Last Saturday night, James and I got out of the house and tried something new. You might not think that would be such a big deal for someone who calls herself a "foodie" and writes about restaurants (even if it's just for fun) but it's pretty unusual for us. For the most part, we cook at home during the week, and we've been doing quite a bit of traveling (and entertaining) lately so fancy dinners out just haven't been in the budget. When we do go out, we have a short list of places we like to go where we know we'll have a good meal. I've been meaning to do a post about that lately, and update my places to eat in San Diego list as well as the 100 good things to eat and drink. It's a bit of a project though, so when I get through this backlog I'll tackle it.
I've liked Chef/Owner Wade Hageman's food since he was the opening chef at Blanca, back when the menu still reflected the go-go mentality of the aughts. The food was luxurious, simple but interesting, and very, very expensive. Luckily, Hageman is bringing the same level of attention to detail and technique to the much less expensive menu at Blue Ribbon. You can see it in the above-pictured dish of local albacore crudo with buttery avocado, ruby red grapefruit and lemon olive oil, and the simple but perfectly balanced plate of creamy burrata with arugula tossed with lemon olive oil and crostini.
The menu is roughly divided into two parts, with the top half comprised of salads, snacks and small plates, and the bottom a list of composed artisan pizzas. Everything is sized for sharing, which allows for the option of a very inexpensive meal if you don't go overboard - like we did.
We didn't really need two pizzas, as it turned out, but we really wanted to try a white pie and a red one, and we figured leftovers would not be a problem. (In fact, they were eaten for breakfast straight out of the box the next morning.) We especially loved the white pie - called the "Signature" on the menu - topped with mozzarella, lemon zest, ricotta and basil. The kick of the zest was especially nice with the creamy ricotta.
The red pie was also good, but we wished we'd ordered the Knight Special instead of the "Classic." Topped with housemade fennel sausage and mushrooms, it was tasty, but a little wet and heavy. The Knight pizza, pictured at top, was made with sliced assorted salumi and looked like it might be a better balance for a meat/red sauce pizza. The Classic was great cold out of the fridge though, maybe even better than it was hot.
I snuck this blurry photo of our neighbors' butternut squash soup and salad with beets, oranges and hazelnuts. The soup looked velvety and rich (there's that attention to detail) and the salad was chock full of good ingredients.
From our seats at the bar, we had a good view of Wade tossing the pizzas and sliding them into the oven. I was impressed to see him all of that work himself. He's clearly taking not only pride but a leading role in producing what's coming out of the kitchen. The menu boasts that their dough goes through a three day fermentation process. These days, pizza is all about the crust - and while this one was good, it wasn't quite as good as Mozza or Pizzeria Delfina. It was thinner, flatter, less stretchy and chewy. There is bound to be some variation though since he's cooking them in a real, live wood-burning oven - even from one of our pizzas to the other we noticed one was more blackened around the edges than the other. I would need to go back and try a few more pizzas before declaring this the best in San Diego, but it's definitely up there.
They serve only one dessert, but it's a good one. Butterscotch pudding with caramel sauce, sea salt and whipped cream. I think it's easily as good as Mozza's, James said not quite. Either way, it does the trick. The espresso from their little automatic machine was pretty darn good too. At the end of our meal, we well understood the crowds gathered around the door waiting for tables, and we felt lucky to have snagged the two seats at the bar when we arrived. We left happy and sated, and we're already planning our next trip back - preferably with two other couples, so we can make a reservation (they only take them for parties of six or more) and try more pizzas!
Blue Ribbon Pizzeria
Lumberyard Shopping Center
897 South Coast Hwy (101)
Encinitas, CA 92024