Down under (the oil) a wee bit too long

Some of the first thoughts when I think of Australia– in my very American-influenced brain — are the late Steve Irwin, Paul Hogan in “Crocodile Dundee,” Aborigines and dingos (actually, an unhealthy obsession with dingos… but I digress). So when Bondi Bar and Kitchen (a restaurant serving Australian food) opened in downtown San Diego, I was curious. I had been eyeing it for several months, sneaking glances at the menu when I passed by the open and inviting patio. But it was a chance meeting during one of those menu glances that I met David, one of the three owners of Bondi. David was gracious and answered all my questions about Australia and, of course, Bondi.

Things learned from David were:

-Bondi has been open for seven months
-A lot of Australian food is influenced by Pacific Rim and Italian cuisines
-Barramundi, a grill item available at Bondi, is actually a large perch
-The beer of choice for most Australians isn’t Fosters despite the commercials
-Outback Steakhouse isn’t a true representation of Australian food
-Most of the furnishings at Bondi, which include the wood floors and copper ore used for the signage, are imported directly from Australia
-Rocket is the Australian word for arugula
-There is another restaurant named Bondi in New York City but it serves Italian food (and is named after the owner)

This chat sealed my decision to return a couple days later and finally try some food.

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In terms of perfect days in San Diego, last Sunday was one of them. In terms of the food at Bondi, it was less than desirable. The barramundi I pined for was only available during the dinner hour and the second-choice items arrived looking like it had been under the Australian sun a bit too long.

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The blue swimmer crab cakes with papaya and wild rocket (arugula) weren’t a golden brown but appeared to have been overcooked by mere minutes. The taste confirmed my suspicion. Although the interior wasn’t scorched, it was hard to separate the crab meat from the charred exterior in order to salvage the dish.

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In addition, the arancini (rice balls with roasted pumpkin, thyme and parmesan cheese) looked overly cooked as well. Most of them were mottled with blackened bread crumbs, a sure sign of being overcooked. What should have been easily forked apart required the use of some elbow grease and a knife to get through the almost rock-hard exterior. And although the menu described the rice balls as being baked, it was certainly deep fried.

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As for the chips, I should have realized I was ordering fries but this was the only thing not spoiled by the cooking. Admittedly, it was a bit overseasoned.

Every fiber of my being wanted to like this place but the food was sub-par to my expectations. From the decor (large woven fish baskets used as intimate seating) to the ambience (fantastic people-watching on the patio), everything was thought out. It was unfortunate the food seemed rushed and forgotten on this visit. Or maybe I should have just stuck to the imported Australian draught beers shipped from down under. Either way, it was a letdown.

Items of note: Bondi also serves breakfast starting at 7 a.m. with the usual breakfast fare. Coffee is served all day long. Other items on the menu are wagyu beef sliders, rock lobster spring rolls, Vegemite with toast and peach melba. Whether to return to try other foods — during either the breakfast or dinner hour — is still up in the air, mate.

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Bondi is located on Fifth Avenue between J and K streets in the heart of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.

9 thoughts on “Down under (the oil) a wee bit too long

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  1. That's a disappointing looking crab cake 😦 I love crab cakes, but I've stopped ordering them at most places because I'm almost always disappointed.The exception is Oceanaire. Have you tried them yet? Their crab cakes are wonderful — almost pure crab meat with a bare minimum of sauce/filler to hold it together. It's so good that it makes all others seem like frozen fish nuggets.

  2. How disappointing! Well, I had to say that I was suspicious when you said "Australian food" – I have known many Australians, and while they have a wonderful culture, their food isn't really a part of that. Unless you love vegimite. I'm not trying to be a jerk – I feel no butterflies in my stomach for American food either. I'm just sayin'….not suprised. Sorry, though – it's still no excuse for suffering through your overcooked meal.

  3. Ruining crab cakes is a crime in my book. Get a rope. I, too, find it hard to order crab cakes now. Seems like a few years ago everyone just decided to ruin them. I explore the subject in my upcoming book The Deadly Kvetch: One Man's Complaints About the Crab Cake Conspiracy. Available on finer blogs everywhere.

  4. Hi Howie–I love crab cakes too. It has been years since I tried the ones at Oceanaire. Maybe I need to revisit and revive my belief that you can get a good crab cake are a restaurant. Thanks for the reminder.Hi Foodette–Unfortunately, I don't have the stomach to try Vegimite. That's good to know about Australian food in general but part of me is still hoping that it was a bad day for this restaurant.Hi Anonymous (Steve)–Crab cake conspiracy?!? Hmm… maybe you're on to something!Hi Kirk–I was hoping that the photos would show how overcooked the items were. I guess it worked. The total price for three items and no drinks came to around $25: chips-$3, arancici-$8.50 and crab cakes-$12.

  5. hi Steve–That is a scary commercial!Hi Jenn–Admittedly, the baskets were the thing that first lured me in. You were lucky to not have fallen trap to it.

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