KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Big Night at Region
Bay Area Bites: culinary rants & raves from bay area foodies and professionals
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Thursday, August 11, 2005
Big Night at Region
Thank you, San Diego and good night!

Seriously? Best meal in San Diego EVER! Wow. I didn't think I'd find a place like this here. I humbly apologize to all San Diegans for being faint of heart and of stomach, but I just didn't. Excluding Saffron's Thai roasted chicken, which, yum, Region is the place I can definitely say we're going to go back to again in the little time we have left here. I'm sitting in the corner hyperventilating over the idea of trying their "Trust the Chef" menu of four courses for $45.00.

As a last minute decision, we decided to check Region out on a Tuesday night. It's their Big Night night (and yes, we confirmed the name comes from the movie) where they have a fixed menu for $31.00. You get a choice of two starters, three entrees, and two desserts and you can't order anything from the regular menu. No problem there. I would have chosen the Big Night menu for the grilled octopus alone.

Before the starters, we were brought some crusty hunks of bread from the local artisanal bakery, Bread & Cie, which is our next San Diego Food Foray. Alongside the bread, instead of the usual lump of butter or dish of indifferent olive oil, we were given a chilled pot of citrus-braised summer tomatoes. After the first bite, my husband said (somewhat garbled as his mouth was stuffed), "You HAVE to learn how to make this." For me, braising conjures up pots of sulky stewed meat, which smell much better than they end up tasting. This was not the case with these tomatoes -- the yellow and red cherries were as bright and fresh tasting as though they had just been picked after spending the day being gently warmed in the sun.

God, that grilled octopus. I want it for an entree. I want it all night every night. I want it because of the wine corks. Wait. Let me back up a bit. Our waitress explained that the octopus is boiled with wine corks to reduce chewiness before grilling. Ingenious. After the cork boil (we didn't ask if they were new or used corks), the octopus is marinated in a whole mess of stuff, slapped on the mesquite-fired grill, and served with farm fresh greens and a big ol' lemon wedge. Whatever ancient chemical secret those wine corks import, man, that octopus wasn't tough at all. It wasn't soggy either. In fact, it was pleasantly chewy without the remotest resemblance to an eraser. But texture is nothing if it doesn't taste good, right? No worries -- the octopus was stupendous. We even fought over the red pepper-flaked tentacles -- each of us insisting that the other got a larger tentacle. Here's some trivia for you that I picked up a few years ago, the plural of "octopus" is erroneously assumed to be "octopi." Fowler, of the eternally snarky Fowler's English Usage tells us, "the only acceptable plural in English is octopuses." He deems the even more correct plural "octopedes" as being "pedantic." There's a little something for you to toss around at cocktail parties.

The other starter on the Big Night menu was a summer fruit salad. Now, this isn't your mama's lime Jell-O with bananas and mandarin orange segments. Well, it isn't my mama's lime Jell-O with bananas and mandarin orange segments. The plate was heavy with two kinds of melon, Japanese grapes, Brown Turkey figs, Chino Farm wild strawberries, drizzles of balsamic vinegar, and a sturdy flat wedge of Gorgonzola Piccante from Lombardy. The fruit composition was refreshing, obviously, succulently in season, and lovely with the spicy cheese and sour-sweet balsamic.

I'm not always a fan of peppers because they can overpower everything else they touch, but I was happily surprised by the grilled Australian lamb chops. The perfectly pink and juicy lamb stood up well to the three kinds of smoked peppers and gained significant depths of flavor from them. Normally, I love lamb nearly naked because I can revel in the lambiness of the chops, leg, or whathaveyou, but those peppers were a smoked stroke of heavenly genius.

