I had never done a “Taste of” event. I think the best way to describe such an event is as The Amazing Race: Restaurant Edition. You are given a vague map you have to decode, a punchcard of sorts that each restaurant has to mark off and a challenge to eat at 60 different places in four hours to get your $30 worth.
For an added element of challenge, some places even try to lure you in by making you sit down and wait for your food sample while taunting the happy hour specials in front of you. This means either you forfeit your time and free dishes from other restaurants to pay for and enjoy a spirit of your choice (since you can’t wander the streets with an open beer) or be that guy that samples at a table and leaves without leaving a tip because, hey, you already paid $30 for this ticket.
Now to the more important food reviews aspect of this post. I will start off with a disclaimer, I only made it to about 30 restaurants of the 60 so perhaps the other half were really fantastic and should be featured, but my off the cuff analysis seemed like most of the remaining 30 were in the Horton Plaza Food Court (at least 2 0f them being Starbucks). So instead of analyzing each stop, I’m only going to highlight the ones that were memorable.
This is the starting point where you are given your punchcard in a parking lot while various radio stations tents are playing music and a homeless man is the only one dancing (in true downtown fashion).
The Knotty Barrel
A gastropub located in the trendy East Village (side note: did anyone else know that downtown was broken up into so many areas?), The Knotty Barrel had the hip, laid back bar vibe that felt like you could grab a drink and some snacks after work with your friends. Definitely a depart from some of the more upscale bars in downtown, they offered an Octoberfest (top) and Veggie Pizza (bottom). The Octoberfest pizza had brats, sauerkrat and a grain mustard sauce. A great crust with punchy flavors, just asking to be pair with a fall beer. I was pleasantly surprised by the Veggie pizza that had rich caramelized onions, sweet corn, creamy white beans and tangy cheesy crumbles on top.
A surprisingly small and cozy restaurant, Lotus Thai wins best serving display because each mini takeout box was filled with Drunken Noodles and half a spring roll (this photo does not do it justice). The Drunken Noodles appealed to a wide variety of palates because it wasn’t too spicy, but still had a slow burn at the end. The spring roll was crispy and filled with veggies, as a spring roll should be. Next time I’m craving Thai, I’ll have to try Lotus’ full offerings.
Toast Enoteca and Cucina
With a name like Toast you figure they either have really great bread or they serve great drinks. Turns out, it’s the latter. Toast is small wine bar that is meant to bring people closer through food and wine. Tonight they were offering a puff pastry filled with a chardonnay clam cream sauce with kale salad dressed with persimmons, prosciutto and parmesan flakes. Honestly, I was on the fence about this place when I tried the puff pastry, good, but not great, however when I had the kale salad I was sold. That’s a big statement considering I’m not a huge fan of kale or salad. The kale was tossed perfectly with the balsamic dressing, plus the flakes of parmesan were practically little, delicious keys to my heart. Who doesn’t love a healthy, seasonal dish that makes you feel good about yourself and the warm fall night around you? Not to mention prosciutto is like the bacon bits of the italian world.
Donovan’s Prime Seafood
Donovan’s is on the list of fancy places to try in San Diego alongside Bertrand’s and Truluck’s so it was nice to try just a taste of what they have to offer. Today it was a New England style seafood chowder (it looked like clam chowder to me, but I was told it was seafood). Needless to say, it was a crowd pleaser, not just on taste, but on presentation as well. We were given the fancy clear plastic bowl and topped with green onions and an infused olive oil. Creamy and delicately crafted, it was a win.
So some of you may be rolling your eyes at this nod, but hear me out. Most of the dishes I had prior to Pinkberry were heavy, bland dishes (i.e. numerous attempts at Shepard’s Pie, tasteless pasta dishes, ect) so having a mini-sized Pinkberry with a topping of my choice was more than welcomed. I opted for the regular tart with fresh strawberries. A simple, fresh palate cleanser.
I’m not much of a burger aficionado so I’ve never had the curiosity to try the many, many burger places around San Diego instead I opt for the tried and true In-N-Out. However, I may now have to try Burger Lounge because of the ridiculously fantastic vanilla shake. I’m a chocolate shake kinda girl, but this decadent, vanilla bean laden (and visible, I might add) shake might have just converted me.
Another win for classy pizza tonight. Barleymash is an active restaurant bar scene, with an emphasis on the bar. Most plates are meant to be shared while watching the latest football game or band with your girlfriend without her being totally grossed out at the state of the bar. It is clean. modern and has edgy menu. For this event they had their Duck Puppies, a play on the southern hushpuppies (the best, by the way) and the Gaslamp Pizza, topped with caramelized onions, garlic cream and cheese. Not a huge fan of the Duck Puppies, granted I’m biased and they were pretty cold by the time I got one, but the pizza was exactly what you would want to eat while
yelling chatting with your friends at a lively bar while cheering on your team. Garlic, onions and a 3 cheese mix, it may not be a date night choice, but it is everything I love in my food.
Finally, the best way to end any night of The Amazing Race: Food Edition gorging… gelato. Setup like a modern ice cream shop, Cremolose is both a dessert bar and a restaurant. I can’t vouch for the food, but I can tell you the gelato is some of the best I’ve had in San Diego. I opted for the chocolate and it was everything I ever hoped it was. Rich, chocolately and oh, so decadent- it is highly recommended (note the punchcard under the gelato).
A fun and reasonably priced event to try and complete with your competitive friends and/or significant other, the Taste of Downtown has a few hidden gems to offer. If you aren’t of the competitive nature, it is a good way to explore downtown if you are unfamiliar, but do your research and choose your stop wisely.
Congrats to Su again for winning the free pair of tix. Thank you for sharing your pics with us at SDF!