San Diego Restaurant Week (1/16 – 1/21) is nearly here. Wednesday night, I got a sneak eat of Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar’s menu, courtesy of McFarlane Promotions. Since my usual San Diego peeps were already committed elsewhere, I brought Kat of Kat’s 9 Lives with me.
When I lived in San Diego, I rarely ventured into downtown to hang out in the Gaslamp Quarter. The frustrating parking situation, one way streets and having to dress up (omg, I have to wear make-up and heels?) just wasn’t my thing. The Gaslamp now, though, has vastly improved. Many new restaurants have opened their doors and more casual establishments have moved in as well as flat-rate parking lots/garages.
Amidst all this hustle, bustle and turnover sits Croce’s on the corner of 5th and F. This restaurant and jazz bar has been a San Diego landmark for quite a while, having been started years ago by Ingrid Croce in honor of her late musician husband, Jim Croce. I had heard of this place many times over the years but never actually got to dine here till now. When we arrived for our 6:30 reservation, the restaurant was already half filled with patrons. We were seated on the patio and given the Restaurant Week menu.
Croce’s decided to extend their Restaurant Week menu ($40), offering more than just the advertised 3 choices per course and adding the option of a wine pairing. This put me in a bit of a rut because a lot of the extra selections sounded really good and I found myself wondering, “Crap…I want to eat it all but I have to pick just one?” After much deliberation, discussion and recommendations from our waitress, we made our decisions.
While we waited, we were served bread and butter. Rather than the standard white rolls or sourdough, we had slices of what tasted like garlic-poppy seed and an olive bread. Both were really good but the garlic-poppy seed was fantastic. Yum! A nice spin on what is usually a mundane part of the meal.
For our first course, we ordered the jumbo lump crab cake (r), the seared scallop (e) and requested the French onion soup (e) as an additional starter since I had read many rave reviews about it during my research.
The crab cake was my favorite out of the three. I really liked the addition of the sun-dried tomato oil from a flavor standpoint and the crispy shallots helped texturally.
The scallop was cooked perfectly, nicely seared. Under it was a lobster-scented risotto with asparagus and shaved Parmesan. I wish the slivers of Parmesan had been smaller as sometimes, some bites were overpowered by the flavor of the cheese. I was told that this dish is a main course on the regular menu but they mini-sized it as an appetizer for Restaurant Week.
The French onion soup was bold in flavor and one of the better versions I have had though I did think it was a touch on the salty side. Not a problem though since our server was very good about keeping our water glasses full.
Our main courses were the pork chop (r) and the CAB prime New York (e). I was tempted by the CAB filet Mignon, the grilled free-range chicken with mushroom risotto and the wild mushroom potato “lasagna” which had a lemon ricotta in it but decided to beef it up and go for a cut of steak I don’t usually eat. Compared to the strong flavors of our appetizers, the mildness of our main dishes surprised both Kat and I.
Cooked to a medium well (Kat asked for a medium-rare/medium), the double-cut chop was still moist. I liked the flavor of the caramelized onion jus and the spinach served with it was delicious. The Gruyere gratin didn’t have much of a Gruyere flavor to it, though.
The steak was simply seasoned and served with a mushroom ragout which, as you know, anything mushroom wins me over. Cooked to a perfect medium-rare, I liked my steak more than the pork chop.
Dessert wooed my tummy. Since chocolate tends to be a very popular dessert, I felt obliged on behalf of my readers to order the fondant au chocolate with fresh raspberries (r). We also ordered the vanilla lavender creme brulee (e) since it was something different and sounded light.
Now, I’ve said before, I’m not a huge chocolate dessert fan. Many times, the chocolate is too sweet or the dish is just too rich and heavy after a filling meal. But the fondant au chocolate was a delicious gooey chocolate cake that wasn’t overly sweet or decadent. It was served with a side of vanilla ice cream. I was surprised to find that there were fresh raspberries INSIDE the cake which made me love it all the more.
The creme brulee was a true winner. Many desserts that advertise lavender end up being heavy-handed with the flower and comes out “soapy” but not so with this dish. The floral notes were subtle and blended well with other flavors.
As we dined, the restaurant quickly filled up and a jazz band started playing in the adjacent bar room. It seems that Croce’s is a popular place which isn’t a surprise since the food here is solid and the service, excellent. The atmosphere is friendly, laid-back and inviting.
Croce’s is extending the Restaurant Week deal to the following week to coincide with their Daniel Jackson Week Music Festival. If you are a fan of jazz or just want to have a good meal in the Gaslamp, try Croce’s. I’m certainly keeping them in mind for when I return to the area for Comic-Con.
4 NOMs for Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar.
Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar
802 5th Ave (Corner of Fifth & F)
San Diego, CA 92101
**** (r) notes original Restaurant Week option.
(e) notes selection from the extended menu.