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DINING REVIEW: The Taste Buds try Local Habit

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 Sour, who plan to keep their identity the best-kept secret in San Diego.

LOCAL HABIT: 3827 Fifth Ave., San Diego, CA 92103

Call: 619-795-4770

Hours: Lunch menu available from 11 am to 4 pm daily. Noon to 10 pm Monday through Thursday; noon to 11 pm Friday; 11 am to 11 pm Saturday; 11 am to 10 pm Sunday. The kitchen closes at 10 pm daily.

Make reservations online at HERE. Visit the Local Habit website HERE.

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Local Habit is one of San Diego’s trend-setting restaurants that marry locally grown organic foods with locally brewed craft beers.

It’s a win-win-win situation for Local Habit, the farmers and the brewers, and the diners.

Many of the menu items are gluten-free, vegetarian and/or vegan, and are clearly marked for the convenience of diners.

Founding chef Nick Brune, a native of Louisiana, has created a “California Creole” cuisine for Local Habit, which is deftly executed by Executive Chef Tammy Soto. The Creole touch shows up in the bold flavors and spices infusing every dish.

Chef Soto invited The Taste Buds for a sampling of the food at the popular Hillcrest restaurant, which was crowded with diners on Friday night. She also served each dish, explaining in detail how she prepared them in the kitchen. The bar manager, Drew Murphy, served up two flights of the 12 beers on tap for the evening.

(Click on hyperlinks below to see photos of individual food items.)

To start, Chef brought out House Pickled Vegetables ($5) and said they were “great bar food” to go along with a mug of craft beer. Carrots, zucchini, mushrooms and celery were pickled, and they indeed went well with the beer. Sweet and Sour quickly noted that they were not big fans of pickling, but still found the appetizer to be unusual and befitting of the menu.

The salad was Micro Kale and Butter Lettuce with Carrot, Radish and Persimmon Bleu Cheese Dressing ($9). The micro kale was accented with slivers of carrot, slices of pickled radish and thin cuts of red onion. Sweet loved the salad for its delicate balance of flavors, what with the onion and radish giving a slight hint of heat while the Persimmon Bleu Cheese Dressing countered that with a tiny hint of sweetness and sharpness. Sweet wanted the salad to be slightly wetter with dressing. Sour, who is trying to eat more greens and salads in the new year, enjoyed the light, fresh texture of the salad and thought it was a tasty start.

Drew brought out the two flights of local craft brews ($14; $9 at Happy Hour) on tap this Friday night. The beers we tried were Modern Times's Lomaland Saison; Alesmith's Speedway Stout; Craftsman's Heavenly Hefe (Hefeweizen); Stone Brewing Co's IPA; Societe's Publican (Pale Ale); Mother Earth's Cali-Creamin' (Cream Ale); Pizza Port Carlsbad's Skil Planer (Pilsner); Telegraph's Ravena (Stout); Rip Current's Lupulin Lust (IPA); High Water's Rio D'Oro (Belgian Strong Pale Ale); The Bruery's She-Goat (Weizen Bock); and Hess Brewing Company's Ordeum Rex (Barleywine). Sweet's favorites were Rip Current and The Bruery's She-Goat, and the latter one was a perfect fit with the pizza we ate. Sour liked those two craft beers as well as his favorite, Societe's Publican Pale.

Chef chose Shrimp Creole Pizza ($15) – a new addition – for one of our entrees. The Taste Buds were blown away by the pizza. The thin crust was perfectly crispy, covered in a thin smear of Creole-spiced tomato sauce, and covered with diced green peppers, red onion slivers and Mexican white shrimp. Sweet raved about the depth of flavors, the spicy heat and the perfectly cooked shrimp. Sour liked it so much he wished he had the entire pizza to himself. This got an A-plus from both of us.

Next up was the Black Iron Hanger Steak with Black Eyed Peas & Creole Butter ($15). Chef said she made the Creole Butter with crayfish butter, bacon, onion, salt and a rich vegetable stock. The hanger steak, usually an inexpensive cut, is known for its flavor but it can be a tough chew. Chef coaxes great flavor from the hanger steak, and the Creole Butter adds yet another layer of goodness. Sweet like the flavors and the perfect “medium rare” grilling, but noted that our dish was still a bit chewy. Sour, who doesn't eat steak often, agreed that it was a bit too chewy, but really loved the flavor of the black eyed peas.

The last entrée was the Gumbo Ya-Ya ($13). Chef said the individual-sized pot of gumbo contained chicken, sausage and shrimp, which was served with a scoop of white rice on the top. The roux was dark brown and thick, and rich in flavor. Sweet was a little surprised to learn that Chef doesn't use okra in her gumbo, which was spicy and tasty. This was Sour's first experience with Gumbo, so absent anything to compare it to, the dish was enjoyed and Sour would come back to order this dish.

The first of two desserts was Vegan Pudding ($7). The vegan dessert was a chocolate almond pudding covered with coconut cream as well as toasted almonds for crunch and texture. Sweet found the tofu absorbed a lot of flavors, such as coffee and cocoa powder, but left a grainy after-taste. The consistency was different than Sour was expecting and won't be a first choice for dessert next time.

To end the evening, Chef asked bar manager Drew to create a Chef’s Choice Beer Float ($9). He used the Alesmith Speedway Stout for the craft beer, and loaded it up with an organic caramel ice cream. Sweet said the ice cream was a good fit to the beer, but that this type of dessert was not Sweet’s cup of tea. Sour was fascinated by the beer float because it was like nothing Sour ever tasted before.

Special event on Thursday, Jan. 16

Local Habit is known for sponsoring a Brewmaster’s Dinner, and the next one will begin at 6:30 pm Thursday, Jan. 16. Cost is $50. Reservations are required.

Modern Times Beer will be the featured brewer. Chef Brune will prepare a five-course menu of farm-fresh, local, organic cuisine paired with five crew brews from Modern Times Beer.

The first course will be “Lomaland” Saison: Kabocha Squash Dumplings with Aged Gouda and Sage.

The second course will be “Blazing World” Amber: Grilled Radish with Goats Milk Dry Jack, Celery and Nasturtium.

The third course will be “Southern Lands Brett IPA: Rabbit Terrine with Apricot and Pistachio or the vegan option of Vegetable Terrine with Serrano.

The fourth course will be “Black House Coffee Stout: Chili Rubbed Beef Cheek with Endive and Crispy Carrot or the vegan option of Roasted Turnip with Mushroom and Crispy Carrot.

The final course will be “Fortunate Islands” Wheat: Orange Layer Cake with Prickly Pear Gelee and Grapefruit Mousse.