Sea Rocket Bistro: Unpretentious Seafood in North Park [CLOSED]

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Restaurant Sign San Diego

Sea Rocket, named for a type of wild, local arugula, showcases seafood.

Sea Rocket Bistro< is the kind of unpretentious, seasonal seafood restaurant that for some reason doesn’t exist in Los Angeles. Given that L.A. County features even more miles of coastline than San Diego, that’s inexcusable. Then again, it might just be that nothing else like Sea Rocket exists in San Diego either.

Dennis Stein and Elena Rivellino opened their ultra-local bistro in red-hot North Park on June 1, naming Sea Rocket for a variety of wild arugula that grows on San Diego beaches. They actually took over the space from The Linkery, another seasonal restaurant that moved up 30th Street. In August, Stein and Rivellino switched to Chef Christy Samoy, and they clearly are not suffering any ill effects.

The two-room restaurant is simply designed, with concrete floors and light-wood furniture. Green walls showcase photos of fishermen, farmers and farms, including Keith Langman, who catches swordfish in San Diego, and Sage Mountain Farm in Hemet, where Sea Rocket sources produce.

Stein described North Park as “a mix of lower income and higher income. College professors. Anti-suburbia with an urban feel.” All the action is along 30th Street, which has become a hub for market-driven restaurants and taprooms.

Seafood San Diego

Carlsbad Steamers ($13) amounted to a pound of clams and mussels from Carlsbad Aqua Farm, sautéed in an herb-flecked white wine broth and served with ciabatta crostini from nearby Cardamom Café. The clams were clearly the superior shellfish, small but sweet.

Seafood San Diego

Pan-Seared Market Fish ($16) – in this case, San Diego opah – was outstanding, with a terrific char and juicy flesh that was similar to swordfish, but sweeter. Sea Rocket Bistro offers the option to top any dish with three whole grilled sardines ($7), a six-ounce portion of market fish ($8) or three jumbo diver scallops ($12).

Fishermen caught sardines in San Diego bay. Sea Rocket staffers meet Everingham Brothers Bait Co. at Shelter Island Pier to procure the “bait.” The sardines were excellent, not nearly as pungent as the second-rate canned variety. The skin had a nice sear, so it was a little crispy. They came on skewers, and you know that food always tastes better when it’s on a stick.

The plate also held L-shaped streaks of chimichurri and “a medley of seasonal vegetables,” a luscious mix of onions, zucchini, peppers and carrots. Stein was nice enough to let us replace mashed Yukon Gold potatoes with lima bean salad drizzled with tangy lemon-infused Temecula avocado oil. The beans came from Lompoc Valley Mill & Seed.

Craft Beer San Diego

We wanted to make the most of our dwindling San Diego beer time, so we ordered the draft beer flight ($5), tastes of four different local brews. The only draft beer we skipped was the Longboard IPA. Instead, we sampled the nutty Mission Amber, Alesmith Lil Devil, a special Belgian-style brew, manageably bitter Ballast Point Pale Ale, and the full-bodied Rock Bottom Brown.

Cake San Diego

For our “sweet ending,” Honey Beer Cake ($7) turned out to be a dense, but very good vanilla pound cake layered with cream cheese and sweetened with avocado honey. Chef Samoy normally makes the cake with wheat beer, but since it wasn’t on draft, she used Ballast Point Pale Ale. It was drizzled with vanilla frosting icing and caramel sauce, and the plate was strewn with berries.

On the drive home to Los Angeles the next day, we recounted eating experiences from the weekend, and the restaurant we most wished was in Los Angeles was Sea Rocket Bistro.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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