World-class dining in strip mall

Ok, let’s be clear, this is not your typical strip mall; it is coastal Solana Beach so of course it’s very tasteful and busy with other upscale restaurants and boutiques.
When researching Blanca, I found plenty of stellar reviews to peruse, including Esquire magazine, which named Chef Wade Hageman as one of four chefs to watch nationally. For the most part, the reviews were glowing so our expectations were high going in.
I’ve mentioned in previous columns the lack of knowledgeable, professional servers relative to the high dining price points in many North County restaurants. Not the case at Blanca, where it became apparent immediately that our servers were very well-versed on the chef and the menu, which can prove to be challenging when the menu is constantly changing to reflect the availability of fresh, quality ingredients. I’ve never had a server go into the level of detail about the chef, the food and the establishment, and it built a heightened sense of anticipation and whet our appetite even more. That’s what makes a restaurant like Blanca so exciting, you never know what is going to be on the menu yet can always expect to be treated to a complete dining experience rather than simply a delicious meal. And for me, restaurants like Blanca are all about the experience, don’t go there in a hurry, this place is meant to be savored slowly.
We decided on the five-course selection with nonlisted wine pairings, which was $115. Without the wine pairings the five-course on its own is almost half that at $66. We were able to select five dishes from any of the three categories that included Starters, From the Sea and From the Land along with Finale. I really enjoyed the mystery wine pairings and the detailed descriptions of how each paired with the course when the bottle was presented tableside.
Before the meal began, we were treated to a carrot soup amuse-bouche with a delightful hint of bay laurel oil. Nice touch. For those unfamiliar, an amuse-bouche is different than an appetizer in that it is not ordered nor on the menu but selected by the chef to serve as an excitement of the taste buds and to prepare the guest for the meal and offer a glimpse into the chefs approach to cooking. We knew right away we were in for a treat.
Another early indicator of great things to come was the butter served at a perfect temperature on a chilled metal block and the very nice mini olive and cheddar loaves that accompanied it. We were informed that the bread selection would be changing and they would start baking in-house. I can only imagine that would improve upon a good thing.
Given the number of dishes we were served and the changing nature of the menu, I’ll give you a rundown of the items we tasted and unless there is a comment that accompanies them, assume they were spectacular. Off the starter menu we went with the globe artichoke soup “en croute” which was very nice with the puff pastry shell on top, yet in my opinion could have conveyed artichoke more with just a couple chunks of heart included in the cream base. The duet of Beausoleil and Kumamoto oysters on the half-shell and Blanca’s version of a California roll with Alaskan king crab rounded out our starter selection.
We argued over our identical From the Sea selections as we are both huge fans of veal sweetbreads and they were paired here with pan roasted monkfish in a Meyer lemon-caper sauce. This dish was simply incredible.
The course duplication continued in our From the Land picks when we both went for the Peking style Petaluma quail with sautéed Chinese sausage and broccoli with a ginger hoisin glaze served on a fun and delicious ginger-scallion pancake. My companion had another course to use and selected the medallion of Colorado rosen lamb with jumbo asparagus, creamy farro and roasted shallot-sherry vinaigrette.
We rounded out our course selection with a trio of artisan cheeses and the tiramisu described as marscarpone cheesecake, candied peaberry coffee beans and lady finger ice cream. The tiramisu was the best I’ve ever had and we ordered another to split.
All in all I would agree that yes, we do have world-class dining in coastal North County and it can be found at Blanca. Considering the quality ingredients and the time and precision it takes to create many of these dishes, their prices are not out of line. But remember, don’t rush it. Plan an evening around this meal and take your time to really enjoy an amazing dining experience.
Blanca is located at 437 S. Highway 101, Solana Beach. Dinner hours are Tuesday through Thursday from 6:00 to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 6 to 10:30 p.m. Happy hour in the lounge takes place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Call (858) 792-0072 for more information.

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