Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Better Half Bistro

Here's an entry for a fun little dinner party with Amanda/Tyler and Nicole/Justin. Again, my apologies for not changing the date to a Saturday so a few more people could have possibly made it. It's cool though, because I'm sure we'll all have plenty of opportunities to get together! Am I right? Am I right?

For this particular get-together I choose The Better Half after reading about it in an ass-ton of articles and reviews. I just had to see what the fuss was all about. I heard the actual dining area was small. Yeah no kidding. I do not suggest you come here with a party of more than four, since the tables are a bit on the small side and there isn't much room to move/walk around.

Not a very original shot, I know.

All these glasses get filled up with water, thus saving the staff the task of doing refills. Yeah I'm joking. In case you haven't heard, The Better Half serves wine by the half bottle. This probably encourages diners to try out different wines along with their meals. As for their pricing/value...well, I don't know enough about wine to say anything. If I remember correctly, prices range from $18++. The wine list is very extensive. If wine isn't your thing, rest assured! The Better Half has a nice selection of imported beers.

Amuse bouche:

Smoke salmon, dill, a dollop of cream(cheese?)

Seared Périgord Foie Gras:

Pancetta, Frisée & Radicchio Salad, Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, 10-Year-Aged Sherry Vinaigrette

It's been awhile since I've had foie gras and I was really looking forward to this dish. Alas, it was a bit of a letdown. Alright for $14 I wasn't expecting a big serving of liver, but come on now. This was barely a full bite! Okay sure Périgord, France claims to be a good region for foie gras production, but seriously...all I get is just this little sliver of liver? On a more positive note, however, the liver tasted amazing!

By the way, this is a warm salad. I really liked the vinaigrette, but The Better Half used a bit too much. Each bite I took was just dripping with it and I think I might have splashed Tyler next to me. Don't worry man, the stain will come right out! Flavors here are very balanced and works well with the seared foie gras.


Some kind of orange gelato.

This was really cute. Looks big, but I just tossed the whole thing in my mouth. Orange peel gives it the subtle taste of oranges. I think they make this from scratch!

Crispy Duck Confit:

Chilled European Lentils, Sautéed Mushrooms & Swiss Chard Savory Raspberry Vinaigrette, Sesame Oil

This is my first time having duck confit, and I think I'll be ordering it in other restaurants from now on! Confit is made by curing the meat(salt/garlic) and poaching it in its own fat. Classic recipes calls for frying or grilling it till crisp. Hot damn doesn't that sound good? Underneath the crispy skin was super tender meat. I really dig this entree. The skin is savory with hints of garlic and XYZ herbs/seasoning (I have no clue what they added). There was also this very faint sweetness to it that totally brings it to a whole new level. Omit that sweetness and the skin is nothing! There really isn't a whole lot of meat on the leg/thigh of a duck, but I was really full by the time I cleaned off the plate.

Chard and lentils were okay. I don't like vegetables very much. The only reason I put up with them is so that I don't get cancer. Plus, fiber is good for you.

Our party also ordered the “Ispahnski Pelmeni” Pasta (Pork Confit, Chipotle Azeitão Queso & Cilantro Filled Ancho Chile Russian Dumplings Roasted Poblano Pepper & Tomatillo Sauce) and South Dakota Bison Barbecue Ribs (Maple & Smoked Ham Black Eyed Peas, “Southern” Cole Slaw Basil Hayden Bourbon & Watermelon Mint Glaze). Tell me those entrees don't sound cool! As Tyler described it, the pasta tasted like it had Mexican influences. I concur. If Mexicans made pasta, this is what it would taste like. It tastes like kick-ass! The ribs were pretty interesting. Our table found them to be kinda like beef ribs but with less fat (still extremely tender). I wonder where I can buy bison steak?

