San Diego Restaurant Week is once again upon us (Jan 15-20 though many restaurants are extending through Jan 27.) We missed the last SDRW due to being out of town, so we are attacking this year’s first one with a vengeance.
First up, Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar, which we were actually invited to a sneak peek of prior to the start of SDRW, thanks to McFarlane Promotions.
Croce’s is a small, intimate restaurant located in the gaslamp district. It is owned and run by singer and song writer Ingrid Croce, as a tribute to her late husband Jim Croce, who died tragically in a plane crash in 1973. I knew very little of musician Jim Croce before dining here, but I was immediately drawn to his and Ingrid’s powerful love story that continues to live on (along with his accomplishments and music) through this restaurant.
We were greeted by Ingrid Croce herself, who was sweet, warm, and energetic. The walls are decorated with photos, albums and other Jim Croce memories. Next to the main seating area is a bar and live Jazz band.
Croce’s is offering a three course menu at $40. Our server helpfully guided us through the restaurant week menu which includes many additional items not listed on the SDRW website. I love it when restaurants offer more than the standard three options for SDRW.
We started with a fig and honey cocktail.
The cocktail was sweet and tasted very much of figs and honey. There were even tiny fig seeds within the drink.
We were then presented with a bread basket with slices of olive bread. I’m not usually a big fan of olives but I really enjoyed the mild olives used to make this bread.
Jamaican Jerk Braised Baby Back Ribs
roasted corn polenta, mango mint salsa and shaved fried onions
This was the item that most appealed to me on the appetizer selection, and was recommended to us by our server as well. I wasn’t disappointed. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and quite flavorful. I loved the corn polenta and the mango salsa as well. My only warning about this dish is that is quite spicy. Those with a low tolerance for spice may want to stay away.
served with Roasted Red Peppers, garlic flat bread, cucumber and Greek olives
The rest of the starter courses consisted mostly of salad. FH and I aren’t really salad people, so he selected the only other non-salad starter. This was pretty much a straight forward plate. No surprises. Nothing particularly outstanding, but not bad either. It was just your standard fare.
Seared Scallops and Lobster-Scented Risotto
with edamame, asparagus, tomatoes, parmesan and thyme-marinated lemon
Our server recommended we tried the sea bass and I wish I went with his recommendation since he was spot-on about everything else. But I couldn’t pry myself away from the risotto and scallops. Unfortunately, this dish didn’t really work for me.
The scallops were seared perfectly but were a tad too salty. The risotto was cooked a little too soft for my liking and I didn’t really love all the vegetables mixed within
Charbroiled CAB Filet Mignon
topped with gorgonzola and served with Boredaux demi, garlic Yukon mash
and roasted root vegetables
We both enjoyed this entree much better. FH requested the filet be cooked a medium rare, which it was for the most part, though one portion was slightly too bloody. I really liked the root vegetables that accompanied the steak.
Mascarpone & Pine Nut Ice Cream
with honey poached cranberries and balsamic reduction
This was my dessert pick and I enjoyed it a lot. I loved the sweet ice cream, the slightly tart cranberries and the balsamic reduction sauce. The flavors worked well together for this ice cream treat.
Fondant Au Chocolat
melted warm chocolate cake with fresh raspberries
The inside was almost all melted chocolate, with only the top shell serving as a thin layer of chocolate cake. I would have preferred a little more cake inside, but FH loved this just the way it was.
Most of the dishes on the menu are recipes of Ingrid Croce. If you enjoy something from the menu, Croce’s also sells Thyme in a Bottle, a cook book detailing the recipes along with stories of their significance. Ingrid was thoughtful enough to gift me with a copy of the book and autograph it.
Overall, dining here felt like being invited to a nice dinner party. The food was enjoyable but it didn’t reach the complexities of flavors and cooking technique of some of the fine dining establishments in the gaslamp area. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable experience, with the intimate atmosphere, friendly service, jazz music, and the love story of Ingrid and Jim.
Often a restaurant is just a restaurant, but I felt touched by my experience here. I left feeling both inspired and sad by their love story and found myself immediately digging into my book, wanting to read more of Ingrid’s stories and memories accompanying each recipe as we drove home.
Please note, our dinner was complimentary, but my opinions are my own.
Croce’s Restaurant and Jazz Bar
802 Fifth Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101