one this time - we were getting full! We had the chocolate cheesecake with peanut butter topping and caramel sauce.

Elisabeth's take:
The margarita was good and strong - a delicious starter, but in hindsight it didn't really jive with the food or atmosphere. I sipped Jen's Purple Bowtie and really liked the tangy sweetness of it; I would have ordered that if there had been room for a second drink!

That black skillet cornbread with the chives and honey butter? Heavenly. The appetizers we ordered pale in comparison to this complimentary starter. The calamari was disappointing; it was devoid of flavor without the spicy mayo that accompanied it. The crab cakes were okay; a little on the bland side by themselves, but if you take a bit of the potatoes with the cakes, the flavor and texture improve a bit.

The filet mignon skewers I ordered, however, redeemed the Tractor Room by leaps and bounds. The seasoning was just right, they were cooked perfectly, and I wound up thoroughly enjoying myself. And my acorn squash side was like Thanksgiving & breakfast in one: maple syrup? Yes. Tender, nutty acorn squash? Yes! Melted together with butter and bacon? Yes. It's a half-squash served in-skin, and I ate half at dinner. The other half was gobbled down the next morning. Must replicate at home!

The chocolate cheesecake was dense and delicious. I usually like my chocolate on the lighter, fluffier side, but this one was surprisingly smooth and a ice way to cap off a good dinner.

Jen's take: 
I'm not sure why but I haven't had any luck with drinks at the last few restaurants we’ve been to. At the Tractor Room we were a bit overwhelmed by the number of drinks on the menu, which I suppose isn't necessarily a bad thing. After finally settling on the Roman Holiday I was told they were out of some key ingredients. I quickly switched to the Purple Bowtie which was good but not special. The purple basil was supposed to be look like a bowtie in the presentation but sort of just floated around my drink, a bit of a disappointment all around.

Crab cakes are a favorite of mine so I was excited to try the salmon and shrimp cakes. Again, they were good though not amazing. The accompanying sauce could have made them better but was a strange horseradish flavor that didn't go with the dish. The calamari was lacking in flavor and the accompanying sauce was little more than Sriracha in a bowl. I wouldn’t order either again. The only good thing about the first half of our meal was the black skillet cornbread with honey butter. It came with our meal and was better than the appetizers we paid for!

I was a bit worried about our meal after the lackluster drinks and appetizers. But, dinner is where the food began to shine. My venison meatloaf was mouth-watering. The portion was huge and I knew I would be bringing some home but each time I stopped I kept coming back for more. This dish is what all the hype is about. It was flavorful, complex, a meal in itself. Usually the hubby gets my leftovers but this one I kept for me. I was a bit put off by having to order and pay for separate sides but both were delicious. The acorn squash Elisabeth got was surprisingly good considering I don’t care much for acorn squash and the mac and cheese was everything you want in a gourmet mac and cheese.

Dessert was delicious if rich. A perfect dish to share, the chocolate cheesecake was complex and the toppings added to the overall flavor.

The verdict: For the price everything should have been amazing. The main dishes and sides were but the rest of our meal was lacking. We won't be heading back soon but maybe would return with friends. reviewers average 4 stars for The Tractor Room. We think a 3.5!

Best Bites,
Elisabeth & Jen