Friday, September 28, 2018

Happy Hour Bite: Nine-Ten

Nine-Ten Restaurant patio
Nine-Ten is the kind of place that would have a Michelin star or two if those lazy bums would bother to make their way down to San Diego. It's seriously one of my favorite restaurants in the entire city, but today I'm going to talk about their happy hour.

Due to my work schedule, happy hour for me usually translates to "very late lunch," so while I may occasionally grab a drink, my focus is always on the food. During happy hour, Nine-Ten offers half off the bar food, putting their masterful small plates in the $6–8 range.

The hamachi sashimi is a great light dish. The freshness of the hamachi really comes through, enhanced with a touch of salt. The scallion vinaigrette adds a delicious vibrant acidity; I almost wished I had a spoon to scoop up every drop. My only real issue with this plate was that the marinated mushrooms soaked up a lot of the vinegar flavor, making them a bit more intense than I'd like.

While I'm at it, I'll mention another of my favorite bar plates that I didn't have on my last visit: the avocado shrimp toast. I know avocado toast is has attained memetic status at this point, but I don't care when it's this good. This dish looks and tastes like a spring garden on bread. The luxuriously creamy guacamole base is topped generously with cilantro, thinly sliced radish, and serrano for a nice prickle of heat. While the salty queso fresco crumbles are essential, the perfectly cooked shrimp are the star of the show, sweet and tender with just the lightest of chars. Even my wife, who usually hates the texture of shrimp, admitted they weren't bad. Truly, this must be a magical place.

Roasted corn & ricotta agnolotti at Nine-Ten
Now, it says something about how much I trust head chef Jason Knibb and his team that, rather than being disappointed when I saw their fantastic mushroom agnolotti had been replaced with a different one, I was excited to try their latest creation. The roasted corn and ricotta agnolotti seamlessly blends Italian tradition, Mexican flavors and the comfort food richness into a plate that feels familiar yet totally unique. The sweet corn sauce is reminiscent of a hearty corn chowder, and it meshes well with the salty cotija, fresh cilantro, and lime-spicy Taj√≠n. Biting into these pasta pillows lets the ricotta come gushing out. The agnolotti's al dente bite provides an important contrast in such a creamy dish. I would welcome a bit more heat to cut through the cream and round out the Mexican flavors, but that's just one quibble in an otherwise outstanding plate.

In addition to being one of the best special occasion restaurants in the city, Nine-Ten has become my go-to when I want to treat myself after a taxing work day. There just aren't many places here putting out creative plates at this level of refinement, at this price point. I only hope I'm not spoiling one of San Diego's best-kept food secrets!

Score: 10 out of 10 (Phenomenal)

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