Jan. 2 2012 05:12 PM

Go for the Oxtail Jam; stay for the confusing bathrooms

Saltbox’s stylish lounge
Photo by Alyssa Socker-Keefe
This is an odd sensation. I won't be gone for long, but this will be my last column for a bit, as I'll be taking some time off to birth, feed and love the newest member of the Montgomery clan. The sensation is odd because, as I write this, various new, um, physical experiences are happening to my body that are making me wonder if the kid will be born before I reach the final paragraph. Eh, I'm sure it's fine. Let's talk food!

I love me a Kimpton Hotel, and though I haven't stayed in the new Hotel Palomar in the Gaslamp Quarter (taking over the doomed-because-of-the-name Sé San Diego), I recently dined in its swanky restaurant, Saltbox, and look forward to returning.

My pal Genevieve and I huffed our way to the top of the hotel lobby's staircase and were met with free wine and pizza. Saltbox, you saucy devils, you're already on my good side, I thought. Apparently, a gigantic, new pizza oven had just arrived, so free samples of flatbread were being tried out on diners as the backstage crew got familiar with the new equipment. We were more than happy to be guinea pigs.

We started our seated dining experience with Brown Butter & Lemon popcorn, a welcome change from the ubiquitous “let's cover something in truffle oil” appetizer. The brightness of lemon zest is a simple, seasonal complement to the richer, nuttier brown-butter drizzle—a superb combo all around.

Even when faced with the panoply of fried delights at the fair each year, I always find myself eating a classic corn dog at some point, so I was not about to pass up Saltbox's Lobster corn Dog, with a zingy ginger remoulade. I had mixed feelings about the dog: I very much liked the flavors, but I felt conflicted about the beautiful, buttery piece of lobster getting smothered by sweet corn dough. It was tasty, but also somehow sacrilegious.

Our forks dueled over every bite of Potato Dumpling Gratin—though it wasn't very gratin-like at all. It was more like nubbly little gnocchis baked in a dish with tender mushrooms. No cheese or cream? And neither of us tasted any sweetness from the advertised “apples ragout,” which was disappointing. The dish was quite good, but it lacked many expected flavors.

Definitely check out the Oxtail Jam, a jarful of velvety shreds of slow-cooked meat, sweetened by roasted tomatoes. You spread the concoction on warm molasses bread, evoking cold-weather flavors that warm you to your fingertips.

I must mention the freaky bathroom. No, it wouldn't be a boutique hotel and/or an uber-trendy Gaslamp eatery without a little bit of wacky interior design. The powder room is one gigantic unisex menagerie of stalls (a big strike for this uptight writer). And would you like to pee in a bank vault? Wish granted! Each stall door is seamlessly hidden in the wall, so if you like unisex bathrooms because of the mingling and flirting opportunities, get ready to also feel like an ass as you try to figure out where the hell the actual stalls are. And, once you make it inside, fearless Tomb Raider, the lighting is so dim that you'll have yet another challenge finding the commode. Good luck, claustrophobes; I recommend the buddy system.

I made it out of the bathroom alive and ready to tell the tale—a tale that involves some really yummy food. Kudos to Saltbox for being hip and stylish, but also warm, inviting and cranking out delicious eats that taste like more than just the latest Downtown trend.

Write to jennym@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com. Follow Jenny on Twitter @jennymontyinsd.


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