Recently I was invited to go in and check out a relatively new spot up in Rancho Bernardo called The Cork and Craft. The Cork and Craft is a really unique restaurant that also houses a winery and a brewery. The restaurant came about as a way to bind all three ventures into one, making it a place to not only get a great meal but to also enjoy some local wine and craft beer!
Jake and I went in on a Friday night with T in tow. The restaurant is in kind of a weird spot. When you make the turn you think, “Am I in the right place…?” since it looks like a business park connected with other offices. You’re in the right spot, I assure you!
The restaurant has an open layout so you can sit back and watch the kitchen staff do their magic.
You can also see their vats of wine sitting right out in the open. They really do make it all here on site!
The Cork and Craft has a cool industrial kind of vibe to it, with the exposed ceiling and all. We were seated in a cozy booth near the kitchen so I could watch the chefs at work.
Our very awesome and helpful waiter told us about the currently available wines, beers, and some of the favorite food items to eat. I decided to try a sample of one of their beers, the Mostra Mocha Stout. It uses locally made Mostra Coffee and really that’s what made me decide to try it. I’m not into stouts very much though so I found this to be a bit too heavy and bitter for my tastes, but I could see this being a popular stout beer.
One of the co-owners, James Malone, was able to swing by and introduce himself and welcome us to the restaurant. It was great to chat with him about the place and he told us the chef would be able to come out later to speak with us about the dishes.
[amuse-bouche – compressed watermelon]
We started off our meal with a little amuse-bouche of compressed watermelon and pistachios. Usually when I see compressed anything lately it’s been watermelon! The compression kind of squishes it all together to make for a more intense and flavorful bite. I loved the salty pistachios paired with the fruit.
[tater tot poutine – short rib gravy, mozzarella, chives, sous vide egg / $12]
Jake honed in on this dish right away. Since The Cork and Craft is part fine dining, part beer and wine bar, this dish serves as one of the “bar food” dishes on the menu. The crispy tater tots are paired with a thick short rib gravy that tasted quite rich and full of flavor. They use mozzarella instead of cheese curds but I think it still counts as a twist on the traditional poutine. The sous vide egg gives it a little extra creaminess to the dish. The egg almost makes it feel like a breakfast dish to me.
[garlic noodles + sous vide egg with oyster mushrooms, scallions, parmesan / $10 + $1]
These noodles. Oh man… they make the noodles fresh and they are lovely and beautiful. The noodles had a wonderful chew to them with a very simple sauce on top which really allows the noodles to shine. The garlic flavor is quite apparent and a bit on the strong side – but really that’s what I would expect from garlic noodles. I want it bite me back and it certainly did. There’s a touch of red pepper flakes that intensifies the noodles a bit and gives you a kick in the teeth. I would order this every time. Yum.
[grilled octopus – with piquillo pepper puree, confit fingerling potatoes, pancetta, basil pistou / $14]
I don’t actually remember ordering this so I think the chef just sent it on over for us. I didn’t order it because Jake and T get weirded out by tentacles but we’ve seen octopus so much on menus lately that I don’t even think it’s weird or exotic anymore. The octopus managed to be quite tender but I missed having a little char here and there. I only had a bite or two and then took it home for later since I knew we had a lot more things to sample.
[house bread with the butter of the day / $5]
I’m a sucker for fresh bread. I sadly don’t remember what the butter of the day was but I do remember I got all excited about it and wanted to try it. They give you a little warm braid of bread that tasted so airy and fresh. Slather that butter all over that bread. Alllllll over. Don’t miss a spot, man.
[sweet corn agnolotti with roasted corn, pearl onions, prosciutto, basil pistou, parmesan / $12]
This dish was hands down my favorite dish of the night. HANDS DOWN. I could eat this forever and ever and let me tell you why: it’s freshly made pasta with a sweet, smooth, creamy roasted corn filling. Fresh pasta and roasted corn, together, forever, making my taste buds sing in sweet, sweet harmony. Am I overdoing it? I don’t care because that’s how much I loved this dish! There was sweetness from the freshly roasted corn and there was a nice balance of saltiness from the proscuitto. You get the corn flavor two ways – one way in the smooth, creamy filling and on top with a little bit of crunch. It had all the flavors and textures I loved, all in one dish. Swoon!
Next time I’m ordering this dish I’m not sharing. It’s alllllll mine, I tell you!
[strawberry sorbet with simple crumble]
In between courses, we got this little strawberry sorbet palate cleanser. This is about the point where Jake said he’d never been to fancy restaurant where they serve sorbet in between courses. And the thing about it is, yes, The Cork and Craft is fancy fine dining but it doesn’t have that same vibe or feel that other fine dining establishments have. The people working there are cool and fun and don’t make you feel pretentious which quite frankly makes me like the place even more.
The sorbet was smooth, sweet, and deliciously simple. The simple crumble on the bottom (basically just flour and sugar, baked) gave it a contrasting texture that we all enjoyed.
[tomato basil bisque / $7]
T got the tomato bisque soup. Jake and I are both not into tomato soup. I’ll only eat the stuff if I have a grilled cheese sandwich and even then, not my favorite. T really loved it though but when I grilled him about why he liked it, he kind of clammed up on me. Thanks, kid. Good thing I still love ya.
