San Diego Gay & Lesbian News has a regular dining-out column written by The Taste Buds, SDGLN's resident foodies. Today's review is by Sweet and Bitter, two of our staffers who plan to keep his/her identity the best-kept secret in San Diego.
* 1045 University Ave., San Diego, CA 92103
* Website: Pita Jungle
* Open 10:30 am Mondays through Fridays, 9 am Saturdays and Saturdays. Brunch served 9 am to 1 pm Saturdays and Sundays.
Pita Jungle is an awesome addition to Hillcrest, serving up “real food made from scratch every day,” as the eatery’s slogan goes.
The Arizona-based chain – which subtitles itself as “the art of eating healthy” -- is slowing expanding into California, now with locations in San Diego, Newport Beach and Pasadena.
The Hillcrest restaurant is housed in a historic building that once was home to a furniture store. Open and spacious, the restaurant has a large and stylish bar, a community dining table, plenty of tables and booths, seating for 110 people inside and 20 people on the patio fronting University Avenue in the heart of the gayborhood. Paintings by local artists grace the walls, and bird-cage lighting adds to the artsy feeling.
Andreane Esclapez, a native of France, is the general manager of the Hillcrest location, and she crafted a special menu for the Taste Buds to offer a representative sampling of the food served in her restaurant.
The first starter we tried was Spanakopita ($4.29), a sophisticated treat made with flaky layers of crispy phyllo dough stuffed with fresh spinach, onions, and Parmesan and feta cheeses.
Sweet gently dissected the dish, noting how the fresh chives and parsley added to the delicate flavors. The slice of lemon on the plate hinted at the lemony tang to the spinach.
Bitter was pleased with this starter, wishing for more. It was light enough to not interfere with the meal to come, but filling enough to satisfy until the main course arrived.
The other starter was Hummus with Grilled Chicken ($9.29), served with two pitas, plain and whole wheat.
The chicken was tightly chopped and delicately seasoned with chili powder and paprika. Toasted pine nuts were sprinkled over the chicken.
Our server, Jenavie, said the chicken was grilled, though we did not see any char marks.
The dish came with three choices of homemade hummus: plain, roasted pepper and cilantro. All three complimented the chicken and pitas.
Our mid-course was the Mediterranean Chicken Salad ($10.29), a large plate of greens that can easily be shared by two people.
The bed of mixed greens included diced tomatoes, onions, roasted bell peppers, pine nuts, cucumbers, corn, golden raisins and taboule. Cubed and grilled chicken is tossed into the salad, and as with the starter dish, the chicken was seasoned with chili powder and paprika.
The salad was full of beautiful colors, and all the ingredients mixed well and created a flavorful harmony.
The lemon vinaigrette was a perfect match for the salad, although both Taste Buds wished for less dressing on the dish. Sweet also thought the chef should have a lighter hand with the chopped parsley.
We shared a Chipotle Black Bean Burger ($8.99).
The homemade patty was made with black beans, onions, garlic, cilantro, corn, bell peppers, carrots, oats, cranberries, jalapeno peppers, chipotle peppers and various spices. The unusual burger is served with a bun, red onions and a tomato slice. Chipotle hummus, lettuce, pea sprouts also accompanied the dish.
A side of garlic new potatoes was gushing with garlic, so diners who love garlic will be in heaven.
Sweet liked the yin and yang of the burger, the sweetness contrasting the heat, but longed for a complimentary sauce to balance the competing flavors.
Bitter thought that the burger was a bit dry, and also hoped for some sort of sauce or other flavoring to add to it.
Healthy dessert seems like an oxymoron, but Pita Jungles offers four choices: Turtle Cheesecake, Carrot Cake, Baklawa and Rice Pudding.
We tried the Rice Pudding and the Baklawa.
Sweet said both desserts had their issues. The Rice Pudding was bland, and the adding of a few golden raisins, a sprinkling of cinnamon and a strawberry garnish did little to make this dessert a star. The Baklawa was too dense, and the phillo dough should have been flaky and light.
Bitter, who has an intense sweet tooth, thought the desserts did the trick, but could have been better. On a previous visit to Pita Jungle, Bitter had tried to the Turtle Cheesecake, which can only be described as “amazing.”
(Photo captions: Top left, Spanakopita. Middle left, Mediterranean Salad. Bottom left, Chipotle Black Bean Burger.