If you’re someone who seeks to exclusively or primarily eat foods that are locally produced or sourced within relatively close proximity to your home and not moved long distances to market, then it’s official…you’re a “locavore”! Wikipedia explains that the locavore movement in the United States and elsewhere was spawned due to the growing interest in sustainability and eco-consciousness becoming more prevalent. Whatever the impetus, locavores are dining out in droves and, happily, there’s a growing number of restaurants catering to guests with this specialized mindset.
Among these is Table 926—perhaps the best-kept secret in San Diego’s North Pacific Beach area. This reverential restaurant embodies the very essence of being locally-oriented, even taking its name from its address at 926 Turquoise Street.
Table 926 is small, but don’t let its modest size fool you. This is an independent, family-run eatery serving up the seriously bold and fresh flavor. Even Executive Chef and owner, Matthew Richman, himself is locally sourced, having grown up less than 10 minutes away from the restaurant’s location.
Chef Richman has honed an eclectic culinary point of view through a career journey that’s taken him all over the United States, including stints in gastro-meccas like San Francisco and South Florida. From these experiences and others, Chef Richman mastered methods and flavors that he’s adapted with foodstuffs showcasing premier provisions from the region in which he operates. He also taps into his own cultural heritage for inspiration, blending California ingredients and French cooking techniques with Latino and Mediterranean flavors for dishes with flair, like Braised Pork Cheek Tacos with corn tortillas, pickled red onion, queso fresco, and tomatillo-avocado and smoked chili salsas. Flare indeed. Amid all of these influences, Table 926 extends an ever-evolving, varied menu highlighting each season’s best.
In a recent conversation with Chef Richman, I asked about his personal favorite dish. He was hard-pressed to choose just one item, conceding, “It’s not easy, but I’d have to say the Grilled Octopus Salad, with Spanish sausage, fried potatoes, frisée, and paprika aioli] because it blends classic Mediterranean flavors that always taste perfect in the Southern California climate settings. The dish is fun, different, has a variety of flavors going on, and the fresh octopus is delicious.”
Having eaten this dish, I could not agree more. Awards and accolades also attest to Table 926’s approach. Not long after it opened, San Diego Home and Garden magazine named the restaurant a “Silver Fork Winner.”
“As far as the dinner menu, we do not have ‘signature dishes’ per se,” Matt goes on to explain. This is understandable since the menu is continually in flux—probably the foremost feature of the eatery. “We’re constantly changing with the season to best highlight local, farm-to-table cuisine.” And, the seasonal shifts are not just reserved for food. “We have a seasonal homemade sangria and homemade Limoncello occasionally as well,” he notes.
On the evening of my own visit, I was fortunate to sample a broad cross-section of that evening’s iteration of the menu. While I did largely enjoy it all, there were a few superstar standouts. The Braised Pork Cheek Tacos mentioned above were by far my favorite appetizer. The meat in this Spanish delicacy was melt-in-your-mouth goodness that was also seasoned to perfection. The tangy and salty pickled onion added just the right amount of tang and texture. The crisp greens and creamy cheese added that earthy freshness and the dual salsas married all of the components to make this a very cohesive dish.
I had not originally intended to order the Char Roasted Brussels Sprouts, but the table next to me had been served the dish and the smell was intoxicating. I had to have a serving all my own. The vegetable, which was crisp from roasting on the outer leaves and tender underneath sans bitter notes, was tossed in a sassy Dijon-white anchovy vinaigrette and topped with grated parmesan and Spanish paprika.
Entrée-wise, the Grilled Natural Pork Chop earned top honors at my table. Well seared on the exterior and succulent and moist inside, the amply portioned chop was served with a delightfully savory smashed Yukon potato-cheddar cheesecake that was perfectly browned with a crisp outer layer. Asparagus and sundried tomato butter completed the ensemble.
Running a close second was the Natural Chicken Breast in all of its plump and juicy glory. This cooked-to-perfection poultry was served with roasted baby carrots, king oyster mushrooms, small and aptly sweet caramelized cipollini onions, and pea tendrils—all served over a creamy salsify purée suitably spotlighting this root vegetable native to the Mediterranean region of Europe.
Dessert-wise, my fave was the Butterscotch Pot de Crème—an insanely decadent pudding that was thicker and mousse-like than it was runny as I prefer, served with caramelized cocoa nibs, a spiced tuile wafer, and a sweet and cinnamony snickerdoodle cookie. The Loaded Brownie with candied nuts, peanut butter chantilly cream, ganache, and praline ice cream was certainly tasty, but I personally found the richness of each component, delightful on their own or with lesser counterparts, to be a bit overbearing in large combination. That said, the plating was cute, and I especially liked the chocolate “926” garnish.
I also liked the menu price points, which are decidedly affordable and accessible for food of this caliber—and quantity given the generous portion sizes. In fact, when I asked Chef Richman what qualities set Table 926 apart from other area dining options in the area, he points out that, despite its elevated approach cuisine, the relaxed, beach-town ambiance of the locale makes it unpretentious and inviting for all. “Table 926 is the perfect culmination of seasonally-driven food in a laid-back, yet upscale setting. Wearing casual attire to enjoy our Roasted Duck Breast with pomegranate molasses is totally acceptable,” he urges. Chef Richman eagerly added that his favorite non-food aspect of the eatery is the warm and knowledgeable staff who he regards as “the heart of the restaurant.” I would agree as the staff was affable and attentive throughout the entirety of my visit.
Even beyond its inspired epicurean endeavors, Table 926 also takes pride in engaging the local community through events, such as participating in dinners, tasting events, and fundraisers that directly benefit the community.
Having opened its kitchen in December of 2011, Table 926 may only be a few years old but it’s well on its way to becoming an entrenched San Diego staple. Its brand of hyper-local and imaginative cuisine combined with a casual atmosphere and endearing hospitality could very well entrench it as one of the finest locavore-minded restaurants in America’s Finest City.
***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s), and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***