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Dining in the faux outdoors

Posted: March 23rd, 2018 | Featured, Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews | No Comments

By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review

As the name implies, One Door North is located only one door north of its older sibling, The Smoking Goat. Yet it feels an ocean away in comparison, as in the distance between the U.S. and France.

Some of the larger tables are set within tents (Photos by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

Chef-owner Fred Piehl shows off his French culinary training at the Smoking Goat, with a cozy, European-style ambiance to match. In fact, Piehl was one of the first chefs in Uptown who started making french fries with duck fat. That was back in 2010. Soon after, dozens of other kitchens around San Diego began offering them.

Conversely, the concept at One Door North takes you on something of a hiking trail through American cuisine, complete with painted nature scenes and indoor tents which house tables suited for family-size parties.

Vintage lanterns, knotty pinewood and earthy colors flow artistically throughout the 5,000-square-foot space, which Mosaic Wine Bar used to call home. In the middle of it all is an iron and brick-laden bar that appears more urban in comparison to the outdoorsy aesthetics in the main dining areas.

Visiting as a twosome, we sat in the front dining room where big, glass windows look out to this busy section of 30th Street. Though not exactly the scenery from a lodge in the Cascade Mountains, the earnest interior design was good enough for this non-nature boy.

With the exception of Idaho trout, which we passed over in lieu of a couple other entrees, Piehl’s menu at One Door North is all about familiarity and comfort. Options range from mac n’ cheese, Buffalo-style wings and grilled octopus as starters, to salads, flatbreads, strip steaks and Niman Ranch pork chops for main courses.

Basically, if you’re looking for campfire flavors, your best bet is to order the s’mores platter for dessert or head up to Campfire in Carlsbad, where the dishes overall taste smokier and more flame-licked.

Or perhaps start off as we did with a cast-iron pan of mini cornbread muffins accompanied by honey butter. The menu lists pimento cheese as an ingredient, a childhood favorite of mine beckoning to summer picnics back on the East Coast. I assumed the cheese would be served alongside as a spread. It was instead folded into the batter, offering no sign of life other than an occasional red fleck of pimento.

Mini cornbread muffins

An order of fried cauliflower brought us into modern-day American cuisine, a fine composition that included a generous smear of curried butternut squash puree on the plate. Golden raisins sprinkled throughout added the right measure of sweetness.

My companion raved about the organic beet salad he ordered — and rightfully so. The tenderly cooked beets (red and yellow) were crowned with fresh arugula and set atop lemon Greek yogurt and candied pistachios. As far as ubiquitous beet salads go, this offered a refreshing dose of novelty.

Organic beets and arugula set atop lemon yogurt

Right down to the brioche bun capturing my companion’s burger and the excellent fennel sausage crowning our flat bread, nearly everything is house-made.

The flatbread was also commendable for its crispy crust and fine use of roasted bell peppers, semi-hot chili oil, and melty fontina cheese. There’s also an all-veggie version as well as a double-meat option topped with pulled pork and tasso ham.

The sausage-mushroom flatbread

The cheddar-topped burger was a monster. Too thick for the average-size mouth, it required a fork and knife to properly consume. My companion loved every bite despite an overload of caramelized onions and a bedding of leafy lettuce that had the patty slip-sliding off the bun.

Niman Ranch burger with truffle fries

I proceeded to a half chicken sourced from GoneStraw Farms, a Riverside outfit that raises its livestock humanely. The flattened chicken (spatchcocked) was evenly moist and served over mascarpone mashed potatoes. They were encircled by exceptional brown jus. The only component of the dish I didn’t like was the grilled escarole, which was tough and stringy. But who needs veggies when the meat and potatoes are this good?

Baked chicken over mascarpone mashed potatoes

From a decent draft beer list, my companion stuck to a smoked lager by Societe Brewing Company while I reveled in a dry wine from the country of Georgia.

The wine falls under the rare category of “orange” due to its rusty orange color achieved when the grape skins are used in the wine’s making. It paired superbly to everything I ate, especially the corn muffins, of all things.

Full bellies didn’t allow us to try the s’mores, cast-iron cookie or apple cobbler. On this chilly evening, with pleasant flavors lingering on my palate, I wanted nothing more than to crawl under a warm blanket — or a sleeping bag, had I really been eating in the wilderness.

— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at fsabatini@san.rr.com.

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