My husband is allergic to scallops. He loves them but he's allergic to them. Not in the deadly anaphalactic way, you understand, they just tend to seriously upset his stomach. Every five years or so he tries a bit of scallop at a reputable establishment to see if he's outgrown the allergy. It hasn't quite been five years since his last test at Ming Tsai's Blue Ginger, but as fate would have it scallops were on the menu at Region. The Big Night menu originally had a choice of three entrees, the lamb, the scallops, and braised beef shortribs with pasta. By the time we got there, they were all out of the shortribs. If you see my above opinion on braising, this was not a problem for me. However, since I'd be able to sample both lamb and scallops and my husband could really only eat the lamb, I felt sort of bad. But not bad enough.

After staring hungrily at my plate of seared Maine Diver scallops resting lazily on top of a bright red tomato and arugula salad, Mark stabbed at a few tomatoes. He also managed to snag some of the basil salsa verde and a few leaves of arugula. I slowly and sighingly made my way through the fat scallops, savoring every mouthful of dense flesh accented by the salsa verde and the tomatoes. I had a smallish piece of scallop on my fork when my husband couldn't stand it any longer. "Hand it over," he ordered, staring at my fork. I did. He ate the bite, rolled his eyes backward, and smiled. His stomach is still fine today.

Region is a gem of a restaurant and one that would easily be at home in the Bay Area. They are devoted to free-range meat, farm fresh produce, sustainable fish, and are a member of the Slow Food Movement. To quote from their own newsletter, "Region was founded on the idea that the best food is that which is grown close to home -- in this climate, in this season. We do not rely on a major, national industrial food supplier to unload an 18-wheel truck at our doorstep. Instead, we believe in cultivating relationships with local farmers and producers...not only do we get incredibly fresh vegetables harvested from the earth that morning but, more importantly, we know the people who are growing our food." Amen and *burp*!

The knowledgeable and gregarious staff told us that Chef Michael Stebner recently took them on a field trip to San Francisco. They supped at Chez Panisse, Zuni, and Oliveto because Chef Stebner wanted his crew to understand what inspired him. All I can say is that was money well spent. Not only do the staff know their food down to the last salt flake, but they are excited about it and -- even more impressive -- they SHOULD be excited about it. This is DAMN good eats.

Farm Fresh Cuisine
3671 Fifth Avenue
San Diego, CA 92103


Dinner: Tuesday-Sunday 6 to 10 PM


Anonymous Fatemeh said...

I sure do miss Bread & Cie... not that it's better than Acme, but the shop in Hillcrest is just so charming and wonderful.

BTW - I forgot to post a comment, but I used to live walking distance from Saffron. A light dinner and a stop at the Aero on the way home comprised a lovely evening.

Thanks for keeping us in the loop while you're in San Diego

8/11/2005 8:52 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just returned to the Bay Area from a weekend in San Diego. We tried Laurel and were extremely satisfied. Great food, service and just recently redecorated.

8/15/2005 12:38 PM

Blogger Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic said...

Oh, Fatemah -- I didn't know you lived down here. We'll have to dish when I get back. By the by, made rezzies at Region for Wednesday and I'm already hungry.

8/15/2005 10:17 PM

Anonymous Tiffany Stebner said...

Wow! We posted your wonderful review in the kitchen at Region. My husband is the Chef/Owner and we have had an overwhelming response to your posting about Region. Several guests from SF have been into dine with us this week and mentioned this website is how they found us. We just wanted to Thank you for your support and most importantly that you and your husband had a wonderful evening. Please come back and join us again! We can't thank you enough!!!!
Best Wishes, Tiffany Stebner

8/19/2005 8:35 PM

Blogger Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic said...

You're so very welcome, Tiffany, and we will be coming back for our third time in three weeks next week! You have an excellent thing there and I wish you all the best.

8/20/2005 4:04 PM

Anonymous Tiffany Stebner said...

Hi Stephanie,

Michael told me you were coming in for dinner this week and I found your reservation on OpenTable..Can't wait to have you back at Region! The whole staff is looking forward to your visit!

Best Wishes,Tiffany Stebner

8/22/2005 8:34 AM

Anonymous tom said...

Thank you, very interesting!

12/08/2005 5:51 PM


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