Farms, tables and family

Looks almost like I snuck on a farm to take this, huh?

Looks almost like I snuck on a farm to take this, huh?

I was pretty interested in getting my family together for a nice meal.  Thanks to the Twitterverse and the good sense of Jeff Hammett, I snagged some reservations, drifted well out of my neighborhood to La Mesa and settled in for a meal at Terra Restaurant. The tractor sits out in front and is, as it turned out, a statement about the ethos of the owner. Solid commitment to local, small, independent farms.  When I checked the website to make sure Terra met my qualifications for local sourcing and a nice philosophy about food I found this post about Chef Jeff’s commitment to community and good food. Nice.  With that, it was time to hunker down for some evening fun.A word about my mother, who is a piece of work.  In an endearing, sweet, slightly disconnected way.  Bless her soul, she has reverted to that youthfully exuberant tendency she used to scold me for of “having eyes bigger than her stomach.”  Age, lack of exercise and a lost battle with the sidewalk a few years ago have robbed her of some mobility so she gets around with one of those mega-walkers with the four wheels and the seat in the middle.  She’s fond of saying chasing around kids was her exercise, but she could have used the Surgeon General’s advice.  Anyhoo, we’d made reservations for five plus my 5-year-old niece, who would have had a starring role on kids say the darndest things if the show were still on, and after a little challenge navigating my mom’s walker we got squared away. Niece would be just as likely to explain the color scheme of the restaurant or tell us her philosophy on tomatoes as play with little kids. Again, like my mom, very cute, but you can imagine some funny stories along the way.  Now, about Terra…

The inside of Terra pushed me not to judge the book by its first couple pages.  It reminded me of so many CoCo’s or Applebee’s that I had initial trouble getting past the bones of the building to appreciate what was coming.  Three things immediately converged to really get our minds properly framed for the meal.  First, the host was lovely.  She was very helpful and accommodating of my mother’s off-road-walker and our need for more space.  Second, I noticed the ‘handles‘ on the way to our seat and saw the familiar Lost Abbey Celtic Cross and Stone gargoyle.  Gave me a little additional comfort that, if they have good craft beer there’s a good chance that good food is not far behind.  The California Craftbrewers’ Association recently released an economic impact study about the massive impact of craft beer on our state economy, which I recognize is a gratuitous (and wholly out of place) reference, but it’s a useful tidbit of information about an industry having a huge impact on our state.  Couple that with the flavor that comes out of most craft beer and my appetite was moving in the right direction.  The third thing that really got us ready for the experience was our experience with our server, Pink (yes, I changed her name).

Pink is a bit of a wandering soul, but it was our good fortune that she’d settled nicely into this role at Terra.  She was polite, funny, had a nice easy way about her and was great with my little niece.  And on top of that she read correctly that my wife and I were food people and gave extra descriptions about what we were eating. Check. Check. Check.  Now, since I also found out we are North Park neighbors, here’s a little bonus for her (and anyone else who reads this and is new to the area).  There’s a great website for local community information by the NPCA here.  You can find out almost everything going on in North Park related to having your community feel like an actual community.  Chili cook-offs, library readings for kids, local parks, discounts on food, you name it.  Also, there’s a pool at The Lafayette Hotel that you don’t have to be a guest to use.  Just pay a couple bucks or buy a couple drinks and you’re good.  If bikes are your thing, there’s this woman named Beryl who works at The Boulevard BIA (a business group that helps make the area even cooler) who puts on these cool “bike the boulevard” events where you can ride from cool spot to cool spot, grabbing a nice craft beer (or just enjoying the people).  There’s also Mama’s Lebanese Kitchen right next to Live Wire, Luigi’s, Flavors of East Africa and even if you walk a little west you can get to Pizzeria Bruno or up to Muzita Bistro on Park where the Abyssinian food is very, very good.  Abyssinia is where Ethiopia and Eritrea now are, I’ll save the political links on this point for the moment and just tell you that the owner Abel is a lovely human being and you won’t regret the trip.  So, Pink, whatever off-putting experiences you may have had with other San Diegans, know that we in North Park/University Heights are generally a friendly bunch and you have landed in a very fun place to live.  It’s also very, VERY easy to get involved in your community if you want, just see the NPCA site to find lots of ways to get plugged in.

Okay, sorry for that massive detour, let’s jump right into the food, shall we?

House salad with field greens, gorgonzola, candied pecans, local strawberries and honey walnut dressing

House salad with field greens, Gorgonzola, candied pecans, local strawberries and honey walnut dressing

I always like to start with either a great photo or an item I loved.  This was both.  Just in case it appeared I only eat remarkably unhealthy food in large portions, here’s a salad!  Please ignore the cheese and the word “candied.”  Plus I split it with Wife, so that makes everything better, right?  This is going to sound dumb.  I am warning you ahead of time so you don’t groan.  Deal?  Okay, this was the freshest tasting salad I’ve had in a month of Sundays.  I know, it’s just salad, right?  Isn’t there just a qualifying level of freshness after which something is either very fresh or just so-so?  I’d have thought so too, then I had this one.  That I just dedicated three sentences to the salad should tell you something.  I liked it, and if you like things like freshness and cheese, you will too. Moving right along, I’ll skip right to my mom’s meal, this

You can't quite see it, but there's a steak kabob under the lobster

You can’t quite see it, but there’s a steak kabob under the lobster

To fully understand the significance of this dish it’s important to realize that my mother views Red Lobster as fine seafood (read this).  That I was able to convince her this was not only going to taste better, but was better for her, better for the environment, and better for the people who grew/raised/prepared it was not a small feat.  That my mom and her hummingbird appetite devoured the whole thing–save the pieces I stealthily removed while she was playing with the cute little infant at the next table–was a great sign for the good people at Terra.  This “surf and turf” rendition was worth the surprisingly reasonable price, both in terms of value and quality.  Nice work, Chef.

