Having recently moved to the Little Italy neighborhood of San Diego, you would think I would regularly visit new restaurants there, within walking distance, where I could stop by Pappalecco for some gelato afterward on my way home. Once in a while, this actually happens; but so often, North Park beckons with tales of bakeries and restaurants and bars so fabulous that they must be visited over and over again. I’ve mentioned the Linkery before, and Sea Rocket Bistro; and I’ve yelped about Ritual Tavern but been sadly remiss in blogging about it. In the past few weeks though, I’ve had a chance to try three more excellent North Park establishments – Eclipse Chocolat, Urban Solace, and Toronado.
I’d been reading the Eclipse blog for a few months, salivating over descriptions of sooo many kinds of Crème Fraîche cupcakes and tempting truffles, so when I finally made it to the shop, I really stocked up!
I got 2 each of five different truffle flavors, so Chuck and I could each try them all, plus three cupcakes we shared – this decadent selection provided us with desert for a good five days! The truffles included blackberry goat cheese (creamy chocolate chevre interior, chewy intense blackberry topping), double coconut milk caramel, salted coconut milk caramel, lavender sea-salted caramel (my favorite!), and caramel pecan. Can you tell I’m partial to caramel? The coconut milk truffles are actually vegan, which is an interesting piece of trivia, but the true genius of them is, of course, the rich coconut creaminess enrobed in the chocolate exterior. It’s like the chocolate version of coconut fried chicken, except inside out. Good analogy, I know.
The cupcakes I selected were Kentucky Bourbon Caramel and Marshmallow Almond, and I think that one in the middle was Butterscotch Rum. These were quite good as well – even though I’m more partial to the melt-in-your-mouth truffles, I’ll definitely be trying more Eclipse cupcakes in the future. The Kentucky Bourbon Caramel was my favorite of the three, for the richness of the caramel/bourbon/pecan combination, but the Marshmallow Almond was the most unique – I was expecting a marshmallow-creme-like texture in the filling, but there was a true, solid, chewy marshmallow in the middle of my cupcake. What an intriguing texture combination!
We went to Urban Solace for a weeknight dinner, having been lured by tales of macaroni and cheese, one of Chuck’s favorite restaurant barometers. Despite construction outside that made the restaurant a little difficult to get to, I was impressed by Urban Solace from the start – it had a very welcoming and atmosphere, with a good buzz of energy, but wasn’t overly loud. We settled in with some beers (Bear Republic Black Bear stout for me), and started dissecting the menu – how to choose when everything sounds so good? In the end, we settled on goat cheese and butternut squash dip for an appetizer: I was a little bit skeptical about this combination, but the execution was brilliant – the goat cheese added a rich creaminess to balance out the sweetness of the squash, and all was well with the world.
For dinner, I ordered the “Not Your Momma’s Meatloaf”, which was simply unbelievably good. It was made from ground lamb, with figs and pinenuts, and a fig au jus sauce, and served with crispy onions and mashed potatoes. (Also, it was wrapped in bacon, just in case the ground lamb didn’t provide a rich enough flavor!) This was easily the best meatloaf I’ve ever eaten, so good that I may have trouble ordering anything else on the menu because I know I’ll be missing the meatloaf. In the background of the picture, you can see Chuck’s chicken-and-dumpling dinner, and a side of the rich and creamy mac n’ cheese, which did live up to its hype. So Urban Solace has been given a place in our official North Park restaurant rotation.
Most recently (yesterday!) we made our first visit to Toronado, the San Diego version of a well known San Francisco beer bar that opened earlier this year. Toronado is very straightforward – it’s all about the beer, with a small menu of sausages and sandwiches for noshing. The variety of beers on tap is truly impressive, and the bottle list was far more extensive than the version they have online, but I knew exactly what I wanted the second I saw it – Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout!
This is the first time I’ve come across this beer in the wild (after months of searching!), and I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint. It was very dark with a strong coffee aroma that conveyed well into the flavor. Hooray for a beer worthy of its cuteness For dinner I had a jalapeno cheddar sausage on baguette, with grilled onions and peppers, with a side of potato salad (topped with chives and bacon) – so simple, and very tasty. Chuck had their Reuben, and we both agree that it was excellent, second only to the legendary Reuben Tuesdays of the Linkery.
Come to think of it, maybe it’s better that we don’t live within walking distance of North Park – we might never cook again!