As much as San Diego Restaurant Week (SDRW) has changed (for better or for worse), I still look forward to it and always look through the menus to see if anything piques my interest. Sometimes we go more than once, sometimes we don’t go at all. I think we’ve managed to visit a new (to us) restaurant each time. We had already decided to visit Nobu this year and it helped work out some birthday celebration issues since people are in and out of town, plus there is a baby’s birthday to celebrate soon after mine this year. But, when McFarlane Promotions e-mailed to ask if I’d like to preview the SDRW menu at a restaurant, I jumped at the chance.
Splitting off for a tangent, I mentioned to Travis that I kind of feel weird accepting free meals in return for a review. Like I’m a sell-out or someone just looking for free stuff. He pointed out that just because it’s free doesn’t mean I have to give a positive review. Likewise, even if I don’t like it, I can always point out something positive in addition to the negative points. And, he said that I comment an awful lot on meals that we’ve certainly paid for, so being invited to a restaurant is just a nice perk. I do try to balance my reviews on free meals with what I would think had we paid for it, or what we would be paying if we were to return for another meal. I also tend not to post about places we’ve been where I was just downright disappointed in the food or service, mostly because people get mad when you say you don’t like them. But, I’ve decided that if I’m invited out for a meal in return for a review, if I really don’t enjoy it, I will leave it up to the people who invited me whether or not they want my thoughts published. If you can call writing on my blog as “publishing” something.
Anyway… I was given a list of participating restaurants, weeded out the ones in North County because I knew we wouldn’t be able to get there, took a look at some menus online, and decided to choose a restaurant we hadn’t been to before. When I replied, I was pretty flexible with the time we could done out and gave a list of restaurants I’d be happy to get (since it was mentioned that seatings were limited). I also asked if there were any updates to the participating list and they replied that Avenue 5 wasn’t on my original list. I’d actually never heard of Avenue 5, but it seemed like it had promise so I picked that one. And then I decided to check out Yelp reviews, which was just a mistake. Based on the Yelp reviews, it looks like people enjoy the brunch but are all over the place when it comes to dinner experiences. Travis reminded me that Yelp is all over the place for everything, though, so perhaps it’s most useful for checking whether a restaurant is still open or not.
Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar is on 5th Avenue (duh), between Olive and Nutmeg Streets. It’s next to Hane Sushi. I guess it’s in Bankers Hill, but I would probably point people to it by saying it’s across from Balboa Park. The park part of Balboa Park. And then they’d probably get lost. It’s an easy drive and we didn’t have any trouble finding parking. I had already decided that if I didn’t like dessert, I was going to make Travis take me to Extraordinary Desserts, but that ended up being unnecessary.
We encountered a little snafu when we checked in because the reservation wasn’t under my name, but the name of my blog (how was I supposed to know that?) I was actually asked if I might be confused as to what restaurant I made reservations for, which I found a little insulting since I’m pretty sure I know where I’m dining at all times. For a brief moment, though, I did wonder if there was another Avenue 5 somewhere and we were at the wrong one (this has happened to me in Palm Springs where we were at one Mexican restaurant but we were supposed to be at the other one, same name, at the opposite end of town). Once I said we were there to preview a SDRW menu, it got all cleared up.
The restaurant space is nice and open, in an L-shape. We were seated around the corner, so we didn’t get to look at the bar or the outside, which I guess is fine. The food was great, which is really what matters, right? The menu is on the SDRW site or you can look at the picture I took [update: the SDRW site lists Avenue 5 as a $40 menu, but I confirmed with the restaurant that it will be $30]. I chose the salmon tartar, short rib (I always have to check out the short ribs), and chocolate decadence. Travis chose the vodka-cured beef carpaccio, the herb gnocchi, and profiteroles. He also had a pint of Airedale Homecoming Porter and I had a glass of rose. The porter was lightly spiced (nutmeg, I think), just sweet enough, and nicely rich and malty. I like a good porter and this was a good one. I also like a good rose and mine was right in the middle of dry and sweet. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten better at describing beers and worse at describing wines.
