The Oceanside food scene is exploding, and Masters Kitchen & Cocktail has landed with a splash, bringing an upscale dining room and craft cocktails to the neighborhood. But upscale doesn't mean fussy.
Many places can fall flat trying to be too many things to too many people. Masters (208 S. Coast Hwy., Oceanside) has nailed the alchemy of bar-lounge-restaurant. Half of the cavernous space is a high-energy bar and cocktail lounge, with flat-screens showing the game of the day and a great blend of small plates and cocktails. The other side of the room, divided by a wall of snug booths, hosts a bustling dining room with a classic-yet-intriguing menu that could compete with any Gaslamp Quarter or North Park hot spot.
Count me among those who cheer for the craftbeer scene. But when I imbibe, I want a bit more burn. My go-to cocktail is a Manhattan, and you'll find that tasty classic on Masters' menu, complete with a Luxardo cherry that'll make you recoil in horror at the neon maraschinos you're used to consuming. During a recent visit, I tipped back a "Dude, Where's My Sidecar?" cocktail.
I loved the warm blend of Cognac, crème de gingembre and a lovely syrup of apple and mint made inhouse. It's sweet without being cloying, an easy and sophisticated cocktail. The kitchen is turning out hearty American fare with a polish you would expect from a chef with A.R. Valentien on his résumé (Masters' Chef Chris Gallo was head line cook there). Explore some of the small plates—I can't wait to go back for the mushroom strudel with Meyer lemon and mascarpone (I shed a tear when they ran out the night I dined there). The roasted Brussels sprouts were excellent. Normally, I like my sprouts like tiny little gems. These were large and meaty, cooked through to hot and tender, with crispy, caramelized outer leaves and crunchy bits of lardons scattered around the plate. Add some crusty bread and another cocktail and you have a pretty great, but light, dinner.
Although springtime often calls for delicate dishes, it also calls for lamb. Masters puts out a fantastic braised lamb with tomatoes and charred cauliflower. The savory, juicy meat sits on top of a tangle of tender pappardelle pasta and is sprinkled with gobs of salty feta. Where meat sauce can often sit heavy, this dish managed to be both rich and fresh.
The dessert menu changes and includes a daily custard ( crème du jour ), that happened to be a butterscotch crème brulee on my visit. This dessert just might give Blue Ribbon Pizza's legendary butterscotch pudding a run for the money. It's rich and creamy with a thin, crackling, just-salty top. You might consider a third cocktail, skip the meats and veggies entirely, and go straight to dessert.
Either way, Masters Kitchen & Cocktail is a standout establishment in a community bursting with new talent and tastes.