I made a pact with Chef Gage that we would taste the wares of all the chefs featured with us at the “A Berry Good Night” dinner on their own turf, in their restaurants. The first on our list was Isabel Cruz’ Bario Star in Bankers Hill. We LOVED the Artichoke Tamales she served at the Berry Dinner which were topped with a stunning combination of Mixed Berry Salsa Fresca, Crema Drizzle and a Cilantro Lime Sauce (that I was tempted to lick off the plate, but I waited ’til no one was looking and used my finger!).
Since my family frequents Isable Cruz’s establishment in Pacific Beach, Cantina (and Seaside Cantina), and her La Jolla location, The Coffee Cup is a favorite breakfast spot, I knew we would enjoy Bario Star. But, I had no idea we would be so well served and treated to such uniquely different foods than her other restaurants. Here is the scoop on the food, the service and the atmosphere…
Bario Star’s cuisine is described as Mexican Soul Food. I would agree with this description wholeheartedly. The dishes are distinctly Latin, Mexican in particular, with the island influences that soul food takes on and the creative use of the darker leafy greens. There were three of us dining and we all shared. We ordered the Chile Relleno, the Salmon Street Tacos and the Brazil Bowl with Carnitas.
The Chile Relleno was fabulous, especailly since it had the aforementioned lime and cilantro sauce. Generally, I am not a fan of chile relleno because I enjoy the flavor of the chiles used and they are usually battered and fried which is not only unhealthy, but also diminishes the chile’s lovely taste. But Isabel’s version is not fried allowing, the full favor to shine through. The cheese inside was light and the sauces, absolutely made the dish. Delicious.
The Brazil Bowl is a lighter, and more exciting version of the classic bean & rice bowl. Flavorful black beans cooked to perfection are served on a light coconut rice and topped with a mango salsa and a mango-coconut sauce that is divinely creamy. You have your choice of meats or veggies, and at Sandra’s (the manager’s) suggestion we went with the carnitas (Thank you Sandra!). When the meal arrives in it’s over-sized bowl, the portion looks like it might be small- but it’s not. It was more than enough for the three of us to have enjoyable portions.
The Salmon Tacos are served three to an order and are small, street-style tacos. The salmon is to-die-for with a mildly sweet glaze that I found to be the ideal compliment to the savory fish. The little corn tortillas are thick, moist and tender; each is topped with a dressed cabbage mix and pineapple salsa. They are accompanied by a side of the previously describe black beans with rice. These tacos went beautifully with the other dishes we ordered, and would work well as a starter if you arrive hungry- which you should.
The Flourless Chocolate Cake was the happy ending end to our meal. Not overly sweet, it came accompanied by a chilled sweet cream. I would have loved berries on this dish, but maybe I am still spinning from the Berry Dinner and am looking to incorporate berries in everything I eat.
The Jalapeno Infused Blueberry Maragrita was beyond fabulous as was the non-alcoholic Cucumber Melon tonic that I ordered.
All in all we loved the food and will be back.
The staff, particularly Sandra, the manager- who’s birthday it was on the evening we went in, was welcoming and warm, just the reception I would want given if the establishment was my own. AND on a night she would probably have preferred to be out enjoying herself. Impressive. The familiarity of the staff with each dish and cocktail, as well as their friendly demeanor ensured our return.
Fun, colorful and lively, Bario Star is a fabulous place to take friends and family. Oddly enough, based on the time we came in and the lengthy way we dine, we experienced Bario Start in both it’s boisterous and chill extremes. When we arrived, it was loud and full of energy, but as the evening wore on and the place cleared out a little it felt like the grand room in a vacation villa far away. It was lovely.
Thank you to the staff and to Isabel and Todd for an inspiring evening out in San Diego. San Diego food critics would have you believe that experiences like the one we had at Bario Start are few and far between in this conservative military town, but I notice more and more that we are growing into a city with a voracious appetite for diverse culinary experiences. Thank you for contributing to our town’s culinary growth.