Travis’ brain has been overloaded at work lately, so when the carpaccio came out he said it looked like it had been cured in something. I had to remind him that it was vodka-cured, like the menu said. Poor guy. He was very happy with it and liked the olives and capers that were sprinkled around the plate. As far as carpaccio goes, it was a good-sized portion, velvety smooth, and it came with a small pile of dressed greens and two baguette toast slices. My salmon tartar came with four (I only ate three) and, while I liked the crunch of the toast with the salmon on top, I actually preferred eating the salmon with the cucumber slices. Travis thought it tasted a little fishy, but I didn’t think so. He’s not a big raw salmon fan, though, so it’s not something he would order. I loved it and cleaned my plate.
The short rib and gnocchi were next, served in very warm plates. The short rib was one piece, but it was a huge piece! It wasn’t fork-tender, but it wasn’t so tough that I had to use a knife to cut it. I just had to use my knife to help pull it apart. It tasted like beef (in a good way) and it wasn’t dry, stringy, or chewy. Quite tasty, actually. Travis had ordered the gnocchi, which I never would have guessed, and it’s certainly not something I would have ordered normally. I’ve given up on gnocchi because I’ve had so many awful experiences: it’s heavy and doughy and you have to chew forever before you can swallow. So, I just don’t order it any more. And, because I don’t make them at home, I don’t really get to eat them very often.
People, I have good news and bad news about the gnocchi at Avenue 5. The good news is that they were fantastic. Perfect, really. The gnocchi was light and tender but with a hint of a chew. Almost fluffy, but not really. Plus, they had been pan-seared so they had a little crisp crust on the outside. Crisp on the outside, soft and delicious on the inside. Served with pearl onion, green beans (sorry, haricot vert), brussel sprouts, mushrooms, and diced sweet potatoes (I think) in a Madeira cream sauce, they were amazing. I actually ate only half my short rib, with the intention of taking the rest home, but I kept picking at Travis’ gnocchi. Halfway through, I told him I wish I had ordered the gnocchi and he switched plates with me. I finished the gnocchi and he finished the short rib.
The bad news? The gnocchi is not on the regular menu (we took a peek after dinner; neither is the salmon tartar). They do have a mushroom tortellini, which gets some great reviews, but I would want the gnocchi. If we go back, I’m asking them (ahead of time, of course) to make it. That’s how good it is.
So, I thought I was full, but really I just wanted gnocchi instead of short rib. Then, dessert arrived.
The profiteroles come filled with pistachio ice cream (with real pistachios in it) served on a puddle of crème anglaise, which was so good I’m surprised no one licked the plate. Travis really enjoyed it, and he’s not much for a sweet tooth, so that’s saying something. The profiteroles were good, but I prefer mine filled with pastry cream. Just personal preference, that’s all. My chocolate decadence, though, was just what I wanted. Sometimes you come across “chocolate decadence” and you don’t know what to expect. Sometimes it’s dense like fudge; sometimes it’s cakey like a molten chocolate cake. This was like a flourless chocolate cake, but not cakey. It was light and airy, but chocolatey and had substance. Definitely not dense and chewy, but not airy like a meringue. I don’t know how to describe it. It was just really good.
So, funny story… because I was asked to review our meal, I figured I should take some pictures. I forgot my camera and we had to use Travis’ work camera, which is why they aren’t the greatest pictures (sorry). But, after I’d taken a few, a gentleman came over with his card and mentioned that he figured we were there for the same reason he was (to preview the SDRW menu). We exchanged cards and a few sentences (he actually writes articles that get published… like, for real publications) and went back to our meals. That’s the first time that’s ever happened to me. So, hi Howard! Hope you enjoyed your meal as much as we did!
SDRW may catch some flak from the peanut gallery (speaking of which, I am so over CH and I’m not posting there anymore. I’ll rely on the plethora of SD food bloggers to keep me informed on the new and exciting stuff) but we still enjoy it. It’s an excuse to go try a new restaurant and sample (hopefully) good food. And it’s usually a pretty good deal when you look at all the food you get.
Avenue 5 gave us a great meal and I’m glad I decided to give them a try. My only complaint (and it’s one I’ve run into before during SDRW) is that some of the SDRW menu items aren’t available on the regular menu. I understand that a lot of San Diego menus are becoming seasonal and change frequently, but it is a little disappointing to find an outstanding dish during SDRW and not know if you can order it again. But, I’m glad to know that they’re willing to recreate it (or something similar) if I give them enough notice. I like restaurants that are willing to work with their customers to make them happy. If you’re thinking of dining out next week, SDRW gets my stamp of approval. And, if you like a good gnocchi dish, I can’t recommend the SDRW menu at Avenue 5 enough.