Truluck's | The House That Crab Built

June 13, 2011

Truluck's is an upscale, Southern-style seafood haven at which you can savor the freshest catch from a menu that changes with the tides (almost). Along with tender, juicy steaks, nightly live music, more that 100 wines by the sampling, glass, and bottle, and a value-oriented cocktail hour, Truluck's is a charming choice for a delectable meal. It's also a well-rounded establishment that should please both connoisseurs and recreational wine drinkers.

Truluck's is a luxury restaurant brand first introduced in Houston nearly 20 years ago. At present, all but one of the chain's locations are situated in Texas and Florida. The La Jolla destination, the first on the West Coast, is in the Aventine Center directly across from the Hyatt Regency La Jolla.

On the way into the restaurant, take notice of the outdoor seating with fire pits and heat lamps for cool San Diego nights, and the Maine lobsters pacing around their tank, waiting to be hurried to the kitchen. The talented musician at the grand piano near the bar plays a range of tunes from classics to modern hits.

The sizable wine collection is displayed in a glassed-in, temperature-controlled enclave, that links the bar and dining room. Behind the bar, a Cuvee system allows all wines essentially to be on-tap. The décor balances masculinity and femininity: gigantic fish mounted over the dark wood trim and deep, red leather booths contrast with centerpieces of subtly lighted pink orchids submerged in tall, cylindrical vases. These decorations give light and color to an otherwise dimly lit interior, and little touches like crab-shaped light fixtures on the walls speak well for the restaurant's design.

It is evident that much thought also goes into the planning and preparation of the weekly-changing menu. Claiming to be "champions in the sustainable seafood movement," environmental stewardship and sustainability are intrinsic to Truluck's operations: they never serve out-of-season seafood carefully avoid endangered and over fished species. They also serve 100% antibiotic and hormone-free beef, pork and lamb from a ranch that raises livestock humanely. The company owns two stone crab fisheries in Southwest Florida, which supply all Truluck's locations with the delicacy during season (Oct. 15th to May 15th). Other seafood arrives daily from the species' natural locations around the world, so that the Chilean sea bass is from South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic and the King crab from Alaska.

Although not for the faint of wallet, the menu offers diners many choices for both surf and turf, and the service is top class. We started with the seafood tower, which was an exciting sight to behold ($29 for two, $58 for four). A platter lined with crushed ice arrives smoking like a fog machine, atop a raised pedestal that allows the dry ice "smoke" to billow alluringly. Atop the plate were Carlsbad oysters, jumbo shrimp, Alaskan king crab legs and a heaping portion of blue lump crabmeat. The oysters, tender and well paired with a peppery, Champagne vinegar mignonette sauce, also go well with a flute of Spanish Poema sparkling white. The crab claws, cracked but still in the shell for a genuine experience, were coupled with a sharp cream-based sauce with soft but potent hints of mustard and horseradish. And the lump crabmeat was oh so sweet and succulent.

The "super lump" crab cake is a must-have at Truluck's, since chef Nick Shinton grew up in the Chesapeake Bay area and has been cooking them since he was four. Fillers do not weigh down these Truluck's cakes, which use 95% lump blue crabmeat, bound with a light mix of fresh herbs, lemon juice, Old Bay seasoning and a touch of mayo. The rich and meaty cakes are served golden brown, atop creamy dill tartar sauce. The fruity Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay from Oregon makes quite a companion for this highly pleasing dish, which can be enjoyed as either an appetizer ($14) or entree ($29).

The miso-glazed sea bass ($33), labeled a "Classic," is a generous filet topped with a cool, refreshing cucumber-carrot slaw, and served over scrumptious crab-fried rice. The fish flakes nicely, and layered with the other elements, creates complex Asian flavors.

Despite its devotion to the sea's bounty, Truluck's offers a wide selection of steaks, chicken and chops, and also a vegetarian option. The filet of beef Oscar, a 5 or 8-ounce center-cut topped with a rich (very rich), jalapeno-heated Béarnaise sauce, lump crab and shaved asparagus, with Parmesan-mashed potatoes on the side, truly offers a lesson in the right way to grill meats. The buttery, pink meat slices with ease and all but melts in your mouth. Although the steak is delicious by itself, the addition of the jalapeno Béarnaise, the asparagus and crab create the classic "Oscar" dish that has been beloved by gourmets for more than a century.

Or try the carrot cake!
Save room for dessert, since the server will do his best to entice you with the tray. The sweets are substantial portions meant for sharing. Truluck's signature "chocolate sack," is a unique option of milk chocolate crafted into a "sack" the size of a brown paper bag, which is loaded with yellow sponge cake, blueberries, strawberries, cream cheese frosting, blueberries and a topping of whipped cream. This is the kind of bag lunch I would have preferred as a kid!

So make your way to Truluck's for some of the freshest sea food in town. To get the most for your money, stop by on a Wednesday when they feature "50 Wines for 50% Off," or on Sunday when the cocktail hour lasts all night in the bar and on the outdoor patio. And every night, the "Date Night Menu" offers the choice of soup or salad, an entrée and a shared dessert for just $39 per person.

8990 University Center Lane, La Jolla
(858) 453-2583


Lounge opens at 5pm daily
Serving Dinner Nightly:
5-10pm (Mon-Sat)
5-9pm (Sun)

 Truluck's on Urbanspoon