When I moved to a deep corner of North County (the kind of place where friends get lost trying to visit), I lamented the loss of easy access to food-scene bright spots like Little Italy and North Park. And though the big city is still where it's at for dining, every week Oceanside gives me one more reason to feel a little less blue about the eating options up here. I'll keep repeating it: The north end of the 101 is blowing up in terms of great places to eat.
Oceanside continues its domination of the North County food scene with a dark, wee corner of Coast Highway called BLVD Chinese Kitchen (514 S. Coast Highway). The small dining room is across the patio from artsy favorite Hill Street Café, and while the yellow-sided Hill Street is pleasant and traditional, BLVD Chinese Kitchen is the funky, tattooed neighbor slinging smart plates with a Chinese influence.
BLVD may be a fairly spare and small shop, but the cooking being done in its kitchen is fun and confident, with noodles, seafood, tempura and sake cocktails.
The Bikini Bottom cocktail is screaming to be downed on a summer day, with sweet brown sugar and the warmth of five-spice powder and jalapeños, all muddled with fresh mint, cilantro and pineapple juice. Sounds yummy and dangerous.
Don't shy away from the fried options. The tempura mushrooms were phenomenal, drizzled in a sticky, sweet orange glaze that perfectly complemented the toothsome 'shrooms. I'm not a huge fan of veggie-eaters trying to convince me that a nice mushroom is just as good as a ribeye, but I will say these big, beefy knobs of fungus were hefty and hot (good God, that sounds filthy) and I couldn't get enough.
The fried shrimp were so lovely, coated in an incredibly thin batter that stayed shatteringly crispy with each bite, never deflating into a sad, doughy coating. The shrimp popped hot and fresh, not overdone, and the plate was dressed with a luscious cream sauce and a sprinkling of candied walnuts. This was a simple dish, with minimal ingredients, but it hit flavor and texture notes in a surprising and refreshing way. I worried the dish wouldn't be enough (it doesn't come on rice or noodles), but with a small side of roasted broccoli, it was quite filling.
The broccoli deserves its own bit of praise. Roasting the happy little trees always brings out sweetness, and at BLVD they bring the sugars out and then blast them with a confident sprinkle of salt all over. I love a kitchen that doesn't shy away from salting their food with gusto.
For a quick and hot blast of fresh flavor, go for the chow fun noodles. They were on our table in less than five minutes and were a tangle of textural contrasts; flat noodles were knotted up with crispy bean sprouts, with everything tied together by a mellow house sauce and tender bits of chicken.
The next time somebody gets lost on their way to my house, I'll make it up to them with a trip to BLVD.