[colorado lamb lion with wild mushrooms, pearl onions, potato puree, basil pistou, black garlic, hazelnut powder / $35]
I decided to order the lamb. It was prepared differently than I’m used to. I’m used to seeing those lovely little lamb bones but here, there are no bones! Jake said it could be compared to eating a strip steak instead of a rib eye (he’s the former meat clerk, not me). In this preparation I found the lamb to be a bit more gamey tasting than usual but the sauce on the bottom of the plate was a wonderful accompaniment to the meat. I wish there had been more hazelnut present – maybe some of the actual nuts rubbed in or sprinkled on top along with the powder for a little crunch of texture. It wasn’t a bad dish, it just wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for when I ordered it.
[waygu beef belly with smoked sunchokes, braised carrots, pearl onions, abnormal wine no. 35 demi, black truffle oil / $30]
I prefered T’s chosen dish over mine, which was Waygu Beef Belly! Another unique take on a cut of meat! It almost looked like strips of ribs to me. The rub and flavor were quite tasty and we all enjoyed having bites of this.
[grilled pork chop with parsnip puree, brussel sprouts, pears, pearl onions, chimichurri / $28]
Now you know we usually have this thing about NOT ordering pork chops since most places do not do it well. I’m happy to report that The Cork and Craft is an exception to this rule! The pork chop turned out to sweet and moist with no hint of dryness to it at all. The chef came out and explained to us later that the cook the pork in the sous vide for about 4 hours and then sear it on the grill. That’s how the pork chop retains all of it’s moisture which is quite brilliant if you ask me. It almost tasted like a cut of juicy cut of ham.
[grilled asparagus with pancetta, egg yolk, parmesan / $8]
We also tried a few extra side dishes. Mostly I just wanted some more veggies. Does the pancetta on top cancel out the veggie-ness of this dish? I’m going to say no. It just makes it more tasty!
[tater tots with parmesan and black truffle oil / $6]
Tater tots AGAIN? Jake loves tater tots, what can I say. The truffle oil made me quite happy.
[potato puree / $8]
Crazy mashed potatoes are so smooth you gotta call them a “potato puree”. Don’t let the fancy name fool you. It’s still basically mashed (pureed) potatoes! Really delicious. Oh so creamy. Can’t-complete-whole-sentences good.
After dinner we were able to chat with the head chef, Phil Esteban. I was very impressed with Chef Esteban’s food and his approach for the restaurant. He’s really interested in giving back to the community and collaborates with different chefs at other San Diego restaurants (like Cowboy Star and Juniper & Ivy) to both teach his young staff new techniques and to help improve the dining scene in San Diego as a whole. He treats his staff like family and teaches them everything so they can prepare all of the dishes in the restaurant. He believes very much in education and told us how he would be visiting his alma mater, Morse High School, to teach classes for their culinary arts program. They also offer classes to the general public about wine, beer, and food. You can really see and hear the passion Chef Esteban has for his staff, the restaurant, and the San Diego food scene in general and I was impressed and so happy to see someone stepping up and really giving back in that way. It’s not just a job for Chef Esteban – it’s a way of life to nurture the family and community around you.
He chatted with him for some time before he insisted we try some desserts by Chef Michael McKee. Like I can resist dessert.
[lemon meringue with blueberry, toasted macadamia nut, double chocolate chip cookie, candied kumquat, passion fruit, bruleed meringue / $11]
Jake decided to choose this dessert. It tasted a bit more like a lemon sorbet or frozen lemonade rather than lemon meringue to us. After speaking with pastry Chef McKee, he flat out told us he doesn’t like this dish, haha! He said it turned out the way he wanted it to and we were reluctant to say anything to him about it since we both found it somewhat lacking. The dish seemed a little runny and the flavors weren’t quite working for us and Chef McKee said he was going to take it off the menu as soon as they ran out of it. Funny to see a chef talk about how he didn’t like one of his dishes and how it didn’t quite work they way he wanted it to.
[churros con chocolate – chocolate sphere, hot caramel sauce, cookies and cream ice cream, rice krispy granola treats, tangerine / $12]
I’m sad I didn’t get a “before” shot of this plate because it came out with a big chocolate sphere surrounding the ice cream! Like a big chocolate death star! Hot caramel sauce it poured over the chocolate sphere to reveal the cookies and cream ice cream it hold inside. It was dessert & a show watching the hot sauce get poured on top to melt the whole thing. It was quite delicious, too, and I loved those crunchy little churro nuggets that came with the dish.
[chocolate torte – almond butter, raspberry white chocolate mousse, raspberry sauce, peanut butter foam, butterscotch pecan ice cream, walnut crisp/ $12]
I loved how pretty this dish was! It’s like layers of dessert all waiting for me! There’s a chocolate torte-cake-like thing with a smear of almond butter on the plate for that chocolate-peanut-butter thing, some tart raspberry sauce to balance the sweetness of the dish and some house made ice cream (Chef McKee apparently really, really, really loves to make ice creams). All so delicious!
[butterscotch pecan ice cream sandwiches]
When we chatted with Chef McKee, he was in the process of making ice cream cookie sandwiches for the Rhythm and Brews Festival in Vista and was nice enough to let us have a sample. Dear god, it was so good! They should put those suckers on the dessert menu, too.
We had a really wonderful meal here at The Cork and Craft and we were happy that we were able to check it out. I know it’s all the way up in Rancho Bernardo but it’s really worth a visit to try the food and the desserts (plus their wine… and their craft brews…). It’s a really unique spot and they’re doing some exciting things that it’s worth the drive to go up for a visit to check them out!
The Cork and Craft
16990 Via Tazon
San Diego, CA 92127
Disclaimer: I was invited to dine at The Cork and Craft on behalf of the restaurant. Our meal was complimentary and I was not further compensated for this post. All opinions here are my own.