When I heard that The Patio on Lamont was opening another location, my first thought was: Uh oh. While The Patio had earned a reputation as "trendy" and "cool" while serving surprisingly sophisticated food for Pacific Beach, what works in Pacific Beach is hardly a blueprint for success in Mission Hills. And if capturing that "it" vibe once is difficult, doing so a second time is even more so.
But The Patio on Goldfinch (4020 Goldfinch St.) has managed to make much of what worked in P.B. work better in Mission Hills. The design looks familiar. From the trademark patio, the contemporary feel and not one but two living walls, the Goldfinch version is not so much a knock-off of the original as a variation on a theme.
Beyond specific holdovers from Lamont, the new menu retains a tangible pan-global vibe and farm-to-table ethos. But with pan-global easily sliding into "fusion" and farm-to-table having long-since slouched into meaninglessness, does this new Patio succeed because of or despite those things?
The Patio's version of fish tacos, for example, is not remotely like the San Diego classic; rather, it's Hawaiian ahi poke in fried wonton skins. It's also delicious. The fresh fish and cleanly fried wontons look like an old-school hard taco. The garnishes of pickled ginger and wasabi seem a bit gratuitous, but pickled cucumbers atop the fish worked on multiple levels, and the dish's textural contrasts are fun.
Another of the Patio's small bites highlights the question of whether the restaurant is succeeding because of or despite the menu. Flavored hummus is cliché. I know that because I can get stuff bearing that description (but not necessarily the flavor to go with it) in the supermarket. The Patio's hummus trio offers roasted red pepper, white bean with bacon and serrano-cilantro versions. It's well-executed, if not adventurous, and very clearly (a) hummus, (b) flavorful and (c) enjoyable.
The Chop Chop Salad, another holdover from Lamont, is more interesting. It reads, visually, as anything but a salad. Ring-molded chopped romaine, bacon, avocado and tomato sit at one end of a Russian dressing swipe topped with onion rings. It looks impossibly dense and appears to contain far more avocado than it actually does—a bit of trickery in a satisfying lunch salad.
More impressive is the abalone picatta, a seafood play on the Italian veal classic. Atop a sun-dried-tomato mash with roasted string beans, the lemon-caper beurre blanc sauce plays off the richness of the panko-breaded abalone discs. The abalone seemed slightly tough, but the flavor combination was enough to carry the dish.
Without a doubt, though, my favorite dish was the grilled sardines with an arrabiata sauce (think spicy tomato) on ciabatta with lightly dressed arugula. This is not a dish for everyone: Sardines have a bit of the "fishy" flavor that's so off-putting to the pescaphobes among us. But grilling brings out their inherent sweetness, and while the arrabiata might not be necessary for the fish (a squeeze of lemon does it), it soaks wonderfully into the grilled ciabatta.
The sardine dish, perhaps, explains the appeal of chef John Medall's food. Global? Yes. Farm-to-table? Yeah. But, ultimately, it's all about what needs to be on the plate and where it should go. And on Goldfinch, Medall seems to have captured lightning in a bottle—again.