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DINING REVIEW: The Taste Buds visit sizzling hot Heat Bar & Kitchen

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, one of our staffers who plan to keep his/her identity the best-kept secret in San Diego, and guest foodie Sour.

HEAT BAR & KITCHEN

* 3797 Park Blvd. in North Park

* 619-546-4328

* Website: Heat Bar & Kitchen

* Facebook: Heat Bar & Kitchen

* Open for dinner: 4 to 10 pm Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 4 to 11 pm Friday and Saturday. Open for Brunch: 9 am to 3 pm Saturday and 9 am to 4 pm Sunday. Closed on Monday.

Something special is going on at Heat Bar & Kitchen, a hip and trendy new establishment on Park Boulevard near University.

Since opening on Jan. 3, Heat has built up a loyal following through word of mouth and an eclectic, ever-changing menu of seasonally-inspired dishes as well as offering local craft beers and an international wine list.

Diners can enjoy the intimate and casually elegant dining room, or sit at the bar to eat and drink and maybe make a new friend or two. Two outdoor patios provide additional space, weather permitting.

Sam Khorish and his life partner Pasqual Courtin have transformed the hopelessly-out-of-style Urban Grind into Heat, a sophisticated space thanks to the tasteful design by local architect Laurie Fisher. Check out the hot “lava wall” with “lava” flowing in reddish-orange LED lighting in another salute to the Heat theme.

Khorish notes that diners who are vegans, vegetarians or require a gluten-free diet should call in advance and the chef will be happy to accommodate special requests.

Sampling the “To Snack” menu

Tiphanie, the wait staffer assigned to our table, was friendly and accommodating. She spent time describing each menu item and went out of her way to find answers to our questions. She recommended that we start with homemade Potato Chips ($3). We also ordered Suzie’s Frito Misto ($6).

To accompany the snacks, we ordered two Beer Flights ($14) to sample eight popular craft beers on tap. The samples included Gillespie Brown Ale and Chaotic Double IPA, from Manzaniti Brewing Company in Santee; Victory; Coronado Golden by Coronado Brewing Company; Ballast Point Wahoo; and Hillcrest Brewing Company’s Pearl Necklace and Hoppy Ending.

The craft beers perfectly matched up with the snacks.

The Potato Chips were hand-shaved using a mandolin slicer into a very thin, waffled shape. Khorish said the chef uses a special oil that has 50% reduced fat to fry the Potato Chips, which were light as a feather and very tasty with smoked sea salt added. Two dipping sauces added extra flavor.

Suzie’s Frito Misto uses seasonal vegetables such as mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower. They are lightly battered and fried, and served with a Green Goddess dressing. The veggies were to al dente for Sweet, who also didn’t like having to cut them into half to make them mouth-size.

The Taste Buds were cajoled into trying out three of Heat’s specialty cocktails over the course of the meal.

First up was Heat Cocktail ($8), the signature drink. Can we say “Yum!” The bartender mixes Gekkekan sake, Kobai plum wine, organic agave nectar, cranberry juice and fresh lemon juice. Plunk in a whole Jalapeño, and you get heat with sweet! Sweet said the combinations are very flavorful, and the heat is very bearable and a nice treat. Sour said the cocktail arrived at the table with a beautiful green Jalapeño garnish, providing a colorful blend of Jalapeño-infused magic, refreshing and flavorful with a great spicy kick. For those who want to heat the drink up even more, bite into the pepper. This drink will have you wanting another, Sour said.

Then there was Tiger Paw ($8), using Gekkeikan nigori sake, Soju (a Korean liquor), coconut milk and a black pepper ginger syrup. Cinnamon is grated over the top. This drink was nice, but lacked excitement or depth. Perhaps the bartender held a light hand on the syrup, because none of the Taste Buds tasted black pepper or ginger flavors.

Later, at the urging of Khorish, we tried his favorite cocktail, Cucumber Jalapeño Rickey ($8). This is made with house-infused cucumber Soju, jalapeño, organic agave nectar, fresh lime and seltzer. Sweet said the drink is refreshing and cool, perfect for the summer heat. Sour called it a refreshing and light summer druink, and enjoyed the cucumber flavor that popls into your mouth with a hint of spice.

Sampling the “To Start” menu

Lovely Tiphanie sold us on the Soup D’Jour ($3), which on this day was a beet soup done gazpacho-style. We also ordered Toasted Quinoa and Faro ($10).

The beet soup was made with a vegetable stock (onions, carrots and celery) and buttermilk, topped with a large dollop of crème freiche and a sprinkle of chives. Sweet liked the soup, but wondered whether it was more appropriate when the temperatures rise in San Diego. Sour said the chilled soup was perfect for veggie lovers and perfect for a hot day. The soup not only had a beautiful presentation and color, but had fantastic flavor: Cold, clean, earthy, green taste.

The Toasted Quinoa and Faro included beets, goat cheese, dates and olives. The dates added sweetness and a nice counterbalance to the goat cheese and beets, Sweet said. Sour echoed this theme, noting that the dates bring in a sweet taste with all the other flavorful blends. This filling dish can quickly be adjusted for vegans by eliminating the goat cheese and is perfect for vegetarians.

Sampling the “To Savor” menu

We tried the signature dish, Heat Burger ($12), as well as a special off-the-menu dish, Lamb Shank (25).

The Heat Burger is a lot of fun and tasty to boot. A “bacon jam” is made from bacon, well-fried to get out the fat and then pureed, and added to wine and reduced to a jam-like concoction. The bacon jam adds the wonderful flavor of bacon and a smokiness, and compliments the gruyere and peppery greens. Chef cooked it perfectly medium rare as requested. The burger comes with fries in a cute little metal basket. For another $1.50, diners can add a fried farm egg or marinated mushrooms.

The Lamb Shank was huge, about 24 ounces, and tenderly cooked so that the meat practically fell off the bone. It was served on a bed of polenta and covered in a tomato-based sauce. Sour said the dish was flavorful in every bite, and juicy.

Chef sent out a Vegetable Risotto ($15) to accompany the Lamb Shank, and wow was it good. The risotto featured fresh peas, pea sprouts and Chanterelle mushrooms.

Sampling the “Dessert Menu”

The special dessert of the day was Apple Tart ($7). We also ordered the most-popular dessert, Smoked 70% Dark Chocolate ($7).
The dark chocolate is really a light and airy mousse, served with mallow fluff and a graham cracker crumble. Think of it as a sophisticated version of S’mores.

On any given night, the dark chocolate would have been a perfect way to end an evening out on the town. But this wasn’t an ordinary night because there was an Apple Tart to behold.

The apples were perfectly cooked and the pastry was golden, the tartness of the apples perfectly balanced with a caramel sauce and a large scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was heaven in a dish!