Last Friday, Tim and I decided to take a quick trip to San Diego from The OC to visit Rich Sweeney and his new place, R Gang Eatery. Rich presents a menu of Retro-American dishes with a contemporary twist. Rich was a contestant on Top Chef and was the Executive Chef at the Confidential Restaurant + Loft also in San Diego. We had both met Rich before, last summer at the GLAAD Summer Event in Hancock Park with fellow Top Chef Jamie Lauren.
Let me start by saying that R Gang Eatery just had their soft opening only 8 days prior. Rich plans on his Grand Opening event to take place in July according to staff members. Rich is still working the menu and trying out new items for possible inclusion on the menu. Rich has hired a diverse group of people at the restaurant and we happily greeted and seated quite promptly. Each staff member was courteous, attentive and genuinely looked like they were happy to be there. I’m not sure if these are all hand picked by Rich himself, but he’s got a good crew there.
Tim and I opted to sit outside as there was still some natural light outside and hoped we could take advantage of it for the photos. We glanced over the menu and drink list which had some interesting mixes. I decided to try the Strawberry -Basil Fling, while Tim had the Cucumber Cooler. The “fling” is a combination of house-infused Basil Absolut Vodka, shaken and muddled with fresh strawberries and a Balsamic Simple Syrup. The “cooler” is made with muddled fresh cucumber and lime wedges with Tanqueray Gin, topped with a splash of Sprite.
I absolutely enjoyed my Strawberry Fling – the basil was the surprise here and it works very well. I felt like it could have been just a tad bit sweeter and the bartender must have heard me from 50 ft away because my 2nd glass (yes, I just had to have another glass) was sweeter and it was perfect! Tim’s cooler was refreshing with the cucumber and effervescence from the Sprite. Tim had a second glass as well! What can I say, it was a long week, we drove 75 miles and it was nice sitting in the early evening air and enjoying our drinks!
So we told our server that we wanted to sample a few things so we ordered three appetizers and three entrees. Earlier that day, Rich had announced on Facebook that they were introducing hand-made tater tots. I could never turn down anything made with potatoes so we got an order of those. In addition we ordered the Portobello Fries with a side of Chipotle Ranch Dip along with an order of the Honey-Bourbon Pork Tenderloin Skewers with Pecan-Mint Pesto.
We didn’t have a long wait before the appetizers arrived. First up the tater tots. Served in a parchment cone and a side of ketchup they were piping hot. They were crispy on the outside, but mushy to the touch when picked up. Not sure if that was intentional, but they kinda fell apart with picked up. Taste wise, they were seasoned well and with or without the ketchup, we ate them all. Next were the Portobello Fries. I need to make this at home because this was our favorite of the three appetizers we ordered. Large strips of Portobello, lightly breaded and fried to perfection. The Chipotle Ranch dressing was a great sauce for the fries. They weren’t greasy and the mushrooms were firm and moist in the inside. Bravo! The third appetizer was the pork skewers with a mint-pecan pesto. This for me was a bit disappointing. They skewered pork looked like it had been waiting under a light for quite awhile. I wanted to love the mint-pecan pesto but it needed more flavor. There were also a couple of candied pecans on the plate that I wanted to be sweet and crunchy – all I got was chewy. I think the flavor combo, had I tasted the honey and the bourbon would have been really nice.
While we were waiting for the entreés to arrive I took the time to notice the building. Rich has done a great job in transforming the space into the restaurant of his own making. Great color scheme and it seems like there was ample seating both inside and outside. I didn’t get a chance to venture to the second floor, but I’m assuming there was additional seating upstairs. The very popular bar area was crowded this evening and that just added to the excitement that was in the air that night. The fun in the bar played well with the dining customers outside.
So what did we choose for our entrées? Tim ordered the Minted Lamb Salisbury Steak and I went for the Skewered Shrimp over Cheesy Grits in a Squash and Tomato Confit. Our third dish was the Smoked Gouda Mac n Cheese with Soppresata. Mac n Cheese is another one of those dishes that I can’t walk away from. Now we did experience quite a wait for our entrées. We had asked our server earlier to bring the dishes out as they were ready, instead they all arrived at the same time at the table. Now let me go back and say that they are still in shakedown mode. Our food was lukewarm at best and the only dish that was actually hot was the Mac n Cheese which may have just come from under the salamander. We both loved the Lamb Salisbury – great flavor, great texture of the meat, the sauce was well seasoned – it just would have been better if it was hot.
Now, why didn’t I send it back? I probably should have, but due to the wait for the dishes, we were both famished and needed to get some food in our stomachs. My skewered shrimp looked like it had been sitting for quite sometime and the cheesy grits weren’t so cheesy anymore. The shrimp was hard to chew and the grits had clumped up. I enjoyed the squash and tomatoes, but again, I think the experience would have been better if the food was hot. Now the Mac n Cheese was my favorite of the night – Tim wasn’t a big fan. The smokiness of the Gouda mixed with the soppressata worked for me. Rich had a crumb topping that was still crunchy yet light. We couldn’t finish the Mac n Cheese there so I took the rest home. Let it be known that I took the leftover Mac n Cheese home and enjoyed it all to myself in the middle of the night. Thanks Rich, now I want more!
By the time we got to the end of our entrées we noticed the guys next to use just getting their desserts. We leaned over and asked what they had and they both said we had to have the Rhubarb Crisp. We both ordered coffee and waited for the crisp to arrive. During a nice discussion of politics and world affairs, our coffee arrived and we both proceeded to cream and sugar our mugs. I took a sip and my coffee was cold – so was Tim’s. There was a theme developing here and while we made it thru dinner I can’t drink cold coffee. I told our server and he said that it would be another 8 minutes or so till we would get a fresh pot – so we continued our discussion of the war in Afghanistan and the BP oil spill. To redeem the cold coffee, the fresh brewed pot of coffee was perfect, though never got asked for a refill. The Rhubarb crisp arrived and let’s just say Tim and I devoured it. Not too sweet, not too tart, it was just right. A small scoop of vanilla ice cream on top with a caramel drizzle and we put our political differences aside – all because of dessert.
Now, we will be back in July after the Grand Opening and hope the startup kinks have been worked out. I hope the Mac n Cheese will still be on the menu and hope to try the Shrimp and Grits. Some of the other choices that we didn’t try was an 8 oz Angus Burger and Roasted Corn and Fennel Risotto with Seared Sea Scallops as well as a Curried Chicken Pot Pie. Tim and I had a great time despite the cold food.
Rich, congrats on your new restaurant and we look forward to the Grand Opening in July!
If you’re in San Deigo, please make it a point to stop by and try out the food. My review tonight may not have been the best, but I offer this as a launching point for Rich as he dissects the workings of his new place, refines the menu and continues to groom the best staff he can. Stop by and have some FUN!
R Gang Eatery
3683 Fifth Avenue
San Diego, CA 92103