Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Terra American Bistro: On Soothing the Soul

Multi-purpose planter is decorative and provides herbs for the restaurant.

Dan and I had an amazing meal at Terra American Bistro as a preview for San Diego Restaurant Week, starting Monday, September 17. As we sat in the warm dining room and watched the people around us, it was clear that Terra's an inviting place with great food that adds to any celebration, helps a first date along, or soothes an aching soul.

We definitely needed some soothing and if food is medicine, Terra was what the doctor ordered.
Two hours earlier, we sat in an exam room with a veterinary ophthalmologist as she went over details and options.

We can scan for metastases... these tumors are statistically malignant... surgery involves removal of the eye...

Meanwhile, the patient extorted treats and belly rubs from the technicians. I'm not sure how to say goodbye to the best dog ever. I may never know how.

After she talked about what we could do, we made the decision to do nothing. Scans would only confirm the tumor she suspected was causing Bear's recurring eye issues. Surgery wasn't something we would consider unless Bear was in a lot of pain. Metastasis would likely involve the brain, making the tumor even more inoperable. For now, he was comfortable, happy, and up to his usual tricks as he worked his charms on the techs and the ophthalmologist. Best case scenario, she said, was that we do nothing and old age beats the cancer.

Bear is thirteen-and-a-half and I certainly know that he won't be around for too much longer. The diagnosis, however, slammed home the reality that I may have to say goodbye to my little buddy sooner rather than later. I swore I accepted the news, but that didn't stop the tears that came as soon as we arrived home. Always looking out for me, Bear gave a few concerned licks and snuggled at my feet.

We had to leave for Terra soon after and it was almost like they knew we just needed some good ol' comfort food. And booze. Specializing in American cooking with local and sustainable ingredients, Chef/Owner Jeff Rossman and his team execute the farm-to-table concept extremely well. The ingredients shine with simple and delicious preparations.

Sous Chef Pablo Ibarra and our server extraordinaire Emily took great care of us when we dined, bringing out appetizers, entrees, and desserts in sets of three. The Restaurant Week menu has lots of choices and we couldn't cover them in one sitting, but we certainly covered highlights.

We started with bread served with a garbanzo spread, made of mashed garbanzo beans, garlic, lemon, olive oil, and occasionally fresh herbs. The herbs were grown in the planter with the tractor outside of the restaurant. Emily noted that it was not quite hummus because tahini wasn't used and the spread was delicious with bread. Appetizers came with the Strawberry Chipotle Boulevard, a muddled-mint/strawberry/lime/soda mix with house-infused strawberry chipotle vodka and rosemary syrup. It was refreshing and not too sweet, pairing well with our appetizers.

The trio of appetizers started with the house salad with field greens, gorgonzola, candied pecans, strawberries, and honey walnut dressing. It was good, featuring some of my favorite salad ingredients. The steamed Carlsbad black mussels were absolutely perfect. The mussels were fresh, really tasty, and resting in a little pool of delicious white-wine broth with peppers, garlic, and onions. I love mussels, especially from Carlsbad Aquafarm, and this is one of the best preparations I've had in San Diego. Ginger chicken potstickers had a wonderful filling, but my quibble was that the bottoms weren't crisp, making these dumplings rather than potstickers.

Emily brought the entrees paired with wine. The local fish was yellowtail, which was grilled and drizzled with an amazing wasabi aioli. Served on a bed of brown rice and topped with wilted chard, red cabbage, spinach, and roasted squash and eggplant sourced from local farms, it was simplicity at its best. Paired with an Alsatian pinot blanc (Pierre Sparr 2010), the light, crisp wine was fruit-forward and went well with the fish and rice. For a light and flavorful meal, my vote's for the yellowtail.

The lobster mac 'n' cheese was equally delicious, but from the other end of the scale. It was decadent with a three-cheese sauce lightened with creme fraiche, topped with a perfectly cooked lobster tail, and sauteed spinach broke up the richness. The wine pairing also went towards the a richer flavor, with a buttery Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley (Orogeny 2010). Considering I was brokenhearted over Bear's diagnosis, this was the perfect dish to drown my sorrows in.

