Kingfisher in San Diego: a Keenly Delicious Take on Vietnamese-French Food with a Cali Twist
San Diego, California 92102
Average cost: $$$
Parking: street parking
Hours: Open from 5PM to 11PM. Closed on Tuesday.
Notes: beautiful wall prints, decor with glam art-deco touches, and a relaxed ambiance. Fantastic explosions of flavor combining authentic Vietnamese-French flavors with California influences. Friendly and thoughtful accommodations with respect to dietary restrictions and allergies.
Recommended: book when you're in San Diego and want to indulge in elevated, high quality Vietnamese-French food! With fresh and quality ingredients, well-crafted cocktails, and superb service, we'll definitely be back when we're visiting SD.
Although Kingfisher is an open-air concept restaurant, it's well-designed, as there are several well-placed fans to keep its patrons cool. We started our dinner with some refreshing cocktails to slake our thirst after spending a day in the sun at San Diego Zoo. It's worth noting that Kingfisher's talented bartenders and staff can recommend and adapt many of its specialty cocktails into a mocktail version - we loved the flexibility! Thanks to our thoughtful waitress Kirby, Maura opted for the mocktail version of the Guava Daiquiri (left), Tim picked the Ozymandias (right), and I chose the Moroccan Mint Mule (bottom).
Tim's choice, the Ozymandias, had the coolest ice cube with Kingfisher's namesake bird on it:
We love enjoying meals "family style" to get a variety of flavors and dishes. For appetizers, we started with the POACHED SHRIMP. This was a fresh and tasty take on a green papaya salad, consisting of thinly sliced slivers of green papaya that had been marinating in its savory, sweet, and tangy sauce, banana blossoms, sweet but peppery kohlrabi, grapefruit and calamansi for some fragrant and zesty citrus flavor, thinly sliced stone fruit, herby and citrusy culantro (aka ngò gai, a cilantro cousin), perfectly toasted Louisiana Shrimp, and cashews for extra texture.
The DIVER SCALLOPS were also a delightful summer-y appetizer that piqued our appetite. Prepared in crudo fashion, the acidity of the ingredients lent an almost effervescent or bubbly feeling to the creamy texture of the scallops. This gluten-free dish contained succulent scallops, celery, pineapple, peeled tomatoes, topped with seaweed, thai basil, and rice patty herbs.
ROASTED CHINO FARMS BROCCOLI: This broccoli was so perfectly grilled that it was some of the freshest I'd ever tasted, and retained an impeccable crunch to each bite. Literally, Tim took a first bite and gave us a thumb up - rare praise for veggies! ;) In addition to this perfectly cooked broccoli, the dish also included some Ong Choy (water spinach), all of which was swimming in a sumptuous dried scallop-preserved lemon cream and served with some aromatic shiso Nuoc Mam (dipping sauce that incorporates Vietnamese fish sauce):
A surprisingly addictive "side" was the BUTTERED RICE: so flavorful and fatty that we had to order more than one bowl. I wish I took notes on what it was topped with... By this time we were on our second and last round of drinks: Guava Daiquiri (left) and Rocks and Hard Places (right).
After such stunning apps, we were super excited to share our main dishes as well. The NORTHERN HALIBUT was savory, moist, and a lighter version of curry, thanks to the dill, turmeric, green garlic, chili, spring onions, and peanuts, and was served sitting on top of a bed of Chino Farms summer squash, wax beans, spring onions. The fish was accompanied by some yummy rice noodles sprinkled with shiso and served with additional Nuoc Mam.
We love a good surf and turf combo, so we also ordered the SNAKE RIVER FARMS WAGYU SKIRT STEAK. This dish simply blew us away with how phenomenally tender and flavorful the wagyu was. Even though this dish had some stiff competition, this was my favorite dish of the night, followed closely by the duck (see below). The wagyu was served with Chino Farms corn, tomatoes, wild watercress, cilantro, fish sauce, and thai chilies: a perfect symphony of flavors and textures.
Our last main dish of the night was also a highlight of the night: the 1/2 SMOKED DRY AGED DUCK consisted of perfectly cooked and sliced duck breast (XO sauce flavor), a fried duck thigh, rice noodles, lettuce wraps, and tasty Nuoc Mam Chimichurri. Somehow Kingfisher was able to get the duck thigh to be super tender, with an almost fall-off-the bone texture.
There were only two desserts on the menu at the time, and the three of us got both to share, especially since only 1 of them was gluten-free:
VANILLA FLAN: the flan had silky smooth texture, but still maintained a slightly jiggly texture, and the sweetness of the vanilla flan was well balanced by some delectable maldon salt-miso cream and caramelized coffee syrup.
GINGER CHEESECAKE PARFAIT: this was one of the best desserts I've ever had, and perfect for summer! The cheesecake had plenty of cheesy and creamy goodness (ginger was very subtle); the green tea streusel added incredible texture and crunch (imagine crumbly chunks of graham cracker crust but x 10!); the Chino Farms strawberries were gorgeous and paired well with the sorrel granita. A well-balanced, refreshing, but still sumptuous masterpiece of a dessert and one I'd gladly order again and again.
Thank you for a beautiful and delicious evening, Kingfisher! Can't wait to visit again!