Monday, July 12, 2010
TBG Eats: Bernard'O Restaurant
Current Weight: 171.4 lbs. (!!!)
This past Friday was the annual "summer sleepover night" at my son's school. Since 2008, Mrs. Bootleg and I have enjoyed one Jalen-free evening every July. On this night, his teachers are the ones tasked with feeding him pizza, ensuring he pees right before bedtime and answering his half-awake/half-asleep spiritual questions like, "Are there bathrooms in heaven?"
During the previous two "sleepover nights", Mrs. Bootleg has shown zero interest in the inherent fringe benefits of temporary parental parole. We'd have a drink or two after dropping Jalen off, before returning home so my wife could beat the sunset to bed. In turn, she left me alone with televised Friday night Oakland A's games which, for the past few seasons, constituted spousal abuse.
So, when Mrs. Bootleg asked me to come up with plans she could ruin for this year's school sleepover, I deferred to her.
She suggested a French restaurant called Bernard'O. While it's just over a mile from Stately Bootleg Manor, we've never been during the six-plus years we've lived in the Rancho Bernardo section of San Diego. And, according to their website, they were voted "Best French food in San Diego" for 2008!*
* -- I'm not sure how I feel about their need to promote such a dated acknowledgement, but as a "Writer of the Year" award winner in 2003 with 411mania.com and then again in 2004 with Inside Pulse, I'm inclined to give them a pass. THIS time.
Belying its moderately-priced menu and ostentatious interior, Bernard'O is located in an otherwise antiseptic strip mall that includes an Albertson's supermarket, Starbucks, Papa John's Pizza and a dry cleaner. At the restaurant's entrance is a tacky, three-foot tall unintentional likeness of this guy.
Our reservations were for 7:00 PM and, once inside, the first thing I noticed was the lighting. Did you ever notice how unrealistically well-lit EVERY television and movie scene inside a bar, nightclub or a restaurant is? Well, Bernard'O has 'em all beat. I'd put the brightness here just behind "inner city convenience store" and "first three seconds after leaving a movie theater".
My cocktail for the evening is Maker's Mark on the rocks, while Mrs. Bootleg opts for a chardonnay on our server's recommendation and his use of the word "buttery" to describe it. I'm briefly intrigued by the wife's drink – can "buttery" legally be used to describe anything other than butter, margarine and McCormick Imitation Butter Flavor? – but, I stick with the bourbon that brought me to the dance.
If you've read any of my previous long-winded restaurant reviews, you know that the official appetizer of me and Mrs. Bootleg is crab cake. Bernard'O offers up a Dungeness Crab Cake accompanied by remoulade and micro green salad. Our server split the order between two plates which substantially reduced our usual marital "fork interference". The crab meat was a little looser than I like, but with a nice peppery bite. The remoulade straddled the fence between sweet and spicy, while the infinitesimal salad leaves were bitter enough to bring everything together. Grade: 4 (out of 5)
Mrs. Bootleg was won over by our server's impressive description of the above tomato and mozzarella salad. Up until now, I thought this was from Italy and called Insalata Caprese. But, if Oklahoma can steal chicken-fried steak from Texas, who am I to argue? The tomatoes here were at varying degrees of ripeness which provided four or five different flavors with the oil-based dressing and fresh mozzarella blob. Solid, but my wife actually makes a better version of this. Grade: 4
I went with the Scottish Salmon for my entrée. And, just as it was brought out, the restaurant significantly reduced the interior lighting specifically to f**k with the above cell phone picture. This was topped with "Ruby Red Grapefruit Beurre Blanc" which lent an intense citric acidity to this naturally mild fish. It took a few bites, but I was really digging the balance of tastes on my tongue by the end. The risotto seemed a wee bit undercooked, though, and similar to a certain boxed San Francisco Treat that introduced a generation of children to trolleys and high-sodium side dishes. Grade: 4
For dessert, I ordered the Vanilla Cheesecake with Raspberries and Boysenberries. None of the desserts seemed especially appealing since I'm not a chocolat fanatic and apparently apple brown betty with FRENCH vanilla ice cream is more "Perris, California" than…oh, don't look at me like that. Y'all should know by now that there's no joke "too easy" for me. Nice vanilla bean flavor, but the two berries did nothing to change my underwhelmed opinion of them. Grade: 3
Postscript: After half a glass of wine, Mrs. Bootleg BARELY made it for the entire 1.2 mile ride back home.