croce’s | downtown / san diego, ca – restaurant week preview
San Diego Restaurant Week is nearly upon us again! I was again invited to do a SDRW preview from a choice of 8 different restaurants participating in Restaurant Week from the folks at McFarlane Promotions. From the list of choices, this time around I chose Croce’s Restaurant, a San Diego staple in the Gaslamp Quarter of Downtown San Diego.
Croce’s Restaurant is a testament to musician Jim Croce, opened by his wife, Ingrid Croce, in 1985, long before the Gaslamp Quarter was the hopping place it is today. It’s a small restaurant, cozy and warm, with a few outdoor tables, indoor seating, and a bar area that places live Jazz every night. This was my first visit to Croce’s and hopefully not my last!
Ingrid Croce introduced herself to me and my guest, Laura, when we sat down at our table for the evening. An incredibly gracious host, she told us about some of her favorite menu items and welcomed us to try anything from the menu. A few of the things she mentioned sounded so good and I’ve love to come back and try them in the future. One dish was the “Wild Mushroom Potato Lasagna” (which is offered on their “expanded” Restaurant Week menu if it sounds like you want to try it!) which is a dish I’ve never heard of before. Potatoes + cheese + mushrooms must be heavenly!
One thing I knew I wanted off the bat was the Baked Brie and Honey Roasted Garlic, which our server started for us right away as Laura and I pondered the extensive menu. One of the reasons I wanted to try Croce’s was because this dish sounded awesome on paper – and it looks even better when it’s sitting in front of you.
This came with baguettes, baby greens, and a Grand Marnier-berry compote – plus those really lovely roasted garlic pieces in front of the brie. The brie was warm, gooey, and so good. I slathered the warm brie onto my bread with a few pieces of that sweet garlic and was in heaven. The berries on the green were also very sweet and delicious – also good with the brie. I mostly stuck to brie & garlic though – cheese is one of my kryptonites.
While we were munching on the brie, we decided to also order the Ceviche with Citrus Marinated Alaskan Halibut.
This isn’t normally something I’d order, but Laura was curious about it and I’ll try new things (except for tuna – don’t ever ask me to eat tuna, ’cause I won’t). This dish is comprised of “ tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, red onion and cilantro, avocado creme and crisp potato Gaufrettes”. I loved the potato crisps, I’ll tell you that off the bat. I wasn’t crazy about the ceviche, but it had a mild flavor and a good combination of flavors – it was almost refreshing. But, since I’m not a huge ceviche fan, I can’t rave about this – but Laura really enjoyed it and had to stop herself from eating more of it!
Our waitress came by and took our dinner orders and also made some suggestions for other things for us to try, namely a gazpacho and a salad.
Here’s my Watermelon Gazpacho – yeah, you read that right. It’s got a little scoop of sorbet in the middle as well. Our waitress told us about this and I said, “A what kind of gazpacho? Watermelon? Sure, okay, I’ll try that.” You get the watermelon flavor right away – sweet and crisp – and then a bit of a kick at the end as the other flavors in this dish come into play. It’s almost like a spicy one-two punch, but not a lingering heat. The sorbet helps to offset the kick. It’s really refreshing and different – I’ve never seen anything like this on another menu!
For the salad, we got the Goat Cheese Salad with Seasonal Greens. It’s got a few beets which I left for Laura and a that golden ball of goodness on top is the goat cheese. The goat cheese is mixed into a ball with that crust and flash fried and put on top of the salad so it spreads easily and melts into the salad. Really good goat cheese (god, I do love cheese) and the salad itself was crisp, simple, and a nice medley of flavors (it’s got a honey balsamic vinaigrette – really tasty!).
I tried not to eat a whole lot of everything, just bits and pieces of everything. We accumulated a lot of take home boxes! Besides, I knew I had to save room for the main courses and dessert! Let’s look at Laura’s meal first, she ordered the Seared Scallops and Lobster-Scented Risotto.
Laura was nice enough to let me have one of the sweet scallops on her plate. Perfectly cooked – these scallops don’t need much to make them delicious. Fresh scallops make such a difference and you could tell these were fresh and cooked just right. The risotto was definitely “Lobster scented” – I forgot to ask how this was made, but I’m thinking maybe with a lobster stock to achieve that scent and flavor. Very rich and delicious as well.
What did I end up getting? Well… I have a true fondness for lamb and lamb is one of those things I have never made at home. I spotted the Maple Glazed Pistachio Dusted Spiral Half Rack of Lamb and I couldn’t get it out of my head, despite hearing about that delicious sounding Potato Lasagna Ingrid had mentioned earlier…
Oh. My. God.
These lamb chops were so, so good. It’s encrusted with pistachios (yum), it’s got a sweet sauce from the maple glaze (YUM) and was cooked just right – to medium. I had thought about getting these medium rare, but our server suggested medium since she said when she gets them medium rare she usually wishes they were cooked just a little longer, so I heeded her advice and I was glad I did. The flavors on this dish are just outstanding – the sauce is sweet, but not overpowering. It came with a mix of Peruivan and sweet potato mash (very tasty) and some crisp French green beans (which I also dipped in the sauce to eat). I had no shame and picked up the bones to finish off my lamb, not wanting to miss any of it’s goodness (though I did save one for my lunch the next day).
Don’t forget there’s more! Both of these desserts are also on the SDRW week (though both of our above entree’s are not – sorry!). We got two desserts. First: the Fondant Au Chocolat.
This dessert is rich, gooey, warm, and very chocolaty (with some raspberries in there, too). Laura and I thought maybe this was like a “Lava Cake”, but it’s not quite like that. It’s warm though and very smooth on the inside. If you love chocolate, you will adore this. The little scoop of ice cream on the side lets you kind of “do-it-yourself” with the mixing, which I liked. It was kind of like a chaser for your chocolaty cake!
We also got their new item that they were featuring for SDRW, the Caramel Bailey’s Crème Brulee.
Ingrid actually went to taste this first and came back and gave us her approval before we ordered it. She said they were still working on this one since it’s a new item. It was very creamy and custardly. Laura felt that the Bailey’s was a little too strong and I felt it was not quite as smooth as other crème brulee’s I’ve had in the past. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like this was bad, but we just enjoyed the chocolate dessert better than this one. We were just in a more chocolaty mood that night. I did really like the cookie though, which is a almond lavender laced cookie, something they serve with their regular crème brulee’. I loved the taste of the lavender in the cookie and it makes me want to try and make my own lavender desserts!
I’ve been a fan of Jim Croce’s music for a long time, listening to him since I was a kid. It’s nice to see this testament to his legacy still living on through Ingrid and through the restaurant. If you have the chance to visit Croce’s, I highly recommend it – you’ll be in for a treat!
Croce’s Restaurant is offering a $40 menu for San Diego Restaurant Week, which starts on Sunday, September 19th and ends on Friday, September 24th. View their expanded offering’s menu on their website or visit the San Diego Restaurant Week website for information about other restaurants and their offerings, where you can get a 3-course meal for either $20, $30 or $40. It’s a great way to try out new restaurants or to get your favorites at a discounted price.
Be sure to also visit my review for Island Prime, which I visited last January for SDRW.