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Getting A Super Taste Of Gingham
LA MESA -- Opening a new restaurant is not a one or two day event. The way Brian Malarkey (above) and chef's of ambition do it, it is a three month evolution.
On Tuesday night -- the same day the media in Indianapolis was fawning over the Super Bowl teams -- a group of 12 or so San Diego journalists sat at a table in La Mesa's new Gingham restaurant and were fed like kings. Much of the menu -- including specialty drinks -- were traipsed in with a speed that kept you asking "what the heck is that?"
I was there, of course, doing my duty for LaMesaToday.com and you, the reader.
I will eventually list what I was able to eat from this smorgasbord but first the news:
-- Brian Malarkey, Gingham's founder and celebrity chef, will be flying off to the Super Bowl this weekend to cook some special meals for Pepsi and Frito Lay. He will create some specialties using Pepsi's products. Balsamic Pepsi reduction was one he mentioned.
-- Gingham will be applying for a permit to erect a high tent over its outdoor patio. "It will have heaters and fans inside,'' Malarkey said.
-- The official Grand Opening of Gingham will be a special celebration of St. Patrick's Day on March 17th. There will be no green beer, but Malarkey said he may try to make corned beef taste good. Good luck with that.
-- So far, more than 30 percent of Gingham's clientele has come from outside La Mesa and East County. "I had a couple in from La Jolla and Del Mar the other day,'' Malarkey said. "I knew they'd come.''
Before I launch into my glutinous evening, I should explain one thing. I am not a food critic. I come from a large Irish Catholic family -- five boys, four girls -- and our idea of fine dining was having enough spaghetti for seconds. Luxury! I tend to like anything edible.
Yet, like much of America, I watch the Food Channel between and during meals and have developed an appreciation for people who play with taste the way a painter flirts with light. And that informs my first foray into Gingham's enriching foray into East County.
I started with a cocktail made by the mixologists from Snake Oil Cocktail Co. that service the bars here. It was a popcorn margarita, served with a corn husk twist. Beat the traditional margaritas by a mile.
Next came the Horny Deviled Eggs followed by Salmon Chips (think of nachos with great salmon flakes and cream sauces) and BLT Fries. That latter dish, the BLT Fries, touched on one of the things you learned about Malarkey's view of food: everything is better with bacon.
That was followed by turkey wings which were slathered in hot sauce and were like chicken wings on steroids. Then came Shrimp and Oxtail Grits and Fried Oysters glazed with sweet sauce and blue cheese.
To wash much of that down, we were served one of the bar's non-alcoholic specialties: Lemon Poppy Soda. That was quickly followed by the Berry Smash (pictured left), blackberries infused into bourbon and then a Last Stand made with Alembic Brandy and fruit juices in a martini glass.
After a brief pause to allow breathing between bites and sips, the waiters brought out what looked like a light palate cleanser. It turned out to be an arugula salad sprinkled with duck comfit and citrus slices. Splendid and rich.
Then they brought out the big guns: Venison Osso Bucco, Baby Back Ribs, Gator Andouile Crawfish, Fried Chicken with Butter Potatoes.
At about this point I began thinking about the sacrifices we make for journalism and they brought on the desserts.
I am no critic, but the pastry chef may be the MVP of this mini-eating Super Bowl. A Fudge Pretzel Sundae was followed by a Double Cream Pie and an American Pie (an apple pie with a crust impregnated with, you guessed it, more bacon). The two all stars of these uniformly splendid desserts were the Candy Bar Cake, (which mixed devils food with peanut butter mouse and a sweet and salty frosting) and a Lemon Meringue Cake which was not overly sweet and was light enough to convince that you had finally found the diet portion of this outing.
Truth be told, this was a media event. The price, free. The service, as good as the food. But it was clear that, Gingham had joined Terra (on El Cajon Boulevard near the San Diego city line) as a destination restaurant in East County.
Malarkey has invested heavily in our city. He is employing 72 people and may need more when the patio opens. He has endeavored to keep the prices within reason of more traditionally price-sensitive East County, yet, truth be told, they are well below what similar food would cost just a few miles west.
Time will tell if the lines Malarkey has been greeted with his first few weeks can continue. We hope they can.