By Christopher Hile -
SAN DIEGO LGBT WEEKLY
One of the greatest things about living in San Diego is the dining scene never ceases to surprise me. Over the years, I have seen restaurants come and go, new top chefs hailing stoves around town, and mom and pop bistro’s popping up in all kinds of neighborhoods.
So when I stumbled upon what seemed to be a secret spot in Bankers Hill, I was not only surprised, but also found myself absolutely delighted. Snuggled on Fourth Street between Grape and Fir, Wet Stone Wine Bar is a glimpse into the culinary world of global cuisine. Chef and proprietor Christian Gomez has taken his ethnic heritage of Filipino, Spanish, Chinese and Panamanian and matched it with an impressive career of food art and cosmopolitan education.
The dance of service, ambience, music and food is well choreographed and brings a symphony of joy for anybody looking for a unique dining experience. The restaurant is non traditional with communal tables both high and low. Elements of imported woods, metals and stones come together to create a setting that transcends you into a small South American café.
The menu consists of small plates and offers a tapas style of dining. A variety of sections from salads, flatbread pizzas, skewers and cheese plates all come together and shoot out bold flavors. Everything is meant to be shared, so don’t be shy when ordering. The Quesadilla Do Guayba ($8) is a three-cheese blend of rich gooey-ness. The addition of guava paste adds that zing while the charred scallion adds the zest.
Anytime I see pork belly on a menu, I must order it. You find it on every menu in Europe and South America, so when I see our San Diego chefs using it, I am overcome with smiles. Although it took some convincing for my dining partners, once they took one bite of the Braised Pork Belly Crostinis ($9), they were sold. Dusted with Chinese five spices, I thought it was a brave way to go, but it paid off and clearly showed chef’s roots.
The dishes come out as they were ordered and sometimes can be random. Remember to keep a menu at your table as you undoubtedly will order more. Skewers of Flat Iron Steak ($12) cooked a perfect medium rare, brought me back to my days in Buenos Aires. Simply seasoned with salt and pepper, the Argentinean chimichurri was a well-prepared version.
The Churrasco ($16) brought a trio of grilled meats. I love the idea of this dish, but I felt the chicken breast was dry, the lamb sausage a bit flat and the flat iron steak very basic. Its savior was a special that night. A grilled tuna filet perfectly seared rare and served with bright lush fruits of mango and guava; everything just melted in your mouth.
Flat bread pizzas are popular all around town and every chef has their idea of how one should be. The Shitake Mushroom ($15) is one of the better ones I have found. The flavorful shitakes and the sharpness of the fontina cheese lay atop freshly made flat bread. The Prosciutto ($15) with fresh mozzarella was rich and delicious and once again showed the global roots of the menu.
I have said in the past, just by having wine bar in your name doesn’t make you one. My applause goes to Christian for the eclectic list he put together. There is a lot of bad imported Spanish and South American wine out there, but here, Christian has found some of the best, and at amazing value. It brings me great joy to see non-traditional varietals from otherwise obscure countries.
Get out of your comfort zone of Chardonnay and Merlot here and try something you would never try. The staff is educated and can guide you through. Where else in town can you go and order a Rabo de Ovelha from Portugal?
A lot of restaurants can offer great food and drink, provide a comfortable atmosphere to enjoy it in, but very few can tie them all together with music, an element missed by so many. Whether it is samba, electric beats or classic tango, Christian sets the mood and hits the mark spot on.
It’s great when you can discover places that just do it right. Bringing together the worlds of art, culture and food is an art within itself and creates a circle of life that is always evolving. Get out of that box and allow yourself to experience living in a circle, even for only just one night.