The Green Tomato
4090 Adams Ave.
My date and I strolled up and down the entire length of Kensington's mini-downtown in about five minutes. Kensington fits lots of cool into a business district about half the size of your average Barnes and Noble. Within two blocks, there's the last truly independent San Diego theater (the Ken), a rare independent video store (Kensington video), a neighborhood watering hole turned hipster hangout (Ken Club) and a cool anti-Starbucks (Kensington Coffee) kitty-corner from the inevitable real one.
Right in the middle of all this indie cred, and just a step away from a busy Adams Avenue intersection, we stumbled upon two empty sidewalk tables draped in linen, inviting us into the Green Tomato Restaurant.
Although the restaurant overall is a little staid for the surroundings, the front room is less so, a stylish lounge with deep red walls and high-back leather booths. Call it the kids' room. Adults sit in the more formal rear dining room, brightly decorated in beige and gold, with high-backed upholstered chairs straight out of grandma's house. We stayed in the lounge, gravitating to the oversized and all but abandoned bar.
We perused the reasonably sized and more than reasonably priced menu, which includes a couple $5 soups or house salad and tops out at $24 for the filet mignon entrée. The underused staff, meanwhile, busied themselves with loud Real World-esque conversations around the hostess stand.
"Isn't that the most annoying thing ever?" my date whispered.
"It's no big deal," I said.
"No big deal?" she spat. "What happened to the windbag who always has something snide to say about everything?"
I let her do the ordering. Of the two eponymous starters, the spicy green tomato soup, with whole tomatoes, put the sharp flavor to better use than the bland fried green tomatoes. The latter were sliced too thin, the tomato almost non-existent within the thick and nondescript breading. The chicken and beef skewers were not too overdone, and cooked in a pleasant-enough teriyaki sauce. The scallops were also ever-so-slightly overdone, served over creamy, thick-crusted crab cakes, which I have begrudgingly accepted as the standard for this coast.
We ordered a few entrees: flank steak with a thin cranberry glaze; tilapia in a slightly sweet, lemon-tinged cream sauce; a butterflied pork chop coated in a rosemary and red wine reduction. Nothing was egregiously overcooked, but we couldn't say anything was done to perfection. The sauces did not flatter but did not detract, either. The sides, mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables, were about what one would expect, both in content and in execution.
"What do you think?" my date asked after each plate.
I dropped my fork. "I have absolutely nothing to say about that."
She shook her head. "You know what you are?" She pointed at me with her knife. "You're an embarrassment to opinionated assholes everywhere."
As a last-ditch effort, she ordered the spicy clam appetizer, a couple dozen small steamed clams in a chipotle sauce. I grunted agreeably at the first couple tender and fresh clams. But then, there was something deeper in the smoky, spicy chipotle sauce. Usually, one assumes that the sauce is there to add to the meat, but in this case, it was as if the clams were there to give a little piquant flavoring to a sweet bowl of roasted pepper soup. I slurped down shells full of sauce with each clam, and then, when the clams were gone, ate a couple spoonfuls, raving. Inspired, my date reached for the abandoned basket of bread, an entire loaf of light-hearted and thick-crusted cheese and jalapeño bread, and dunked a slice. Ecstasy. We dunked, slice by slice, until we had sopped up almost the entire tureen.
We finished with the only dessert made in-house. I'd had a bad run of crème brulee lately, thick burnt-sugar shells worthy of an ice pick, and runny, greasy fillings. I held my breath as I tapped the severely blackened shell, and let out a sigh of relief as the slight crust folded around my spoon. The deep yellow custard beneath was not too sweet, a nice contrast to the sweet sugar topping. Nothing showy, but sublime in its simple perfection. Steady competence, interspersed with the occasional transcendent moment, is not such a bad thing. ©
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