Kettner Exchange recently opened in Little Italy.
I have been eagerly following this new restaurant project since it was announced a year ago. The restaurant has two levels, with both indoor and outdoor seating. The setting is impressive, with a fun mix of decor. The first level has a more traditional design, with booths and tables, and a bar and lounge area. Upstairs, you’ll find a more casual and playful environment. There’s a telescope to gaze through, gazebos for beach-like dining, and more.
Of course, I was most excited for the food. The executive chef is Brian Redzikowski, who was formerly the head chef at Flavor Del Mar, which used to be one of our favorite restaurants before it suddenly closed its doors due to landlord rent rate disputes. Chef Redzikowski has quite an impressive resume before his days at Flavor Del Mar, including being sous chef for Joel Rubuchon at the Mansion in Las Vegas.
We started our meal with some complimentary popcorn.
Big Eye Tuna Pizza
Thinly sliced tuna is layered onto a paper-thin cracker, and finished with truffle oil. This was a pleasant start to our meal.
The collar of the hamachi is the best part of the fish. Whenever we see it at Japanese restaurants, we order it for a special treat. The meat is tender, moist and flavorful. Kettner’s version stayed pretty similar to the Japanese preparation, grilled and drizzled with ponzu sauce. It was a generous piece of collar, but outside of the Brussels Sprouts and crispy garlic chips, it was a little too straightforward for me. I was hoping for a more unique take.
My favorite part of this dish was actually the grits. The grits were extremely creamy, with a garlicky butter flavor. It wasn’t anything like the traditional grits I recently had for breakfast in Nashville, but it was tasty.
I was extremely excited to see this on the menu, as it was one of my favorite dishes from Flavor Del Mar. Kale and broccolini are sauteed with sriracha and served with a soft egg. The egg is cooked sous vide so that the yolk becomes almost custard-like while the whites remain runny. The best way to eat the dish is to mix the egg completely with the vegetables, adding a creamy coating over the crisp vegetables.
This is my favorite way to eat kale and broccolini and I prepare it often at home, though without the sous vide egg. This dish was as good as I remembered and I nearly inhaled it. I hope no one was watching me as I ate this because it was not a pretty sight.
Unfortunately, this ended up being the biggest miss of the night. I couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong at first. The scallops had a beautiful sear, an even caramel color across the entire surface of each scallop. I also loved the crisp lattice potato chips added to the dish. After a few bites though, we realized why we weren’t enjoying it– the scallops were bitter. After some research, this appears to be an issue with the scallops themselves and not the cooking method. Wet scallops are sometimes treated with a chemical causing them to have a bitter taste.
Overall, we had a pretty good first meal here aside from the scallops. I’d like to wait for some time to let the restaurant settle in and try again before forming a full opinion. I am excited to see all these new restaurants opening in Little Italy though.
2001 Kettner Blvd. San Diego, CA