Sherman's Food Adventures: Kettner Exchange

Kettner Exchange

The kids really are beginning to enjoy any restaurant that features share plates.  The variety of good eats makes the meal much more interesting and diverse.  From tapas to dim sum to izakaya, they love taking bites of every dish.  So when I was deciding where to eat for dinner in San Diego, especially in Little Italy, Kettner Exchange shot to the top of the list.  Featuring progressive Westcoast cuisine with Asian influences, Executive Chef Brian Redzikowski isn't afraid to take some risks.  Add in a lovely dining space that has an outdoor spot with views of the harbor, Kettner Exchange offered up everything we wanted in a dinner reservation.

We started off with the Hot Oil Seared Salmon with soy, sesame, crispy sunchokes and shiitake.  One taste and this brought back memories of my childhood where my dad would pour hot oil and sweetened soy atop steamed fish.  In this case, it was buttery salmon belly that was only lightly scored on the top by the hot oil.  Classic ginger and scallion flavors permeated the soy/oil mixture.  Adding texture to the dish was the ample amount of crunchy sunchoke chips.

Also quite tasty was the Baja Blue Fin Tuna Belly Sashimi with crushed avocado, radish and kaffir-soy.  Sliced into small strips, the tuna belly was buttery and had the natural sweetness of the sea.  It was nicely accented by the tangy kaffir soy that was not overly salty.  The fresh avocado was creamy and soaked up some of the soy.  The addition of sliced radish was not merely a garnish as it added the necessary crunch to an otherwise soft-textured dish.

Continuing on with raw fish, we had the Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice with radish, cilantro, scallion, spicy mayo and eel sauce.  Sometimes, this type of dish can be unappealing since the rice is either too thick or not crunchy enough.  Well, this was prepared perfectly with just enough chewy sushi rice that featured a crispy exterior.  It did not fall apart even after it was cut into quarters.  On the top, there was a balanced layer of buttery tuna that was just spicy enough for a kick without going overboard.  The addition of unagi sauce added some sweet tang to the dish.

Now the Caesar "Twinkie" was something I was not expecting.  I must give it to them for being creative as they stuffed a large crouton cube with creamy caesar dressing, parmigiano-reggiano, romaine hearts and girl & dug kale.  This was a polarizing dish as the kids were pretty indifferent about it.  For me, I thought it was something different and completely out-of-left-field.  Sure, the crouton was a bit greasy, but it was crunchy with a super soft center (like a Twinkie) and the dressing was delicious.  My only wish is to have less dressing as it was a bit overwhelming.

Up next, the Whipped Buttermilk Ricotta was pretty yummy with balsamic glaze, olive oil, dill, tarragon, lava salt and charred bread.  As much as this didn't seem like the most interesting dish, it turned out to be one of our favorites.  Texturally, the ricotta was creamy and light while blessed with the charcoal saltiness of the lava salt.  Extra richness was provided by the EVOO as well as the sweet balsamic glaze.  Some understated flavor was thanks to the sprigs of dill and tarragon leaves strewn throughout.  The star of the show was the smoky and nutty charred bread.  We had to ask for more since the 2 strips was not nearly enough.

One dish that was not a fan-favorite was the Roasted Chinese Eggplant with Moroccan spice, bulgar, pine nuts and lemon yogurt.  As much as the Moroccan spice was very much at the forefront with its tangy and earthy flavors, the actual texture of the eggplant was a bit too stiff.  If it was only a bit softer with a less chewy exterior, it would've been a better dish.

Although I would've chose a different noodle other than spaghetti, the Hot & Spicy Garlic Noodles with Maine lobster, broccoli, cilantro and scallions was still very good.  It featured al dente noodles that were bathed in just enough "sauce" to create impactful flavors.  This included a bit of numbing spice to go along with garlic and the saltiness of soy.  I liked how there wasn't too much moisture to completely soak the noodles.  There was also no shortage of lobster in the dish.  Those nuggets were sweet and full of lobster aroma as well as exhibiting the classic rebound texture.

Impressively large and served in a cast iron dish, the Duck Meatball was topped with a parmesan cracker sitting atop Anson Mills grits and an heirloom tomato sauce.  Wasn't expecting as gigantic of a meatball, but it turned out to be great as it was very moist and meaty.  Loved that it was not dense and almost crumbly (but not actually crumbly).  The meat was tender and had a very ducky flavor to it.  The intense tanginess of the tomato sauce added plenty of zip and brightness to the dish.  It melded well with the creaminess of the grits.

Onto our larger items, the Niman Ranch Pork Chop was a huge and double-cut.  It was perfectly prepared being just barely cooked-through. Hence, it was juicy and tender with plenty of natural pork essence.  It was covered in a Peruvian sauce that had some spice and was tangy.  Loved the chunky hybrid-mashed potatoes on the side.  Lots of texture and it was well-seasoned.  As much as it was only a side, the brussels sprouts were cooked through while still crunchy (if not a bit salty).  Roasted carrots were sweet and had great bite.

Possibly the best dish of the night was also the last one - Grilled Mary's Chicken with black urfa chilli, pickled red onion and Scintilla Farms pea tendrils.  Deboned and flattened, the double chicken breast (with drumettes) was super moist and tender.  It was well-seasoned and featured nicely charred and somewhat rendered skin.  As you can tell, the meal at Kettner Exchange was solid and enjoyable.  Love the Asian influences done right.  Service was on point and can't beat the rooftop.

The Good:
- Asian influences done right
- Well-prepared food
- On point service

The Bad:
- Share plates mean you will be spending a bit more money, but it was fair
- Taking risks might lead to some misses, but only a few


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