Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Okay, we forgot to take a pic outside the restaurant, so we added one from 2003. Enjoy.
Our February restaurant pick: Vagabond in South Park, just east of Balboa Park.
Atmosphere: French bohemian with a cozy vibe. We came here when we first started our monthly dinners years ago and sat in a corner booth seat with cushions. This time around we were at a table.

What we drank: Jen had the Basil Martini after remembering how good it was last time we were there. Elisabeth ordered a Belvedere grapefruit Martini with St. Germaine.

Appetizers: We shared Kung-Pao Style Calamari with peanuts, scallions, and spicy hoisin, as well as the Crispy Pork Belly on a creamy parmesan polenta with chimichurri sauce & a poached egg.

Entrees: Elisabeth had the Double Cut Pork Chop, grilled with creme fraiche mashed potatoes, braised cavelo nero, and a charred tomato coulis. Jen ordered the Braised Colorado Lamb Shank with celery root puree, fennel, caramel apples & a yogurt sauce.

Dessert: We split the Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with mango soup and the Flourless Chocolate Cake with Ricotta whipped cream and raspberry coulis.

Elisabeth's take: Since there was no drink menu & I wanted something sweet, our server sent over the bartender and he suggested a martini with grapefruit vodka & St. Germaine (magic liqueur words to me!). It was delicious and tangy and sweet and a perfect complement to the appetizers. My second one was a bit stronger and more sour, but not totally unlikeable. 
The calamari appetizer was definitely Asian in flavor, but with such a gorgeous mix of salty, spicy, & sweet that I gobbled most of it. Also evident of its deliciousness: I tried the piece with all the tentacles (which I normally shy away from because, well, its icky!) and when a staff member came to adjust our wobbly table, I didn't bother to pause my eating. Yes, folks... this is good calamari! 

I suppose now I have to write an equally glowing paragraph about the pork belly, because it was also magnificent! Tender, salty, and well-rounded with a bite of the creamy polenta and egg (I'm really liking the poached-egg-on-everything trend) and sweet/tangy chimichurri sauce. I've not been so close to licking a bowl in quite some time.

Entree time: my pork chop was well-seasoned and I'm always a fan of meat & potato dishes that satisfy. This one was juicy & buttery, with enough acid from the kale-like cavelo nero to soothe all taste buds. I hardly ever wrap up leftovers for home, but I left with a box this time!

When the desserts rolled around, I found the mango soup overly sweet but really liked the peanut butter granola that accompanied it with the panna cotta. The chocolate cake was good, but the coulis (which I swear isn't raspberry but couldn't quite place the flavor) was amazing and lent a really nice touch. Added to the quiet, cozy-but-hip vibe of the place, it was a terrific meal and Jen & I lingered quite a while after the last bites. I'm very pleased we returned to an old favorite.

Jen's take:  Elisabeth and I decided to return to this old favorite because we had such fond memories of the food and once again Vagabond did not disappoint. I was a bit worried to start off due to the lack of drink menu and our server not being able to recommend much of anything. The bartender was happy enough to come over and work our drinks out, however, and I settled on the Basil Martini after remembering how much I had loved it the first time around. The only drawback was lipstick on my glass, which was quickly and apologetically fixed. The drink itself did not disappoint!

Our appetizers were two vastly different flavors and I worried how they would taste being eaten together. We solved that problem by eating one and then the other. The calamari was delicious with a tangy, spicy sauce that worked perfectly. The pork belly was a little bit of heaven on a plate. The perfect bite had a bit of pork belly, polenta, chimmichuri sauce, and egg with some of the runny yolk. The chef certainly knew what he was doing creating this dish. Another thing I enjoyed about this dish was that the salt didn't overpower as it has in other pork dishes we've tasted recently. The seasonings and flavors were perfectly balanced.

After the disaster that was my entree last month I was hoping for an amazing dish this time around and, again, Vagabond did not disappoint. The lamb was fall off the bone tender and the sides provided a striking compliment. And the sauce, the yogurt sauce, brought the whole dish over the top. The whole dish was a tender, flavorful, melt in your mouth deliciousness that I would highly recommend!

After all the yumminess that was our meal so far I had high hopes for dessert. Normally I don't go for dishes such as panna cotta but this one made me a believer. I loved the peanut butter granola and mango soup accompaniments. While devouring the chocolate cake all I could say, over and over, was, "This is so good!" It was exactly that, a chocolate cake done well with a delicious coulis. Nice atmosphere and great drinks and food, what more can you ask for on a rare night out?!

The verdict: Dependably varied & delicious food in an inviting atmosphere, with an attentive and charming staff. We definitely recommend Vagabond! reviewers average 4 stars for Vagabond. We think a 5!

Best Bites,
Elisabeth & Jen

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