One late afternoon, while driving through San Diego from Baja, back to Orange County, we decide to pop into Blush Ice Bar and see what this newly opened restaurant has to offer. I am not able to make it to the opening party as it is on a weeknight, but parties don’t give me a clear indication of what a restaurant’s menu typically entails, so I am quite happy to visit at a later date.
Situated on the corner of Market Street and 6th Avenue in the Gaslamp, parking can be a bit of an issue, but we manage to find prime parking spot right outside the restaurant after circling several times.
The restaurant is edgy, its decor monumentally upbeat and hip. Music is loud and filters through to every corner of the large dining room. The first thing we notice is how perfect all the servers look — tall, tanned, skinny — like they just stepped off the pages of a magazine. Our server Valerie is stunning, and utterly sweet. She is friendly and chatty and we enjoy hearing about her favorites things to eat.
The menu is eclectic, leaning heavily on Asian flavors. I’d never met Chef Daniel Barron before, although he is no stranger to Asian fusion cuisine having opened AnQi at South Coast Plaza many years ago. He was available for a chat during our visit and I, especially, had many question for him with regard to some of the menu items which catches my eye.
I am impressed to hear that almost everything is made in-house: kimchi, sriracha sambal, yuzu kosho, even the soy sauce and miso!
We begin with Octopus Karage ($11), tender strips of braised octopus coated in crispy breadcrumbs. Two sauces are offered: a honey aioli and a lime vinaigrette, which is reminiscent of nuoc cham, the ubiquitous Vietnamese dipping sauce you find with almost all Vietnamese dishes.
I am intrigued by Cellophane Noodles & Blue Crab ($18) and am happy to say, it is definitely as good as I imagine it to be. Large morsels of sweet blue crab cling to the clear cellophane noodles, each bite delivering a burst of fresh citrusy aroma throughout my mouth. These are flavors I am well-versed in, the ones that evoke those Ratatouille moments which give me a warm fuzzy feeling.
Homemade Bacon Kimchi Fried Rice ($14) is another dish which makes us sigh. What’s not to love about kimchi fried rice? But Chef Daniel takes it up a notch by throwing in some house-made bacon, adding hints of smokiness and saltiness to the mix. The soft egg on top oozes at the mere prick of the knife, lending a lusciously gooey richness, to the already over-the-top delicious dish.
If you’re less adventurous, then Seared Diver Scallops ($24) might just be the one for you. The scallops are well-executed with a corn miso-smoked paprika oil drizzle and an extremely fragrant Thai basil pesto which takes it to another dimension. These are flavors that pop, and boy do they leave an impression on the palate!
We order Smoked Miso Cauliflower Gratin ($7) for kicks after hearing the crazy ingredients that it is prepared with — Cheez Whiz and Flaming Hot Cheetos. ‘Nuff said! Think cauliflower gratin that’s brimming with umami from the miso. Then, add a layer of heat and crunch from the cheetos, all tied together by the rich, creamy texture of the house-made cheez whiz. Throw them all together into a skillet and bake! It was definitely interesting to say the least.
However, the piece de resistance of the meal was definitely Hudson Valley Foie Gras Ramen ($18). Yes you heard right! The ramen is made in-house, and the broth? Made of smoked duck bones with some bacon ends thrown in, it is robust, sublime, and absolutely stunning! To take it one step further, Chef Daniel drizzles the fat from the seared foie gras into the bowl, giving it an unctuous and mouthwatering finish. Honestly, I didn’t even need the gorgeous piece of foie, or even, the perfectly soft poached egg on top. The ramen and broth alone are enough. It is one of the best things I have eaten this year.
It has definitely been a while since I’ve eaten a meal this satisfying. This sort of outside-the-box thinking is lacking in so many establishments today. The menu at Blush isn’t rocket science. It isn’t even a new movement of sorts. It IS, however, a lot of ingenuity and creativity in elevating what is readily available and making it SO much better than anything you’ve ever eaten before. The foie gras ramen is a true representation of how a simple every day bowl of noodles can take on finesse and sophistication, if only someone will simply step outside of the box, and do it!
Blush Ice Bar: East + West Kitchen
555 Market St
San Diego, CA 92101