Counterpoint San Diego is right on point

It isn’t often I walk away from a meal that makes me feel so utterly happy inside. A meal that is consistently good — no, great! — and the food, service, everything about the entire experience is simply top notch. This is one of those times.

Counterpoint in San Diego’s Golden Hill neighborhood has been in business for five years and I’m not surprised that the place is pretty packed on a Saturday night. The atmosphere is casual but absolutely inviting, with a great soundtrack of 70s and 80s’ hits playing one after another on the night of our visit.

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We start with some cocktails: Florida Canyon ($9) to satiate my thirst for tequila, and Counterpoint Gin & Tonic ($9) simply because I am intrigued by the house made tonic paired with the restaurant’s take on the traditional Plymouth gin and tonic. The Rancho Allegre Blanco tequila libation, with pineapple, ginger, sage and lime juice is great, but the gin and tonic wins hand down — I finish it quickly.

cocktails

Owner Cam Fomby walk by and stopped to chat for a few minutes. I have many questions which I ply him and he graciously answers them all. An ex-marine with no prior restaurant experience, I am curious, and at the same time, intrigued. He is passionate, that’s for sure, and he is definitely excited about chef Rose Peyron, previously at Alchemy, where I enjoyed a great meal earlier this year. But is is when Fomby tells me all he wants is in “making ordinary things, extraordinary” that my ears perk up and I keep this at the back of my mind throughout my meal.

Our first course of Burratta Salad ($12) arrives with arugula, tomato, dollops of gooey burrata, and smoked almonds. The unique element on the plate is the accompanying leek-bread pudding croutons made in-house — words which will resonate throughout the post.

burata

Next is Southern Fried Cauliflower ($7) with perfectly fried florets first soaked in a buttermilk marinade, then seasoned with creole spice. The coating is light but flavorful. The honey-hot sauce is slightly sweet with a lovely kick at the end. Pair everything together and it is a delicious mouthful. Definitely a must-order!

fried cauliflower

I always order rillettes because I love it, so Beef Cheek Rillettes ($8) — made in-house — is in order. The smoked beef cheek arrives topped with tomato confit in a mason jar. Toasted baguette — from Bread & Cie, one of my favorite bakeries in San Diego — is a lovely vehicle for the rillettes. Add a little of the grain mustard served alongside.

rillettes

Pickles are near and dear to my heart — anything salty and sour actually — therefore Pickle Jar ($5) is not to be missed. A creative assortment of house-pickled vegetables and fruit, which include blueberries, grapes, carrots, wax and cannellini beans, which surprised even me. I’ve never eaten a pickled blueberry or grape before and the taste is strange upon first bite, but it quickly grows on you. An ideal palate cleanser after the unctuousness of the rillettes.

picked vegetables

At this point I am losing the light very quickly and am never thoroughly happy with my photos when there is a lack of natural lighting. So from here on out, the photos won’t be as pleasing, but the food continues to tantalize.

Mac n Cheese ($8) using orecchiette pasta and house-smoked aged cheddar, is rich and decadent. The cheese adds a hint of smokiness without overpowering. The best part is enjoying the left-overs a few days later.

mac n cheese

One of the most over-used vegetables right now is Brussels Sprouts ($7), but I have never been happier eating the ones here. My son takes one bite and says “these are way better than yours” and I’ll have to agree with him. Fried to a perfect char, they are then tossed in a kimchi sauce with a hint of sambal. Those are staple ingredients in my fridge but I don’t have the creativity to step outside of the bacon or pancetta box when it comes to preparing Brussels sprouts. This is one of the best things I’ve eaten in quite some time — simple and addicting.

kimchi brussels sprouts

Moving on to entrees, the Smoked Duck Sausage Pasta ($15) is a definite hit. The sausage is made in-house with the right amount of seasonings and the ideal texture I want when it comes to sausage. A light lemon cream sauce coats the pappardelle (made fresh by Assenti’s Pasta in Little Italy) tossed with roasted mushrooms, a handful of arugula and shaved parmagiana reggiano. Absolutely to die for!

duck sausage

Sausage lovers can revel in Bangers & Mash ($15) — yes, the bangers are made in-house — with creamy brown butter mashed potatoes and a succulent onion-bacon stout jam. A heavenly, but immensely filling dish quintessential for the cooler weather. Is it bad I just want a few of the sausages and a side of those Brussels sprouts and call it a night?

bangers and mash

Beef Tongue Pastrami Sandwich ($13) is one of those things which can either be really good, or really bad because everyone loves pastrami, but tongue? The thinly sliced tongue is sandwiched between a rye roll along with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, spicy aioli and house pickles. The flavor profiles come together so harmoniously and I wish I have more room to take another bite. I end up eating it for lunch the next day after warming it up a tad in the toaster oven. Still good! And don’t forget the generous portion of house-made black pepper chips which sits alongside. You won’t be able to stop eating even half way through.

tongue pastramiIt has definitely been a while since my last encounter with a little restaurant where the chef takes pride in creating as much of the menu in-house as possible. Counterpoint is definitely impressive with tasty cocktails and solid fare, most of which are familiar, but take on a different approach. I think the menu is a clear indication that Cam Fomby’s vision of ordinary things being extraordinary has come to fruition. We will be back, my son will make sure of it.

