Last night, we braved prime rush hour I-5/SR-56 off-ramp traffic to attend Taste of Arterra, where the newly remodeled restaurant would be showcasing their also-new chef and menu. Cami and Jeff met us there and we walked into the sold-out event like we were rock stars. Well, stressed and slightly harried rock stars (at least, I was). This would have been a perfect event for pictures and posting, but with my workload the way it is, I’m lucky I’m remembered to wear a jacket that day.
For a $10 “donation”, 8 food stations, a sushi tray, a cocktail table and wine sampling (also Trumer Pils) awaited us in the pool/outdoor lounge area. Having frantically worked through lunch and surviving on 4 Cadbury mini eggs I found in my purse (in the bag, not rolling around in my purse), I was starving and may have been in no mood for greetings and chit chat when we got there (Sorry, Cami and Jeff!) A glass of Chardonnay in my hand and two pieces of sushi in my mouth and I was on my way to being able to enjoy the rest of the evening.
Seriously – I wish I had pictures to show you off the food we enjoyed. The four of us secured a table – after scouring inside, cabana, and settling at a high-top by heat lamps – and then we split up to conquer the food stations. Cami and I would go get two dishes each (8 altogether so we could feed the boys in one trip) and then the boys would be sent out on their mission. Once we had made the initial tasting, seconds (and thirds) were brought back. We did skip the fancy cocktail since I don’t think standing in line for a cocktail is worth it.
- Spicy tuna roll and Scrumptious roll – both were good; neither was outstanding. Spicy tuna is spicy tuna and the Scrumptious roll was shrimp tempura inside with tuna and avocado outside? To be honest, I think Poway Sushi Lounge makes tastier rolls. How the nigiri is at Arterra, I can’t tell you.
- Beef short rib over polenta – Yum. I know some people are over short ribs and think it’s gotten too trendy. I will always eat a tender, moist, cube of beef in beefy sauce. The beef just melted as you bit into it and was super easy to eat. The polenta was soft and creamy. I could have eaten a whole plate of it. We definitely had seconds of this.
- Seared ahi – I think it had an eggplant puree under it, but I’m not sure. Since this (and the short rib) was one of the first bites we really had, I was more focused on the FOOD part and not the details. Sorry. The puree was great, the ahi was tender, but compared to some of the other dishes we ate, I was underwhelmed. This didn’t stop us from grabbing a second bite while we stood in line (for what we later learned was the cocktail table).
- Crispy duck taco – A round wonton wrapper was folded and fried to make a taco shell (think shatteringly crisp and light) and filled with Peking duck (minus the crispy, tasty skin) and kimchi cucumbers and maybe a spicy mayo? It was completely messy to eat, but the duck was really good. You ended up biting into the duck and then pulling the whole piece out and then eating the kimchi and shell afterwards, but it tasted good. I didn’t seek out a second, but I didn’t turn it away when another showed up in front of me, either.
- Coconut curry soup with crab – I don’t even know if that’s what it was called (the boys kept bringing this one back) but it was delicious. Creamy and rich from the coconut (and probably cream), not too spicy from the curry, and with a lump of sweet crab at the bottom. The first one we ate with the spoon; subsequent tastes were just short of shooters. I think we had 3 of these, but we could have easily eaten a whole crock.
- Tomato & mozzarella on a pipette – A ball of fresh mozzarella, half a cherry tomato, speared onto a pipette filled with a balsamic vinaigrette. You pop the whole thing into your mouth and then squeeze the dressing out. Fun to eat, but nothing really new. Again, this didn’t stop us from eating another one. Those of us that like tomatoes, that is.
- Lobster “mac” ‘n cheese – This was made with orzo and was blessed with truffle oil. Creamy, rich and heavenly, I think I loved this dish more with the orzo than with macaroni. We may have eaten 3 of these. I can’t remember. It was definitely the dish we kept talking about and I’ve to have a bowl in front of me right now.
- Blood orange trifle – blood orange compote layered with whipped cream and avocado butter cake, topped with an almond crunch candy. Deceptively light, you’d never know the butter cake was made with avocado and the oranges were perfectly sweet. I ate 2 of these. I regretted it afterwards, because it pushed me over the contentedly-full level, but it sure was tasty.
- Duo of panna cotta – There was a white layer and a chocolate layer, but it was really just a holding place for the salted caramel layer on top. Not caramel panna cotta, but gooey salted caramel. Very rich, very decadent, but so good. The boys put away 2 of these, but I couldn’t do it. It would definitely be a sharing dessert.
All in all, I was very impressed with the night. I was concerned that it would get really crowded and we’d spend most of our time standing in line and then they’d run out of food, but that wasn’t the case at all. I don’t know if they really limited the reservations they accepted, but the longest lines we encountered were at the crab soup/duck taco station and then the cocktail table we abandoned. All the other stations had plenty of portions plated constantly, so you could walk up, pick up food, then walk away. Or you could be the ladies who walked up to the tomato/mozzarella pipette, thought about how to eat it, ate it, quipped about it, AND THEN moved away. We were there for 2 hours (maybe 1 1/2 hours?) and it looked like they still had plenty of food to go. After missing out on dishes from the FISH! event last summer, I was really pleased with how organized and efficient Arterra was.
Nothing we ate is listed on their menu page, but maybe it just hasn’t been updated yet. I don’t know how often we’d return to Arterra, mainly because it’s kind of a pain to get there after work, but food was certainly delicious. I would be willing to go back for that lobster mac ‘n cheese…