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Red Card Cafe recently celebrated one year of business in the Bay Park area of San Diego. In July the restaurant welcomed the talented Executive Chef Jeff Larson (from Napa’s Michelin recommended Goose & Gander), who has introduced all-new dinner, lunch and brunch menus with an increased focus on quality, local farms and seasonal fare. It was finally the opportunity for Dennis to join me at this spot after my initial visit last year.
Chino Farms Yellow Heirloom Gazpacho (sample) - basil, chili, olive oil
The chef sent out a sampling of his gazpacho prior to our appetizers. I never knew gazpacho could look this grand! This gazpacho almost tasted like a dressing you could slurp on! The olive oil was very present (you can see the drizzle on top) plus there was very little of the acidity that I usually expect. I enjoyed this savory rather than "healthy" tasting mix! I believe that's the magic of heirloom tomatoes.
Umami Wings - it's a secret
When they don't tell you the ingredients, it could be a scary thing. Lucky for us, we powered through sandy looking layers into the fried skin and meaty bits below! This earthy flavored powder gave us no sweet, spicy or salty hints but Dennis somehow came up with shiitake mushrooms. That powder also stuck to the inside of your mouth AND the outside! We poked fun at each other's messy faces and commenced with lip licking after every bite.
Braised Spanish Octopus - romesco, frisee, lentils, toast
The octopus appetizer was one whole tentacle and the meat was firm but still soft with a slight char. Surprisingly I could hardly stop eating the lentils in this dish, which had resistance to the bite! I've only had them in mushier forms so must learn how to make them like this! Underneath was a thin slice of foccacia which complemented the savory red sauce. This was my favorite items of the meal!
Spam Musubi Arancini - sesame, teriyaki, nori, sriracha mayo
I adored these cute bites of arancini. The outside had that beautifully fried crunch to it and the rice was interspersed with spam and corn. I wish there were more in an order because it was hard to share! These tasted fantastic but only remotely reminded us of musubi. Our favorite original is the spam musubi at Trade Winds Tavern.
Pork Belly - johnnycakes, blueberry compote, cilantro, spiced pickled onion
Pork belly is a must for most of our restaurant adventures! We were pleased with the long slices, soft and tender with beautifully bubbling seared edges! The blueberry component gave the dish a little more intensity. The offbeat color of the johnnycakes totally caught my attention. These cornmeal rounds were thin and almost macaroon cookie-like in texture. I'd take these over bulky breakfast pancakes any day!
Watermelon Poke - sesame, ponzu, avocado, togarashi, wakame
The watermelon worked wonders as a raw fish texture stand-in. Together with the avocado, white rice balls and seaweed, the dish gave us the impression of a deconstructed sushi roll. The ponzu really gave it that poke bowl taste and by the bottom, all we were left with was the juice! The only other vegetarian poke we've tried is at Common Theory which had a firmer bite from adding beets.
Braised Pork Short Rib - peach puree, rosemarey honey, baby turnips, mustard seeds & greens
When our braised pork short rib arrived, we were quite thankful to be splitting this huge chunk of meat! It was hard to photograph as well because we couldn't capture the depth of size in one shot! The pork contained a good amount of fat that kept it tender and flavorful. The concentrated peach puree packed a fruity punch and was a welcome dipping sauce for the meat. Dennis was intriqued by the roasted baby turnips with firm bite like carrots but an unexpected flavor.
Our food came out fast and overall, we felt that all items were well executed with unique flavors and a charming balance. The lighter fare style menu allowed for trying multiple dishes and enticing us to come back to try more things next time!
I noticed new artworks since my last visit. This one is in the big conference-sized room in the back.
They have a small bar area where you can peek at the chef in the kitchen! Personally, we enjoy the quaint outdoor patio with red umbrellas especially while the San Diego weather is still great.
The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner as well as Sunday brunch. The staff was very friendly and courteous and we'd love to return to explore more of the menu! On Dennis's list is the cubano with the "beef fat" fries or anything off the happy hour menu! What would you be interested in trying at Red Card Cafe?
Disclaimer: We were invited to dine here and our food were complimentary. We were not otherwise compensated and all opinions stated are our own
Red Card Cafe
4140 Morena Blvd
San Diego CA 92117