When I studied the menu, I saw the words ‘lobster’ and ‘mac’ near eachother and knew right where I was headed.  Quickly.  Right here

Maine Lobster, penne pasta, asiago, brie and jack cheeses and local market veggies

Maine Lobster, penne pasta, asiago, brie and jack cheeses and local market veggies

It was a creamier mac and cheese than I typically like, I’m typically committed to the type you’d get out at Bonnie Jean’s, at least as far as the family of mac styles, if not the ingredients.  But that creaminess issue was more than made up for with the multiple types of cheese, the big hunks of lobster and the vegetables.  Wait. Hold on a minute. Why the Face? Vegetables?  In mac and cheese?  That seems, well, kind of un-American.  It’s not.  As it turns out, it’s actually a great way to get people to eat vegetables.  Not that I need help, but I’m just saying if fresh, locally grown, organic vegetables don’t go down easy for you please go see a doctor, that ain’t right here’s an alternative way to get your vitamins.  I don’t eat a lot of lobster, from Maine or anywhere lobsters call home, so I’m not the best judge.  But I thoroughly enjoyed it.  And unlike my last lobster experience–a $40 omelette at Norma’s house of overpriced eatery in NYC–this one was both tasty and plentiful.  Wife had the sea bass, which was a treat. But even my new amazing 13 Mexapixel Optimus that replaced that garbage Evo camera phone I used to complain about couldn’t get a good photo.  You’ll have to trust me that it was cooked just right and not seasoned into oblivion.  And if the memory in my tastebuds triggered by writing this serves me correctly, there was an equally enjoyable risotto resting pleasantly underneath the fish.  Everyone had a helping of this pumpkin soup that is kind of silly to show because it just looks like an orange disk.  There’s no good way I can think of to convey that it was better than a plain soup should have any right being.  I think it was a pumpkin potato puree, but don’t quote me on that.  Since I’m failing, let me interrupt the food again for this random artifact I noticed in the restaurant

Barbed wire from the late 19th century, which doubles as decor in the restroom

Barbed wire from the late 19th century, which doubles as decor in the restroom

Apparently there are multiple types of barbed wire, and here is some that is more than 120 years old!  My knowledge of such things was expanded via Twitter thanks to Eric Bernhard, a software architect who responded to my plea for random factoid solving.  Thank you kind sir, follow him on Twitter here.  Having solved that mystery and conceded that the meal needed a little sweet capper to the night, we settled in for this

Bread pudding in a skillet soaked in a bit of bourbon and topped with whipped cream

Bread pudding in a skillet soaked in a bit of bourbon and topped with whipped cream

I am not a bread pudding fan.  I’m really not.  I experience cognitive dissonance every time I even say bread pudding.  Not as bad as seeing a down escalator, but close.  No, seriously.  It wasn’t just the whipped cream and I don’t think the bourbon was making us loopy or something.  The actual flavor of the bread, uhhh, pudding (still weird to say) was very good.  Moist, rich, not drenched in alcohol and not so dense you feel like you’re eating a bread-flavored can of spam.  We technically got a few other desserts, which I’m not going to write about to pretend as though we didn’t eat them not because they weren’t very good but because if I ignore it isn’t just like it never happened?  Pink (our rock star server I mentioned above) also scored us a tiny creme brulee that had been inadvertently made.  Forget that it is a gross dessert that should be banned in California and forget that she probably had to get rid of it anyway if it was made incorrectly.  She was gracious to give it to us, and Wife liked it.  Anyway, back to the bread pudding, which you really should try even if you are a chocolate dessert type of person.  This was the perfect capper to the evening.  It was so good my little niece even dismantled the last few bites to leave us with this

The world according to my five year old niece

The world according to my five year old niece

This ended our night at Terra.  I have to tell you, this is a place I highly recommend even if it means making a little bit of a drive.  Given how nice the adult beverages are, you should bring a DD (or get you some uBer).  I had a Lazy Saison from Manzanita which was one of the better Farmouse Ales I’ve had in the last six months.  The only thing that would have made our experience better–it would make ALL our experiences better–is if the Chef would just pop out and say hello and ask about the meal/tell us something about the meal.  I would pay more for that experience, and I would tell even more people than I already do how cool that is.  Just something to consider.  All in all, a nice trip to a new go-to restaurant for times when I have to be east of, say, Ponce’s.  For those who’ve reached their tipping point and can’t stand to put up with my prattling on any longer, turn away now.  For those who want to now, here are links to some of the local farms where Chef Jeff gets the food you’ll eat.  I put these here so that you can learn a bit more about the farms and the workers who work there.   Either way, thanks for dropping by

Stehly Farms Organic  –  Suzie’s Organic Farm –  Cunningham Organics – Crows Pass Farm – Lawson Valley Farms (I couldn’t find this link so this is a local blog in Jamul) – New Roots Community Farm

Other local family farms

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