California ‘Soul Food’Eat This! Thursday, May 28th, 2015
A trusted friend raved about Circa, a University Heights restaurant which recently celebrated their first anniversary, and I eagerly anticipated being seated one memorable evening. Sometimes a food column’s word count limit can be frustrating, and this is one of those occasions. Because there isn’t enough space to describe how the experience met and exceeded every expectation.
RUSTIC: My hunky tattooed assistant and I were greeted warmly by Pethrena, a server by night and a writer/photographer by day. She seated us promptly at a corner table and we took a moment to scan the cozy intimate space: muslin colored exposed brick walls; dark wood tables and accents; cast iron chandeliers and a slow turning fan overhead. We placed our orders and sought Pethrena’s recommendation for a wine pairing. Heeding her advice, we selected a bewitching bottle of Bodega Carchelo’s “C” 2013. The blend of four grape varieties produced a well-structured but not overbearing aromatic pour, with dark fruit flavors and oaky undertones.
REGIONAL: Executive chef/owner Mike Almos and his wife Terri are passionate about seasonal menus and lovingly prepared dishes using fresh, natural, locally grown produce. We began with the Green Bean Casserole and the Fried Chicken Salad. Crisp beans are combined with organic brown Beech mushrooms in a velvety sauce of goat cheese, cream and fresh oregano then topped with panko crumbs and crunchy caramelized onions. Flavorful bites of fried chicken are nested atop organic spoon leaf spinach, frisée and farmers cheese, tossed in a green tomato dressing, and presented with pickled radish slices and a cold poached cage-free egg. The dressing’s vanilla yogurt base adds a sweet note to the nutty and savory selection.
Our entrées were the Cast Iron Fried Jidori Chicken and the Flat Iron Steak and Potatoes. Jidori chicken is a mixed-breed domestic free-range bird known for its robust flavor. The succulent chicken, lightly breaded with a mild cayenne heat, is served with sliced fingerling potatoes roasted in duck fat, bacon braised Collard greens and a blonde ale gravy. The medium rare flat iron steak, perfectly grilled and melt-in-you-mouth tender, is served on a delicate cloud of fluffy mashed potatoes, with thyme, Brussels sprout leaves, crimini mushrooms, smoky bacon crumbles and a red ale gravy. We practically licked our plates clean.
Mike then presented us with tastes of the Brother Thelonius Belgian-style Abbey Ale Chocolate Mousse with candied hazelnuts, caramel, sea salt and chocolate ganache. A spoonful of sinful chocolaty ambrosia. We also sampled two varieties of truffles not yet featured on the menu. The first incorporated a hoppy India Pale Ale with mint and white chocolate ganache. “It tastes like weed,” I exclaimed, joyous, and Mike grinned. After all, marijuana and the IPA’s hops are in the same botanical family. The other truffle featured an Imperial Russian Stout with dark chocolate ganache. The tantalizing tidbit contained notes of coffee, figs and molasses.
RETRO: Guests are encouraged to choose albums from the restaurants collection of vintage vinyl, or they may bring their own records to spin on a classic hi-fi stereo. Mike, tall and wiry, sporting a long pony tail, is closely associated with the craft brewing scene and believes there is a direct correlation between the craft movement and the explosion of cuisine in San Diego. He asked to join us and I said “Of course, it’s your place.”
“But it’s your table,” he replied with a smile.
Because that’s what Circa is all about. It’s not about Mike’s credentialed resume. Rather, it’s about friends and family feeling at home and gathering for scrumptious California “Soul Food”.
Eat this hungry readers. You’ll be glad you did.
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