Serious Business or A Shock To Remember
Craft & Commerce in San Diego’s Little Italy is no joke. The food is serious, the drinks are serious, and, despite an extremely friendly staff, it is incredibly clear that they take themselves very seriously. First, let’s lay out their ground rules: there are no reservations, there will be no vodka, and there is no ketchup to be found. If you can’t bring yourself to abstain from your favorite condiment for an evening or are looking for a familiar meal paired with a familiar drink, this just isn’t the spot for you. Be warned, however, as you may just be missing out on the meal of a lifetime.
Located on the corner of Kettner Boulevard and Beech Street, the restaurant is housed inside of a sleek, squared building boasting ivy-adorned walls and plenty of wood and iron fixtures. It’s hard not to become enamored with the visuals presented by Craft & Commerce, which helps it blend nicely into the upscale neighborhood. Somehow, this place manages to pull off a trendy, romantic vibe without being the least bit pretentious. This was a great surprise as, let’s be honest, this place is way cooler than either you or me. Even with their swanky, contemporary style, Craft & Commerce can be place for everyone – not just the disgustingly hip. Just be sure to keep an open mind.
We arrived around lunch time and were warmly greeted and asked if we preferred to sit inside or outside on the small patio. Figuring we would never get the chance to snag one of the few seats outside again, we opted for the patio. It was a front row seat for world-class people watching and a great place to soak up some San Diego sunshine. Each table’s appearance was embellished with a old book, ours written in French and serving as nothing more than a paperweight for our menus. I didn’t think I was going to have to brush up on a foreign language to get the full experience; who knows what secrets were written in there.
[NOTE: If this review makes it sound like I am some sort of educated fancy food expert, please dial back your intuition. Make no mistake about it, I eat lunch meat on a near daily basis and have little to no idea what it takes to create meals this elaborate. It’s just that Craft & Commerce has a way of making you feel like a you know what you’re doing even if you’re just picking something at random off their gourmet menu.]
The drink menu is an adventure in itself. A rotating selection of microbrews is sure to shut the mouths of the harshest critics and an extensive collection of cocktails, including a number of beer and champagne-based creations, will leave even the most dynamic drinkers scratching their heads. There’s even several “Punch Bowls” available containing devious mixtures just waiting to be gulped down by big groups. I started with Port Brewing’s Old Viscosity, which was a perfectly dark ale with subtle hints of chocolate and coffee. For the next round, I decided to test my mettle against their original “Osaka Old Fashioned” which is made with Yamazaki Whisky. I will have to admit, this one had me on the ropes for the better part of the meal. My date got adventurous and tried a Beer Cocktail, the “Lay Lady Lay” to be specific, featuring a tangy Lindeman’s Raspberry Lambic mixed with champagne, a touch of fruit, and a hint of ginger. Not only were these drinks mixed to perfection, but they also looked like they were handed to us directly out of an advertisement. Square ice cubes and all. Craft & Commerce’s drink menu is a sight to behold and a pleasure to consume.
We decided to start slow before diving headfirst into their limited, albeit elaborate, lunch menu by ordering two “mini" corn dogs. As I said, while the food at Craft & Commerce may, on occasion, seem familiar they always seem to bring something new to the table to up the ante. These corn dogs were far from mini and unlike any standard fare you would find at a standard fair. These puppies had a nice golden finish and were wrapped in bacon before taking a dip in the fryer. Absolutely delicious and more than hearty enough to serve as a meal for one. The corn dogs were also accompanied by a spicy cheese fondue sauce, which was excellent, and a a dollop of mustard which I personally avoided like the plague. My lady love, on the other hand, could not get enough of it. Make no mistake about it, I absolutely hate mustard.
For the main course, the lady treated herself to the Citrus Avocado Salad which had a taste she could only compare to “drinking liquid gold." The enormous salad was plated beautifully, with the sides of the plate lined with fried balls of goat cheese, which have since been a facet of her recurring salad-based dreams. I decided on the BBQ Pork Belly Banh Mi, which was barely contained in a toasted baguette and topped with a fried egg. It was also plated with several heavenly house-made chips. The sandwich was great, even if it was missing the barbecued flavor I had imagined. Every bite carried it’s own set of spices that I couldn’t put my finger on. I looked longingly into the last morsel of the sandwich, hoping somehow I would be able to piece it back together using my newfound culinary superpowers... to no avail. As I went in to finish the job, two drops of a mysterious spicy, yellow sauce fell onto my hand. Aha! The secret to the mysterious flavor!
Wait a minute.
Son of a bitch. It was mustard. I, having lead a campaign against the vulgar yellow condiment for my entire life, just consumed an entire sandwich that was coated with the stuff. What can I say? Sometimes Japanese whiskey makes you do crazy things. Truthfully, it hasn’t changed my opinion, but I regret nothing. Delicious is delicious and there's no exception.
Craft & Commerce provided an exceptional meal and at a moderate price. Well, compared to what you would expect to pay for an a exquisite experience. If nothing else, this place deserves an attempt – even by finicky eaters. The amount of effort their kitchen puts into creating a mind-blowing dining experience and elaborate menu, drinks included, is something to be heralded in an age of fast food and commonplace choices.