Kirbie's Cravings

Kettner Exchange

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.

Hamachi Collar

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.

Duck Ragu

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.

Sauteed Greens

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.

Maine Scallops

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.

Kettner Exchange
2001 Kettner Blvd. San Diego, CA

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12 comments on “Kettner Exchange”

  1. I’m a huge fan of Chef Brian as well and was sad to see Flavor del Mar close. I noticed that some of the same menu items are on Kettner’s menu as well. Were you able to visit the rooftop space? I heard it’s really nice. Would you prefer Kettner Exchange over Juniper & Ivy?

    • The photo of the cabanas are from the upstairs rooftop space. It is quite nice. I’d have to try Kettner a few more times to get a better feel, but right now I still prefer J&I.

  2. The restaurant looks so classy! Thanks for the review 🙂

  3. Very interesting about the scallops. I have a recent experience at a Hillcrest restaurant serving Maine diver scallops which turned out to be a big disappointment. They tasted funky and pretty much ruined the meal for me. Thanks for the post. I’m gonna stick to “dry” scallops when ordering at a restaurant from now on.

  4. I’d be really excited about the free popcorn, but maybe that’s just me. What was in the wrapper on the duck ragu plate? It kind of looks like either a caramel (unlikely) or maybe a compound butter? Bummer about the scallops. Scallops should be sweet, not bitter!

    • Compound butter for the grits! I think I would have been really excited for the popcorn except it’s the third or fourth restaurant I’ve gone to that does it so I’m no longer as excited.

  5. Bitter scallops are a disappointment. I’m surprised they even seared. Usually the chemicals keep them from searing. But it was a beautiful dish!

    • I was really looking forward to the scallops! oh well. We were debating whether or not to say something during the meal, but it honestly took us so long to figure out what was wrong with them that we had already finished a good portion of the dish so it felt weird pointing it out then. but everything else on that plate was good.

  6. great review (well, great pix and details !) i want to eat there soon.

     And i didn’t know about the solution that can cause a bitter scallop. I have noticed “upper end” restaurants often say “dry” scallops are used.  I assumed it was to notify the diner these weren’t fake-plumped (with the chemical/saline solution). Per your research it’s not just fake plumping but can also give that bitter taste.   Good to know.

    • I didn’t know either until some research. It’s actually the first time I had this experience with scallops so I was trying to figure out what was going on. but the rest of the meal was pretty good