MB Post in Manhattan Beach is set in a former post office and, despite a trying-way-too-hard hipster vibe, the food is excellent. It’s a tapas bar in practice, although they use the tired “little plates” euphemism, bringing together Spanish, American, and southeast Asian influences; every dish we ordered was enough for two to share but would have been stretched for three, except for the Brussels sprouts (with hazelnuts and Emmentaler) which was roughly a week’s supply. The first winner was the warm pretzel with hot horseradish-mustard, a sinus-clearing (that’s good) dipping sauce that probably should be served at every decent burger joint in the country. The confit pork belly with Swiss chard and corn agnolotti, one of the nightly specials, was soft enough to spread on toast and very generous with the chard, although I found the agnolotti almost dessert-sweet. The menu includes a number of vegetable dishes that highlight the star ingredient (as opposed to just satisfying the demand for vegetarian options), like the marinated cucumbers with peppadew peppers and crunchy roasted and fried chickpeas and the aforementioned Brussels sprouts – and the giant “fee fi fo fum fries” are stellar, brown and salty and not greasy with a mayo-based dipping sauce. The menu changes daily, though, so the vietnamese caramel pork or the yellowtail sashimi with yuzu may not be there if you head over. It’s one of the best and most fun upscale meals I’ve had in a while.
Over in Long Beach, I tried the tiny, family-run (I presume) Korean place Sura, sparsely furnished but featuring the dish I was after, bibimbap. (They also have short ribs and bulgogi, which are the only other authentic Korean dishes I really know.) The bibimbap was good by my ignorant standards, with fresh ingredients and the egg brought tableside for me to crack directly into the hot bowl. Service was a little weird – the meal came with four small plates of “sides,” mostly pickled and/or fermented vegetables, which I tried, but since I hadn’t cleared them my server said, “oh, you haven’t even touched them.” I guess I missed the pre-meal contract obligating me to clean every plate. But I’d go again for the food.
Moving on to San Diego … I finally got to Neighborhood, which many of you recommended last year when I was taking the family there while I covered a Padres series. I love their philosophy, but wasn’t sold on the execution. The Local Animal sandwich is a good microcosm of the problem – what’s not to like about two kinds of pork (sausage and braised pork, presumably shoulder), caramelized onions, and gruyere on a crusty roll? Well, the fact that it’s not a sandwich, for one, but has the remaining ingredients, including a mustard/molasses glaze, sitting on top of bread that can’t be picked up or closed. And the piling of flavors just left the whole thing muddled, sweet and slightly tangy but with the pork, which should be the star of the show, left somewhere in the second or third row. The fries, which come with garlic mayo (they claim to have no ketchup on the premises), were extremely hot and so greasy that a package of Viagra wouldn’t have helped them. Neighborhood does have an outstanding beer selection; I went with the Alesmith Speedway Stout, which at 12% had its intended effect rather quickly.
I also met up with a couple of readers for lunch at the Burger Lounge location in Hillcrest on University. It’s a solid-average burger, made from high-quality local beef (their site claims it’s all from one farm where cows are grass-fed and are “well treated”), but without many choices for toppings (just two cheeses, white cheddar, which I don’t like, and American, which is just nauseous). The fries were solid-average as well, crispier a garlic-herb mixture sprinkled on top. And they have ketchup. I do actually like ketchup on my fries, crazy American that I am.
I can still vouch for breakfast at The Mission in North Park – rosemary bread, rosemary potatoes, perfectly cooked eggs, and a great atmosphere – but a return visit to the downtown Cafe 222 after many years was disappointing – their pumpkin pie waffle was just a mushy mess and tasted of stale spices, not pumpkin or pumpkin pie.