Monday, February 27, 2012

The Red Door

Our January restaurant pick: The Red Door, in Mission Hills, north of downtown San Diego.
Our cozy corner booth

Atmosphere: UpscaleAmerican comfort food with cozy booths & tables, wood floors, and large windows looking out onto busy Washington Street. We were seated in a large, comfortable booth in the center of the restaurant on a busy Thursday evening during Restaurant Week (no, we didn't participate - we wanted more options to try!).
The Cholly Cranberry Mojito
What we drank: Elisabeth had the Framboise Lemon Drop (citrus vodka, chambord, and lemon juice), and Jen had a Cholly Cranberry Mojito (rum, mint, lime, & cranberries). For the second round, we ordered off the drink menu from their sister (& neighboring) restaurant The Wellington. Elisabeth tried the Bee's Knees (vodka, pineapple & grapefruit juice, and honey) but returned it for the Cranberry Mojito. Jen drank The Lord Darnley, a mix of gin, St. Germaine liqueur, & lemoncello.
Framboise indeed!
Appetizers: We shared the Red Door Crab Cakes with bell peppers, Kalamata olives, sun dried tomato & sweet basil dressing, and we also split the Grilled Romaine Heart Salad, which was served with Granny Smith apple, candied walnuts, and a Roquefort vinaigrette.
Entrees: Elisabeth ordered the Braised Meyer Short Ribs with Cabernet sauce; Jen had the Lamb Meatballs with gnocchi & chimichurri sauce.

Dessert: We had the Belgian Pot de Creme and the Creme Brulee.

Elisabeth's take: The meal started very strong for me. My Framboise cocktail was sweet & tangy and looked gorgeous in the glass - right up my drink alley! I enjoyed sipping in our booth-with-a-view and really dug the cottage-cozy vibe. The crab cakes were good (great texture, nice layer of flavors), and the sweet basil sauce made them spectacular: a really flavorful mix of sweet, savory, & salt. I'm not a huge fan of bleu, crumbly, or stinky cheeses, so I scraped off most of the dressing from the salad. But grilled Romaine was a new concept for me, and I liked the smoky char on the leaves mixed with the acidic crunch of the apple. I want to try it at home. I'll just skip the Roquefort. 

My second cocktail, ordered off the menu from their more posh sister-neighbor The Wellington (did you know, you can get almost anything from The Wellington at The Red Door, but not vice versa? Hm!), was a disaster: the mix of honey and juices sounded so delectable but was a bitter (literally!) disappointment. Jen complained for me (I'm still embarrassed about those things) and the waiter graciously (I think!) switched it out for the cranberry Mojito Jen had in the first round. Much better - tangy, although the pieces of mint coming through the straw were hard to get used to.

I was thisclose to ordering a burger. Again. But the short ribs caught my attention, and I'm so happy. They were out of this world. Tender, dripping with wine-infused juices, and each bite of meat-with-cabernet-sauce-with-roasted-vegetables-with-crunchy-fried-onion-strings was a complex, texturally pleasing, savory experience.

I love dessert (duh), and this is where The Red Door lost me. Both the creme brulee & pot de creme (um, I suppose we were in the mood for creme) were okay. It was a temperature thing: the pot de creme was cold: chocolate, dish, everything, as if the staff had taken it from the fridge two seconds before serving us. Perhaps letting a couple dishes thaw first would have led to a better experience? Even the creme brulee was cold under the burnt top layer. Not the best presentation of what should have been a great final note to an otherwise terrific dinner.

The service was terrific until the final course; our server seemingly disappeared and we waited for a long time to be attended with the check, etc. So the high notes of the atmosphere, first drinks, etc. were definitely tempered by the dessert & service waning towards the end, and I like my dining adventures to be strong throughout!

Jen's take: Drinks started off great from a small, varied menu. Both of my drinks for the evening were recommended by our waiter. My mojito with a cranberry twist was tasty. Normally I don't care for cranberry but it worked with the combination of ingredients. The Lord  Darnley was delicious as well, just my kind of sour/sweet drink.

Our waiter also recommended the appetizers. For me, this was a split experience. The crab cakes were a-maze-ing. The sauce and sides that came with the dish perfectly completed the crab cakes. Each bite was delicious. The salad, on the other hand, was a huge disappointment that could have been easily fixed with the addition of a little more dressing. The first few outer bites of the lettuce were yummy, the flavors mixing well with the Roquefort and apple. But after the first few layers the remaining bites were plain wilted lettuce.

Since everything but the salad had been great up until this point we had high hopes for the main dishes. Elisabeth's short ribs were perfection and I did my best to sneak as many bites as possible. My dish, the lamb meatballs, fell short. The meatballs were tasty as well as the gnocchi but both needed something to liven them up. The chimichurri sauce that came with the dish would have done the job as it was so flavorful but there was hardly enough to cover the meatballs. Overall, the dish was a let down.

Dessert was the final straw. Our first trouble came with being unable to order the creme brulee listed on the menu, a white chocolate green tea. We ended up going with what was available, a white chocolate burnt caramel, as well as the pot de creme. Both dishes would have tasted quite good had they been room temperature. The dishes and desserts were both refrigerator cold despite the creme brulee having been torched. They tasted better as they sat while we waited for our check.

Overall I'm not planning on returning to The Red Door. While some of the dishes were superb, everything should have been good.

The verdict: Recommended for a casual, comfort-food experience. reviewers average 4 stars for The Red Door. We think a 3.
Outside the Red Door
Best Bites,
Elisabeth & Jen