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Restaurant Review (San Diego): The Grant Grill

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After our first day at a conference in San Diego we decided to go out for a special dinner at the Grant Grill at the US Grant Hotel. First off, the hotel, which has been around since 1910, is beautiful. We could have spent a lot of time just taking in the history of the hotel but this isn’t hotelventures so let’s get right to the Grant Grill. This restaurant was on the Best Thing I Ever Drank so the reason why we were there was the Smashing Pumpkin martini but as you will soon see, the meal itself was great.

The Grant Grill had the feel of a fancy club where CEOs meet to make serious decisions. For a long time it was actually a men’s club during certain times of the week. Lots of expensive wood and art and fancy plates on which they serve single palette cleansers so you are prepared for your meal. The great thing is that this all worked really well with the ambiance and feel and definitely the food served. One thing that I struggled with were the seats. For some reason at our table the bench seats were extremely close to the table itself and since they were leather and cushy I felt like I was being pushed into the table. An odd feeling especially when you are settling in for a extended meal.

So what did I order? I obviously ordered the Smashing Pumpkin martini, which is seasonally available in the fall. Next, after perusing the menu I ordered the Dungeness crab risotto for an appetizer and the Niman ranch pork cheeks for my entree. For those of you who do not know, Niman ranch is an awesome high end ranch where you can get great meats and yes pork cheeks are the cheeks of a pig. After ordering our waiter informed us that the fresh baked focaccia bread would be out of the oven in a few minutes. That got me really excited but I was still blown away by the bread we received.

A few minutes later my martini came out. The Smashing Pumpkin martini is made up of pumpkin and star anise infused 10 cane run, Grand Marnier, allspice, saffron syrup, cardamom bitters, and some frech meyer lemon. Yes, that is a lot of ingredients and I generally struggle with sweet martinis but this one was surpisingly tasty. The rim was lined with cinnamon and sugar which blended very well with the pumpkin rum. The Grand Marnier and saffron added some boldness to the drink while the allspice and cardamom added some punch. The Meyer lemon, being a little sweet also melded well into the drink.

One thing that stood out was that this was definitely not meant to be a smooth drink, with all the ingredients the liquid became very cloudy and at times I felt like I needed to chew. This made the drink a little much and not one that I could drink repeatedly in one night. I think that if they strained it, the drink would be smoother and a little less intense. I liked it but definitely ordered a glass of wine for my entree.

Next, to our delight, the fresh focaccia bread arrived. Now this wasn’t just a big loaf cut up and served, not at the Grant Grill. Each table gets its own mini loaf baked just for the privileged few who sit there. The bread came out piping hot, and ready to be cut and served like a pizza. It also came with special sea salt, cracked pepper, and butter on the side ready to be mixed and used to enhance the flavor (Not that it was needed). Honestly they could have just given me some marinara sauce, my own platter and I would not have needed anything else that night, the bread was just that good. But, alas I had to suffer through two more courses and dessert.

After eating two pieces of this bread, the appetizers arrived. My Dungeness crap risotto was delicious. One thing I want to point out again is that the plates were all very unique and worked perfectly with the presentation of each and every dish. This was a risotto like no other I have ever had before. The rice was cooked perfectly and mixed beautifully with the capers and crab. Each bite was smooth and only the tiniest bit chewy. The crab added a level of decadence that allowed you to close your eyes and enjoy each bite, while the snap peas added a bit of green that helped you feel like this was at all healthy. The addition of toasted pine nuts was brilliant. Pine buts just add something intangible to certain dishes; I think it’s the woodsy taste and smell that comes along with the toasting. And just when you think that this was enough, they went ahead and shaved fresh Parmesan over the top and proved you wrong. Without the salty flavor the cheese brought to the dish, something would have indeed been missing. That little bit pulled the whole dish together and turned it into one of the best risottos I have ever tasted.

So far the Grant Grill had gone three for three without many critiques, and the next dish was no slouch either. My pork cheeks arrived on top of Swiss chard, accompanied by what they call rooftop tomato jam, cipollini onions and Asian pears (Which I actually thought were potatoes which would have made no sense in this dish). Ok so I have to be honest, I really have nothing bad to say about this dish aside from the fact that I would not have complained if I got received more cheeks on the plate but when do you not want more cheeks?

This dish just worked, plain and simple, everything that was on the plate needed to be there and I would not have added anything else. I didn’t even think to add pepper which I usually add to everything (I added it to the risotto). Each bite was savored and then missed when it was gone. Some times I would try the pork cheek alone and other times I would mix it with one, two, or all of the other ingredients. Each forkful was different and caused a unique flavor profile which is always fun for me. It’s like I have many different entrees all in one dish. Easy to try, but really hard to pull off. This was the first time I had ever eaten pork cheeks and now I am sad that I hadn’t been eating them all my life. They were cooked down to the point where the meat melted in your mouth and just truly embodied the flavor of pork. This cut now ranks right under bacon for me, and actually not that expensive to purchase at the butcher. If you eat pork and go to this restaurant you would be remiss if you did not order this dish.

It would not be a complete meal without a little dessert (Though I could have ordered another entree if it would have been an approved move). I ordered the semolina cake with a raspberry and blueberry compote and vanilla ice cream. I really do not remember much about this desert, I think my reaction was that it was fine but not as significant as the rest of the meal. This may be my bias against cakes but I don’t think it was bad, just not amazing. Of the whole dessert, I think the compote was the best. Mixing the fruit into the ice cream and cake was the way to go and they elevated the dish to something better than I would have expected. If I eat here again I would probably try something else but I don’t think you would be disappointed if you decided to try the semolina cake

The Grant Grill at the US Grant Hotel was a wonderful experience and is run by people who obviously know what they are doing. A few critiques but all in all a delectable dinner and well worth the cost. Just as a heads up, this place is not cheap but you can get coupons from restaurant.com to help lower the bill a bit. Also, if you really want to get crazy, you can order their ever changing seasonal tasting menu and perhaps do a wine pairing to go along with it. Next time you are in San Diego and looking for a fancy dinner check out the Grant Grill or just stop in at their lounge for some inventive and tasty cocktails.

Overall Review: 9/10

Take a look at what the Grant Grill is serving today by clicking here

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About Steven Lerer

  • http://www.FoodByteSite.com Marlene Bertrand

    What a great review. I’ve never had pork cheeks either, but you described them so well I think I would like to try them. And, as for the martini, anything made with Grand Marnier is on my “Must Do” list. And, thank you for the coupon tip. I will definitely look for The Grant Grill the next time I am in San Diego.

  • http://stevelerer.com Steve Lerer

    Thanks Marlene! It was a great experience, I would fully support you checking it out.