The Karl Strauss amber lager pot roast was a mixed bag, being flavorful but falling flat in texture. The beef was tough, but the marinade was perfect. Served with a little bit of basil aioli, roasted squash and tomato, and sauteed spinach on a bed of mashed potato, Dan argued that mushrooms would have added a lot to the dish. I don't disagree. As delicious as the veggies were, they needed a little extra heft to go with the beef. It was paired with a cabernet from Sonoma (Alexander Valley Vineyards 2010) and, of course, Karl Strauss amber lager is also available.

By this point, we were full and felt better with good food and drink. Emily, who is a big fan of Terra's food, shared insights and anecdotes on how the food is made. Her enthusiasm was infectious and Terra certainly has a place on our rotation from now on. She wasn't done, however, bringing out three desserts with a Taylor Fladgate port and a chocolate martini, both available on the Terra's Restaurant Week menu. We needed to balance out the booze with coffee, which Terra brews from local Cafe Moto beans.

The desserts arrived, with the mint garnish precariously hanging on to melting whipped cream atop the banana bread pudding. Served warm with pecans and a Maker's Mark bourbon butterscotch, Dan inhaled the whole thing and I managed to grab a couple of bites. The ricotta cheesecake was delicious, made with housemade ricotta and served with a blueberry/blackberry sauce from Suzie's Farm, was not too sweet. No extra sugar was added, leaving the berries to sweeten the cake.

We regarded the chipotle chocolate cake with basil creme fraiche and salted caramel with some skepticism. Neither Dan nor I prefer chocolate adulterated with chiles and the mixture of chipotle, chocolate, and basil seemed a little crazy on paper. If you share the same concerns, just know that it works. I don't know how, but this was my favorite dessert. The chipotle was subtle, the chocolate rich, and the basil creme fraiche was tasty when mixed with the cake and salted caramel. As a whimsical touch, the dessert plate was garnished with boba and "popping pearls" which were filled with mango juice.

For any reason and occasion, good or bad, Terra is a place to celebrate, find solace, or just have a good meal. They are participating in San Diego Restaurant Week for lunch and dinner, but if you can't make it, they do have a 3-course early dining tasting menu available from $19.95. Also available are the Chef's Tasting Menu and Champagne Brunch in addition to the usual lunch and dinner menus.

Many thanks to Chef Rossman and his team at Terra, especially Emily and Sous Chef Ibarra, for a fabulous meal. Much thanks also to Tiffany and McFarlane Promotions for setting up this Restaurant Week tasting. Although the meal was complimentary, my opinions are always my own.

3 bites:

Ann P. said...

Hey Marie, so sorry to hear about little Bear :( I hope you three are feeling better and savoring the moments together! The good thing is that dogs will never doubt their owners' love for them. <3

I loved this post, BTW. :) Austin and I ate at Terra for New Year's eve, and it was one of the best meals I've had in a very long while. Chef Jeff is totally cool, I loved the freshness of the food, and the classic with a twist flavors. These dishes all sounded amazing to me, and we definitely have to go back there! We'll have to try their cocktails this time! Austin and I would have LOVED Terra to cater our wedding (our IDEAL option), but we can't afford it! We're having really delicious Greek food instead, though.

Kim - Liv Life said...

Oh, Marie... I'm so sorry to hear about Bear. We've lost two goldens, and I know how hard it is. Hang in there, and Ann P simply has the best advice... savor the moments together.

As for Terra, you have me intrigued!! Definitely on my list to visit now. We are still doing weekend lunches/early dinners with my FIL, and are always on the lookout for something new. Your recommendations have all been hits, and I have not doubt this one will be as well!

Mary D. said...

Aww, Bear! No words for that, just "awww".

I've never been to Terra, I keep seeing it and everything but never remember it. One of these days I'm going to check it out.

3 bites