Carlsbad's The Australian Grill is sweet and earnest
|By Jenny Montgomery|
Kangaroo burgers have potential
When you eat out semi-professionally, you start to see the same things pop up on menus. Food can be as trendy as fashion, with popular ingredients and dishes (truffle oil, bacon, mac 'n' cheese) going from exciting one day to tired and overdone the next. Food done well is ultimately what matters most, regardless of how flashy or familiar the plate is, but my weary tongue gets excited to try tastes and traditions that are a bit more unexpected. Enter The Australian Grill.
Located in the heart of Carlsbad Village (2961 State St.), the Grill is an earnest little place with a sweet and welcoming staff and a big chalkboard wall bursting with treats from down under.
You can compose quite a filling (and reasonably priced) meal from the quirky offerings on the appetizers portion of the menu. I loved the hybrid PB&J / grilled-cheese sandwich: Mild cashew butter is paired with bright pluot jam (although, let's be honest, the world doesn't really need the pluot) and a thick slice of smoked gouda, then grilled together between two buttery, crunchy slices of country bread. I have no idea if this is how Australians generally eat, but good on the person who concocted this happy treat.
There are plenty of more traditional offerings worth sinking your chompers into. The sausage rolls are really more of a turnover: steaming hot, soft pastry is filled with tender, ground Niman Ranch sausage and served with a white-wine herb sauce. The sauce tasted like melted butter with a bit of flour mixed in, but no matter, the humble triangles are yummy enough to stand on their own.
A few bucks will get you a heaping bowl of Australian potato wedges, another simple-yet-satisfying dish, dressed up with a dipping sauce of sweet chili and crème fraîche. That combo shouldn't work, but the hot / cool, sweet / tangy mix livens up the humble spuds. The wedges come lightly seasoned, with bites of creamy, steamy flesh on the other side of the crispy skins.
My biggest disappointment was the kangaroo burger, though I like where they were going with it. The burger is paired with thinly sliced vanilla-pickled beets, pineapple, ancho-chili aioli and a spiky piece of frisée. I love a burger with unexpected combinations and zany ingredients, and I so wanted this to work. Unfortunately I found the 'roo to be a bit on the dry side and the beet-root to be a little too toothsome and distracting to make the whole thing sing. The seed of a really cool flavor idea is there, though, so I look forward to ordering it again to see if they can work out the kinks.
There's a hidden back patio (you have to walk through the kitchen to get there) that's a very cool dining space. On the night I visited, some famous Swedish pop star was giving a private concert. I was treated to a cavalcade of very tall and very attractive people walking past my table throughout the evening. Fortunately, I didn't have to share my potato wedges with them.
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