Photo courtesy of JSix
Usually, hotel restaurants are where the bland meets the unadventurous.
It makes sense, really. Visitors in a new place often want to eat something familiar in a new setting. And discerning locals typically avoid hotel eateries unless they’re in the bar trying to hit on tourists.
That’s not the case at JSix (616 J Street) in the Hotel Solamar in the Gaslamp. New chef Anthony Sinsay is putting a new spin on the restaurant’s new American cuisine by including hat tips to his Filipino heritage.
According to the 2010 Census, San Diego County is home to around five percent of the country’s Filipino population, but, other than lumpia and adobo, Pinoy cuisine hasn’t caught on big with the mainstream in the same way as other Asian cuisines such as Japanese, Thai or Vietnamese.
No, JSix isn’t a Filipino restaurant, but a few of the dishes are Sinsay’s riffs on food that he grew up with. But since JSix is an upscale place in the Gaslamp, as opposed to a hole in the wall in National City, this has the potential to be a very big deal in the culinary scene. Filipino-inspired dishes are only part of JSix’s “New American” menu, but those dishes are unique enough to give the place an edge in a crowded food neighborhood.
That is, if the food is good, and for the most part it is.
Of the dishes that are clearly Filipino in tone, the most successful may be the spicy warm beet salad, which is vinegar-braised in a style called paksiw. JSix serves the pickled beets with crispy garlic, Manchego cheese and serrano chile.
The pickled beets are definitely bracing in a good way. The puckered result in my mouth got me ready for the rest of the meal.
I wasn’t as much of a fan of the pancit, a rice noodle dish with an egg and fresh seasonal vegetables. It tasted slightly fishy and seemed like something I’d get at Panda Express. I think it works better as a side dish than as an entree.
The two dishes I really enjoyed were both duck. The duck confit rillette, a sort of pâté usually made with pork, was rich, fatty, decadent and delicious. The only problem is that we ran out of bread quickly and just ate it by the spoonful. My dining companion liked it so much he was texting his wife trying to find out when they could come back.
We were both big fans of the dry aged duck breast, served with celery root and a red wine reduction. Each bite was as juicy and tender as a good steak. My friend heard the dish might be coming off the menu in January and he was begging them to leave it on (yes, he may have had some drinks as well).
We both enjoyed the charred octopus confit, which was served with a squid bolognese sauce. Octopus can be chewy. These were crispy and just popped in the mouth. I would get again. My designated driver wasn’t as big a fan of the roasted chicken, which had a nice soy and peanut flavor. He thought it was dry. I thought it was OK and there was flavor to spare.
I definitely plan a return trip to JSix, even if it’s just for the duck and the beet salad. The more interesting result, however, was how the food got me interested in learning more about Filipino cuisine so I can understand Sinsay’s influences better.
Pinoys might have a different reaction to Sinsay’s riffs on the cuisine than I did. That’s fair. But the mere fact that he’s introducing Filipino food to a mainstream audience at a fine dining restaurant should make them very happy, not to mention the tourists and locals at the bar.