You won’t need your money roll when you head to Bankers HillRestaurant Review Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
It is always a wonderful thing when you combine a celebrated chef and a seasoned restaurateur; together they create a great restaurant. Superstar Chef Carl Schroeder of Market fame, and restaurateur and chef in her own right, Terryl Gavre of Café 222, came together this past year in a joint venture that opened in May. Taking over the old Modus spot in Bankers Hill, the restaurant was transformed into a dramatic rustic space of brick, steel, glass and cement.
Appropriately named for its location, Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant is a great representation of two artistic minds coming together. Taking his impressive fine dining background, Chef Carl’s menu lives up to his reputation. It is laid out in the unique style of an old accounting ledger and is comprised of classic bistro favorites such as fish and chips, duck confit, and of course, a burger. Several of the dishes certainly show his roots and have just a hint of the personality he created for Market, without the price tag. Here the menu is very reasonably priced with nothing over $20.00.
Since its opening, I have dined there several times. Sometimes at the bar with a friend, other times on the patio with a small group, and most recently on New Year’s Eve with a large party at the family style table. Each and every time I have been, the restaurant is buzzing with hip attractive diners that frequent some of our restaurants in San Diego. Well dressed gays and straights crowd the bar to sip the delicious cocktails that are just as crafty as the menu itself.
There are several great aspects of this restaurant, but one of the best is the small plate. As trendy as they may be, they work here very nicely. One of my favorites is a throwback to the fifties, the Deviled Farmers’ Market Eggs ($7.75). Served four on a plate, they are creamy and just as delicious as my grandmother would make. Served with an Arugula Parmesan Salad and homemade Lemon Potato Chips with a Buttermilk dip ($7.25), which are also offered as small plates individually, they are a great way to start the evening.
Salads, fish, poultry, pork and beef are the other menu sections that follow. Each category has just a few dishes listed, which leads me to believe Chef chose to focus on the best to not overload the menu. The Roasted Beet and Citrus Salad ($9.25) is overdone in restaurants, but here Chef combined the rich sweetness of the beets with the tanginess of the citrus and finished it with a bitter endive and creamy goat cheese. Definitely one of the best versions of this classic salad I have ever had. On one occasion, I splurged and ordered the Local Ling Cod Fish & Chips ($19.75). Beer battered and deep fried, this English classic was greasy, yet deliciously sinful.
Chicken is always hard to serve in a restaurant; many times it is dry and stringy. Sadly, my experience here with the Braised Chicken Papper-delle ($15.25) was no exception. The Pinot Noir sauce was extremely dry, as if the dish had sat under the heat lamp too long, and the caramelized carrots were so mushy they should have turned them into a nice carrot soup. On a bright note, the Crispy BBQ Braised Pork Tacos ($14.25) were put together with just the right amount of lime sour cream and fresh avocado, letting the tangy barbeque sauce be the star of the dish. I also think this is a great plate to share; hopefully Chef will make a smaller version and include it with the small plates.
A true standout for me has been the Grilled Hangar Steak ($19.75). Cooked to perfection each time, the steak melts in my mouth. Unfortunately on my last visit, it was very rare making it tough and rubbery. However, it was New Year’s Eve, and that is not the time to judge any restaurant. The Cabernet Braised Short Ribs ($19.75) is a dish so well executed, it was even perfect on New Year’s Eve. It would be a tragedy if you or someone at your table didn’t order the short ribs. Served with traditional whipped Yukon gold potatoes and roasted vegetables, the short ribs are as tender as can be, offering explosive flavor in every bite.
As readers are learning, service is always a big thing for me. You can have amazing food, wonderful wine and a fun atmosphere, but service ties all the elements together. I give a lot credit to Terryl for gathering some shining stars from some of the top restaurants in the city. But with every good bunch of apples, there are some bad ones too. With only two bartenders, the staff sometimes get very overwhelmed. I suspect it is due to the crafty cocktails, which take about ten minutes to make. At times while sitting at the bar, I have experienced a great deal of pretention and felt as though I should be honored to spend my money there. Alas, the servers on the floor offer a different experience, with smiles, jokes, and a casual, but efficient attitude.
All in all, I think Bankers Hill is a perfect example of a restaurant done well, with the front and back of house run by true professionals. It is hip, trendy, sophisticated and definitely the place to be seen. I must say it is getting increasingly hard to get a reservation, so I do suggest you call early. If you haven’t had a chance to swing by with your friends or lover, even for just a cocktail, do so. Not only is the design of the space something the LGBT community will love, the food is pretty good too.
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