By Frank Sabatini Jr.
At only five weeks old, Trust Restaurant demonstrates a level of reliability that typically takes other startups several months to achieve.
Anchored at the base of the new Mr. Robinson lofts on Park Boulevard and Robinson Avenue, customers are greeted with a warm industrial feel and a menu of mostly small plates, many of them rich and intricate enough to justify their above-average price points.
An order of french fries costing $10, for example, makes bottom-line sense when draped in luxurious Mornay sauce and mantled with a large sunny-side duck egg. Trust me, when the yolk unites with the Gruyere-laced béchamel, the potatoes benefit magically.
At the higher end, labor-intensive ricotta agnolotti are adorned with black garlic streusel, shaved winter truffles and crispy sun chokes. For $19, these delicate, stuffed pasta purses sate the taste buds with a dreamy dose of calories and flavor — precisely how it should be from small plates we’re supposed to share.
Trust was launched by industry veterans Steve Schwob and Chef Brad Wise, both of whom worked at JRDN, Cannonball, and Draft under the San Diego-based hospitality group, Eat.Drink.Sleep. As their first independent venture, they secured the space inside the 32-unit Jonathan Segal building before construction was completed.
The head start afforded them the opportunity to provide intensive staff training while creating custom-designed features such as white oak dining tables, a quartz communal bar and a few walls wrapped in blown-up graphics of meat charts, a Zodiac Coffee wheel and the cover of a Betty Crocker cookbook.
The layout is further warmed by an open kitchen framed in subway tiles. Pots, pans and spices are fully exposed, and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to a large east-facing patio lend urban chic to the entire space.
Red oak logs stacked in front of the kitchen will feed a wood-fired grill in about 30 days, once the ventilation system is re-engineered. For now, Wise is using gas for cooking a succinct selection of full-size entrees such as dry-aged pork chops, prime skirt steak and the plump “Trust burger” made with lean ground beef and skirt steak trimmings.
We tried the latter and went bonkers over its beefy flavor, which corresponded marvelously to bacon-tomato jam, Asiago cheese and fresh arugula. Served on a house-made poppy seed bun, you can opt for the upgraded version topped with an egg and house-cured bacon, at which point you’ll need utensils to eat it.
As a twosome, we preceded the burger with a variety of eclectic small plates that our waitress staggered perfectly. The fries and ricotta agnolotti came first, leaving us to assume we hit the highpoint too early in our dinner.
No so. Every dish that followed proved excellent, particularly the smoked fish rillette, a pate-like paste made traditionally from the loose ends of pork or fowl.
In this rare variation, Wise used steelhead trout and sea bass, first drying them out before re-hydrating their parts in fat. Pureed to a smooth consistency, the rillette was centered within in a moat of risotto made extra creamy with cured egg yolks and mascarpone cheese. Lemon in the recipe balanced out the smokiness and gave it a desirable, bright finish.
I’ve never been a fan of hush puppies. But when accented with cayenne pepper and served with house-cured ham and cultured honey butter, they exceed their usual blandness. We did as Wise recommended: smear on the butter and then wrap each puppy in a slice of ham for a fulfilling understanding of what he calls “new American cuisine.”
As seen across the menu, the term summarizes dishes of multiple ethnic origins — Italian, French, Asian, and to a lesser degree, Middle Eastern, if opting for the lamb meatballs served with lentils and tzatziki. Incorporating local produce and smoking meats in-house is part of the equation.
Other small-plate choices include grilled octopus with Castelvetrano olives and fresh pepperoni; chicken thigh dumplings; shrimp and andouille sausage; chicken liver toast; beef tartare; and East Coast scallops matching elegantly to cauliflower puree, curried turnips and mint.
The bar is stocked with craft beers, boutique wines and specialty cocktails that include rum Manhattans, classic whiskey sours, and the pretty, light-pink “Trust cocktail” made with Beefeater Gin, Aperol and Dolin Blanc. Sip it gingerly, or risk dotting your nose with frothy egg whites capping the drink.
From the dessert list, the citrus cake is a must before it disappears from the seasonal menu. Pastry chef Jeremy Harville layers yellow cake with butter cream, and adorns it with orange curd, icy vanilla granita and buttermilk panna cotta. Juices from orange and red grapefruit sections strewn on top moisten every crumb.
Sweeter is the peanut butter cheesecake, crowned with an elaborate berry meringue shell that’s filled with Captain Crunch cereal. Though fun and zany, the refreshing citrus cake disappeared much faster.
Trust also serves brunch from 9 a.m. — 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. It is otherwise open only for dinner starting at 5 p.m., seven days a week.
—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. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.