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Restaurant Review: Anthology

1337 India St., San Diego, CA 92101

Hours: 5:30 to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday; until 11 p.m., on Fridays and Saturdays.
Cuisine: Contemporary
Budget impact: Low on Tuesdays; moderate to high Thursday through Saturday
Rating: 3.5 stars

Back in the Great Depression, nightlifers took budgetary refuge at local supper clubs where they ate for cheap and enjoyed the added bonus of live music by seductive jazz performers. Fast forward to the post-Bush-Lehman-Madoff era, and we’ve again turned to the supper club. Anthology’s “Fresh Vibe Tuesdays” are a perfect example.

If there’s a sparkling advantage arising from this busted economy, it's the steals that consumers are afforded when thirst and hunger strike. To the cash crunched, Tuesday night at Anthology is like a charitable friend.

Its newest chef, Eric Bauer, has devised a weekly menu of ever-changing small plates, generous appetizers, full-size entrées and desserts, all priced at about 40 percent less than regular menu items. The cost for selected wines are also slashed. In a recent Tuesday-night visit, a friend and I sustained on superb Patassy Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley for only $6.50 a glass. A sneak peek at the main wine list showed the label selling for double the amount on other nights.

Tuesday’s consumables are sweetened by Anthology’s long-running house band. Fronted by singer Rebecca St. Jade, her soulful vocals underpin the band’s fluid jazz rhythms as effortlessly as a young Billie Holiday. (The large flower in her hair further crystallized the image for us.)

When the likes of Natalie Cole, Jean Luc Ponty or Hiroshima seize the stage, concert admissions can sail past the $30 mark. Yet on Tuesdays, admission is only $5. The ensemble plays for about two hours starting at 7 P.M..

In terms of the cuisine, Bauer brings to the exquisitely lighted, tri-level venue some of the best food to date. He raises the bar with exotic salts, snappy sauces and fresh produce that area farmers drop off daily at Anthology’s back door.

Items deserving of encores include “quick pickled” string beans ($3.50) bathed in cider vinegar, fresh dill and mustard seeds. They were served over a bedding of bewitching pesto containing basil, parsley, anchovies and capers. Bauer calls it “salsa verde.”

“Best beans in the solar system,” I whispered to my companion during a beguiling solo by the band’s pianist.

For a meager $2.75, we progressed to mini pastry puffs filled densely with caramelized onions and Parmesan cheese. They came five to an order inside a small glass jar – simple, cute and mouthwatering.

Bauer then had me retracting all of my recent complaints about the ubiquitous invasion of gourmet mac and cheese. His was robust, made with Gruyere, Emmental and bleu curds translated into a pearly béchamel sauce so creamy it could cool to room temperature without turning gummy.

For our entrees, I enjoyed veal and pork meatloaf strewn with green peppercorn, complimented by a perfectly syncopated mushroom gravy boasting a study base of veal stock. Fresh, par-cooked carrots were arranged alongside, and in the center of the plate was a dreamy plop of mashed Yukon Golds. We suspected that Bauer uses these “Cadillac of potatoes” for the pommes frites as well, which were adorned with French sea salt and truffle aioli on the side.

My vegetarian companion lucked out with the only meatless dish in the entrée category, a risotto expertly constructed with asparagus, crispy garlic and chanterelle mushrooms. Here again, Bauer employed a teasing measure of sodium from a pantry stocked with pink Himalayan, red Hawaiian and black-smoked salt– minerals all of which taste heaven-sent.

Each entrée was priced under $15.

Our only gripe of the evening pertained to delayed cocktail service that occurred when we first arrived, thus the half-star demerit in my rating. Water and table bread were delivered quickly, yet the wine was 20 minutes behind, despite an army of wait staff blanketing the main level. Spying on numerous empty glasses of nearby parties, and seeing other patrons fetching drinks from the bar, it was apparent we weren’t alone.

“You would think they’d be pushing the adult beverages like crazy in a place like this,” my companion blurted

All in all, Anthology's "Fresh Vibe Tuesdays" are a deal which cannot be beat. Bauer’s ‘fresh vibe” menu is focused, concise and joyfully affordable. In our opinion, everything we ate is ready for graduation.