Counterpoint
830 25th Street
San Diego, CA 92102
Tel: 619-564-6722

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Moulin will take you to Paris without leaving OC

I’ve been to Moulin as many times as I can count on one hand — perhaps more — since its opening almost a month ago. Maybe it is the quaint French charm, or the very attractive staff owner Laurent Vrignaud has employed, Or just maybe, it is just simply the fact that the food is really good. For me, it has to be the food which draws me in. Decor helps, but it is only secondary to its culinary offerings.

This little French bistro and cafe, which took over the Pascal’s Epicerie spot off Bristol, is everything that appeals to my senses. The food draws me in, the inviting space coupled with warm, friendly people, makes me stay for a while. Put that all together and the result is my desire to keep coming back again and again with friends in tow.

moulin

The food is simple. Typical French fare at a cafe you might chance upon while strolling through the streets of Montmartre, Paris, where Laurent is from. It is his longing for the foods of his childhood which led him here, to open Moulin.

Each visit allows me to try different things. The atmosphere is incredible, just buzzing with energy. Breakfast and lunch are bustling with people, music, and the aromas of something delicious. I’ve yet to come at dinner time, and plan to make it to one of the Tuesday “Chef’s Dinner” that features Chef Anthony Bar’s French specialties in a family-style atmosphere. Reservations are a must — walk-ins will be disappointed.

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For now, I can tell you, the regular menu is pretty enticing on its own. For breakfast, try one of their omelettes. I liked L’Omelette Moulin ($12) which includes roasted chicken (from the in-house rotisserie) with herbs and mushroom. They’ll ask if you want cheese with it, I always say yes. It is a perfectly executed omelette, fluffy on the inside and really light — just like they do it in gay Paris.

omelette

La Quiche du Chef et Salade ($10) is another stellar choice. You’ll get a side salad with a slice of whatever quiche the chef has created for the day. Quiche Lorraine was the daily feature, a wedge of eggy goodness dotted with ham and cheese throughout. I don’t remember the last time I had quiche this good. The texture is light as air and rather impressive.

quiche

One of my favorite items is Le Poulet Roti aux Herbs ($8/lb), rotisserie chicken you can see rotating behind the cashier. The chicken breast tends to be a tad drier so I always choose the leg/thigh, make sure you ask for some jus to go with it. There are vegetables as a side option, but what I do instead is, order a baguette ($3), cut a piece off, dip it into the jus and enjoy.

chicken

Instead of vegetables, I prefer the various salads Moulin offers in its cold case. The salad is sold by weight and there are quite a few to choose from. My favorites include: Le Céleri Rémoulade, sliced celeriac tossed in a remoulade; La Pomme de Terre, Lardons en Persillade, baby potatoes with bacon lardons tossed with persillade (a dressing of parsley chopped together with garlic, herbs, oil, and vinegar).

salade

On another visit, we enjoyed sandwiches. Jambon et Fromage ($9) includes wonderful ham (roasted in-house) and gruyere sandwiched between a house-made baguette. This is also a perfect selection if you’re on the run and wanted something quick to go.

jambon fromage

On my son’s first visit, he stood in front of the cold case and immediately points to the Saucisson Sec and Cornichons ($8) baguette. In fact, he kept muttering “this is so good and so simple” the entire time he was eating it. Some dry, cured sausage topped with baby gherkins between a buttered crusty loaf — simple indeed.

saucisson sec

Croque Madame ($11) is a classic French hot sandwich you won’t want to miss. If you’re not familiar with this, it is a croque monsieur (grilled ham and cheese sandwich) with a runny egg on top. Comfort food at its best.

croque madame

I am a huge fan of onion soup, but unless I make it myself, I have yet to find one in Orange County that’s spot on. The French Onion Soup ($9) here is excellent, with a flavorful broth and just the right amount of onions. The crouton and cheese to soup ratio is also correct. My son proclaimed this one of the best French onion soups he’s had in a restaurant.

french onion soup

There is still a lot to explore at Moulin and new items are added daily. The core menu will always be available, but from time to time, you’ll find some specials such as the Brie Tartine ($8) we found on one of our visits. If you see this, get it! Absolutely to-die-for.

brie lardon

Moulin Bistro is one of those gems destined to become an Orange County favorite. I see chefs grabbing a bite with their families, or just popping in for a quick coffee. To see culinary folk flock here affirms that this is a place to watch out for. After all, isn’t that the best compliment and validation of all?

Moulin Bistro
1000 Bristol N
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 844-376-6243

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