Surprisingly, I was stuffed by the end of the meal and couldn't tuck in dessert. Shocking, I know. I NEVER pass up dessert! Nicole and Justin still had room left so they both tried the crepes and creme brulee. Both of them gave the thumbs up. I hear Nicole's quite the creme brulee fan, so if she says it's good then it's damned good.

Food and service were very good and our server was pretty entertaining. But when we requested separate checks (only 3!), the staff did a 180, freaked out, and stopped refilling our drinks. Here's the real kicker: our server claimed that working out the checks would take more than 20 minutes. He even made a small show of doing some initial calculations while at our table. What the hell? We all thought it was a joke at first, but our checks really did take 20 minutes to come to us. This would be forgivable if the restaurant was busy, but I only spotted 2-3 couples in the restaurant. It's really not that hard to add and multiply. Now subtracting and dividing? That might take a bit longer. When we finally did get our checks, we were pleasantly surprised to find that an 18% gratuity had already been added. Thanks!

All in all though, The Better Half is a nice place to have a quiet, private dinner. Food's good, but certain items may be $3-6 overpriced. Not a big deal I guess since this is a small establishment and dishes we had all tasted pretty good. I'm still salivating over that duck confit...

If you plan to come here, you must remember two things:
1) Parking is a nightmare. Try to find a space inside the residential neighborhood to the south.
2) Don't torment the staff by requesting separate checks and making them do basic arithmetic. They'll get you back by forcing a 20min wait.

Alice's review can be found here.

The Better Half Bistro
127 University Avenue
San Diego, CA 92103


Charlie Fu said...

Best restaurant in San Diego?

Anonymous said...

The photos turned out great! Thanks again for organizing the dinner, we had a great time, surprise ending and all!

Anonymous said...

you're shot really did come out great. the lighting got iffy quickly, too! t & i ditto nicole-we had a blast regardless of the surprise ending! :-D we have been wishing we had taken pictures to do a little write up ourselves. we'll have to remember that next time.

Anonymous said...

i meant shots... not shot! damn it amanda, edit BEFORE you press publish.

Roger said...

Charlie - Hm...I don't know about best. I'm sure there are better places.

Nicole - It was real fun! We should do this more often if everyone's schedules permit it.

Amanda - lol I've made the same mistake plenty of times.

Anonymous said...

Looks great! Wish I could have made it.

Sharon said...

Food looks pretty good! If I stop by, I know I'll be tempted to ask for separate checks just to spite them! Maybe they've gotten the hang of it by now?

Charlie Fu said...

Alot of people on chowhound are calling this one of the best. I trust your judgment more =)

Anonymous said...

The color of the foie gras leads me to believe that it was not seared properly. It should be golden brown.

As far as Chowhound and the "Best Restaurant in San Diego," that is mostly honkman being his usual objectionable self.

Roger said...

Ah I see, Cpt. Jack. Thanks for dropping by with that info, you foie gras lover you!

Always great to learn more about food :D.

Alice Q. Foodie said...

How funny Roger - I just wrote about this place too, and I wasn't that impressed myself. Nice photos of the food!

parrotkind said...

We have eaten at this restaurant at least 5 times and enjoyed it each time. Even the last time, mid May, with two people from the kitchen not showing up on a Saturday night (think a futbol game was going on) service was good, and they were quite busy. For the bloggers that have only been one time, they should try it again, as one meal does not tell a true story of a restaurants' abilities!!! I believe the service is better here than any other restaurant in town. Food is quite good, also, and we have tried many things on the menu. I have not found that any of my meals were too salty, but that has been the case at a few of the other new restaurants we have been to lately. We bring some of our own wine and have some of theirs. I love how the smaller bottles age so well and are ready to drink from the minute they are opened. Sure it is a bit more expensive in the smaller format, but works well, especially for Italian and French wines that tend to need more time in the bottle. I believe, that at this time it is the best restaurant in town. I may not be as much of a foodie as some, but more than others, and in my opinion, you can't beat the service here and the food is great. At last, service is improving at many restaurants in San Diego, as it has been lacking for a long time.