The fine folks at McFarlane Promotions invited me once again to have a complimentary meal for San Diego Restaurant Week (January 16th-21st, 2011). I was sent off to The Marble Room for this particular visit, a Californian/American restaurant nestled into the Gaslamp Quarter right on 5th Avenue.
The current Marble Room is situated in the exact spot where The Golden Poppy Saloon and Hotel was, run by Madame Cora, one of the many brothels in San Diego’s Red Light District at the end of the 19th century. The hotel had a saloon downstairs and upstairs there were color coded rooms and girls. A patron would pay first and receive a colored marble that coincided with a colored coded room and girl. Whenever the hotel and brothel were raided by police, Madame Cora would tell them that patrons were purchasing marbles and not sex. Quite the sordid history!
The restaurant’s interior is quite plush and welcoming – there are many hanging crystal chandeliers, many nude portraits of women from the turn of the century and lots of mirrors… Laura was my guest with me on this little adventure and I couldn’t help but laugh when I noticed that probably 90% of the customers in the restaurant were male. No matter though, we had a lovely, cozy little booth that was in the perfect spot for people watching, which was good since we were just about the first people in the restaurant that day!
The Marble Room’s restaurant week menu is very open. When you view it on the website there are options listed, but the restaurant pretty much lets you make your own menu for $30 per person. Just about all of their items are available for the special prix fixe menu – the only difference being that getting a Rib Eye Steak will cost you an extra $4. You can also substitute one of their specialty cocktails instead of having dessert if you so desire. Giving patrons the freedom to choose what they want from the whole menu opens them up to really allowing people to sample what they want to try on the menu which I think is an excellent way to dine.
We each got an appetizer, which we shared (of course!). I ordered the Calamari. The calamari came with three dipping sauces as well: Chipotle cocktail sauce, a sherry vinaigrette and a thyme mayo dipping sauce. My personal favorite was the thyme mayo sauce – it was akin to a tartar sauce, but without the pickles (yucky) and had a nice, bright flavor. The cocktail sauce had a nice kick from the chipotle – not too spicy and a nice twist on regular cocktail sauce. I didn’t care much for the vinaigrette after having the other two, it was a bit lemony but a bit too tart for my tastes. The calamari itself was cooked perfectly. There was one piece that was pretty much the whole squid in one bite (it didn’t get cut up for some reason) and Laura tackled that one all on her own. Very light, but crispy batter. So tasty! The waitress was going to clear our plates for our next dishes and I had to snag the last piece of calamari before she took it away!
Laura kept the seafood theme going for us by ordering the Marble Room Scampi. This dish comes with sautéed shrimp, scallops, proscuitto, tomatoes, garlic, basil and toasts on top. You can’t see the scallops from my photo – I took another shot but it came out blurry. The sauce in the bottom of this dish was really flavorful – we kind of figured out later that you’re probably supposed to eat all of these elements together but I just scarfed up the shrimp and scallops and ate my toast separately. It was very good. The waitress said a lot of people seem to like to keep this dish at the table so they can continue eating the sauce with other items (or even get more toast to not let the sauce go to waste).
Laura and I got the same entree – great minds think alike after all – which was the 10 oz. NY Strip Steak. The NY Strip comes with Creamed Corn with Bacon, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Spicy Onion Rings and a choice of steak sauce. They have 5 sauces for the steaks: Brandied Mushroom, Blue Cheese Demi Glaze, Herbed Butter, a Chile Sauce (not listed on the online menu) and a Sautéed Spicy Creole Shrimp. Laura and I both got the herbed butter on the side. She also got the chile sauce (not as spicy as it sounds) and I also tried the Blue Cheese Demi Glaze.
I got my steak medium rare and it was perfect. Nice char on the outside of the meat, juicy and tender on the inside. I’ve decided I like to get steaks medium rare now for two reasons: 1) Well, I like it like that and 2) it lessens the chance of getting overcooked when I reheat my leftovers! As delicious as it was, there were most definitely leftovers. Besides the steak there were garlic mashed potatoes – very creamy, no chunks, with a nice but mild garlic flavor to them. The creamed corn was also quite good in it’s own little creamy sauce. We ended up talking to the sous chef to find out how it’s made. They make it by roasting ears of corn, adding a cheese sauce (the same sauce they use for their macaroni and cheese), some jalpeno’s and bacon all in the mix – very flavorful! Laura did think it was too salty, but I loved the flavor of it. I also ate all of my onion strings because I didn’t think they would keep well the next day – crispy, crunchy and yummy.
For dessert, we each choose 2 items but they were nice enough to also give us an extra one. From left-right: Whoopie Pies (Berry, Orange and Mint), Apple Cinnamon Fritter Ice Cream Sandwiches, and Peanut Butter Decadence Cake with Chocolate Hazelnut Gelato. I had to try the Peanut Butter dessert first (this is the item I ordered): Fudge brownie base, peanut butter and milk chocolate ganache, dark chocolate mousse, peanut brittle, godiva white chocolate liquor whipped cream. It was very rich – but very heavenly. It was fudgy and brownie like with layers of peanut butter and chocolate together and a bit of a crunch from the peanut brittle – I really loved it! I ate it mostly without the gelato but the gelato was also really good.
Then we tried the Apple Cinnamon Fritter Ice Cream Sandwiches – the fritters were akin to donuts, very soft and fluffy – with the caramel gelato in the middle. Laura really liked this one but I didn’t care for it. I took three bites before deciding I wasn’t into it. I didn’t like the texture of the soft fritter with the ice cream – the fritter also tasted kind of sour to me, maybe because of the tart apples?
Last but not least – the whoopie pies. I’ve found that a lot of people don’t seem to know what whoopie pies are and that’s quite a shame. It’s sort of a combination of a cookie with a cake-like texture with a filling inside. These were all chocolate whoopie pies with different creamy centers. Since we were sharing, I cut the whoopie pies in half with my spoon, which made all of the filling ooze out to the sides. We tried the mint first and – hoo boy – it sure was minty. I’m not a huge fan of mint so it was a heavy mint flavor for me but if you’re bananas for mint then you’d like this. The cookie part was a bit dry, but usually it is to balance out the flavor of the sweet filling. Then we tried the top pie (the berry). I wasn’t really impressed with the berry one at all. The last one, the orange, was my favorite. I liked the flavor of the orange with the chocolate and it was a strong enough flavor to really show that it was orange – but not overpowering like the mint was.
All in all we had a really great time visiting the Marble Room. It was a place I probably would not have picked on my own, so it was nice to experience a different kind of restaurant and see what other choices are out there in San Diego. Give it a shot – San Diego Restaurant Week is a really fine time to sample their menu and see what you like!
San Diego Restaurant Week starts this Sunday, January 16th and runs through Friday, January 21st. Enjoy 3-course meals for either $20, $30 or $40 per person at participating restaurants around town.
The Marble Room
535 5th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101