Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
Nary a chunk of the old Mission Hills Radio-TV structure that now houses The Patio on Goldfinch is recognizable. The former repair business, which opened in the 1950s and closed some decades ago, became an unsightly misfit to the quaint “restaurant row” that began blossoming on this street over the past several years. But as of early summer, it’s sitting pretty.
The dazzling redo, implemented by locally based Lahaina Architects and the restaurant’s staff designer, Bea Arrues, greets with a spacious, dog-friendly patio accented magnificently with a wall of thriving greenery. Tables, cushioned banquettes and a built-in fireplace give the feel of an indoor space despite its lack of roofing.
“We don’t talk about rain,” quipped Manager Kristina Smith, adding that retractable covering is coming soon.
Further inside is cushier seating plus a handsome bar, skylights and a glass-enclosed “cheese cave” that leaves you imagining sitting inside of it with a bottle of good wine. The shelves are stocked with various curds from nearby Venissimo Cheese shop along with jumbo wheels of young Gouda from Central Coast Creamery in Paso Robles.
The layout concludes with another living wall in the back and an open kitchen fronted by a cozy dining counter that serves as the “chef’s table.”
Compared to its flagship restaurant, The Patio on Lamont in Pacific Beach, the Mission Hills offshoot is organically showier, hence its nomination for an Orchid Award by the San Diego Architectural Foundation.
The menu starts off with a couple dozen “small plates” that actually yield more than three bites apiece. The cioppino, for example, is substantially portioned in a bowl brimming with shellfish and Chilean sea bass. Every piece of fish was evenly cooked and the tomato-based broth was spicy and downright drinkable.
Equally impressive was the crab-ahi tower layered with avocado and Roma tomatoes and rising from a bed of thinly sliced cucumbers. Citrus vinaigrette and soy ginger brightened the flavor profile in what is potentially a medium-weight meal if you’re not sharing it.
Rich, nutty Gruyere cheese from the “cave” prompted us to order the French onion soup au gratin. The broth carried a depth of flavor from espresso in the recipe — a fine construct if only the soup was served hotter and the cheese was gooier.
Compressed watermelon salad was a first for us, but not the last for me. A few nights later I encountered it at Table No. 10 in East Village. Could this be the start of a new, irresistible food trend? I’m betting yes and that we’ll see a lot more of them next summer.
Here, the fruit is put into vacuum-sealed bags with honey and lemon, which speeds up the flavor infusion. It’s then plated with smoked feta, pine nut brittle, shaved fennel and arugula. Refreshing and complex, we loved every bite.
From the menu’s “large plates” section, we shared the “beef and bleu” flatbread, which sported an addicting buttery crust beneath a super-savory mantle of New York steak, creamy Gorgonzola, mushrooms, garlic and herbs. At last, a flatbread rising from a sea of so many others out there that didn’t leave us yawning.
From the same category, you’ll find slow-braised pork shank with Asiago risotto, bone-in rib eye with parsnip puree and a few other flatbread choices.
The menu graduates to pricier “shared plates” that translate to date-night portions of chateaubriand, whole fish and surf-and-turf. There’s also a monster burger of sorts called the “30 buck chuck.” It’s a 10-ounce patty made with filet mignon, prime rib and Kobe beef, then topped with a duck egg and served on a black-truffle brioche bun. The dishes, we’re told, easily feed two.
Tequila abounds from a list featuring everything from Calle 23, priced at $9 per one-and-a-half ounce serving to the luxurious Clase Azul Ultra, which will set you back $255 for the same neat pour. We took the frugal road by imbibing on Blanco tequila infused with pineapple and vanilla beans ($10). It was smooth and lovely.
Other libations include a slate of craft beers, global wines and “cool cocktails” that don’t exclude chocolate martinis and citrusy gin fizzes.
The dessert menu features another trendsetter that started appearing recently on a few other menus in town: banana bread with boozy Foster’s sauce. We opted instead for a more pedestrian finish of deconstructed key lime cheesecake served in a glass jar.
Good stuff. But when we return it will be expressly for the big small plates combined with further rounds of tequila, a romp through the cheese list, which we passed over, and additional time spent lazing on the Mother Earth-kissed patio.
—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.