Starry Night at Starlite Lounge in Mission Hills

October 17, 2011

Approaching Starlite from India Street, picture an unassuming, understated desert oasis with a soft stucco façade, accentuated by an array of cacti and a vertical beamed fascia which reveals the glowing name and theme of this Mission Hills’ hotspot.  But enter the hexagonally shaped portal to another dimension, far from the surrounding body shops and the nearby noise of the interstate and airport.  A huge glass door, encased in wood opens, and takes your breath away.  The dimly lit interior is an architectural dream filled with life. 

First, take in the awe inspiring stainless steel chandelier, hanging dominantly over the sunken white bar, reminiscent of a star-riddled stalactite, with twinkling lights and all.  Surrounding the center bar are romantic tables, each individually lit by its own copper globe.  Staggered wood beams hang overhead and accentuate throughout. Sidewalls of stacked slate and front walls paneled in cork tile envelop the square main room, which is bordered by faux leather booth seating.  Impressive abstract chandeliers and wall sconces add to the warm romantic glow.

Head to the rear of the lounge through the inconspicuous back door which leads to yet another dimension: an open-air patio whose energy inflates you; festive, tropical, and relaxed – featuring another bar, and several tables filled with imbibing, laughter, and comfort food.

As we sat smacked intimately between two first dates, we ordered the signature Starlite Mule as well as the Kentucky Colonel, two of the more prominent of the many specialty drinks offered ($9). Each beverage was exceptionally crafted, tasty, refreshing, and served in its historically standard copper mug.  Although the ginger beer base made both drinks taste as light as a soda, they pack a hidden punch that only time will reveal. 

We then commenced indulging in the cuisine created by Starlite’s young and talented new head chef, Kathleen Wise.  Her menu changes frequently because the restaurant is devoted to using local ingredients, naturally raised and organic whenever possible, so the items change with the seasons.

To start we sampled the olives & nuts appetizer ($6), showcasing an assortment of marinated olives and salted marcona almonds.  This was followed by the mixed fry ($12): a substantial serving of tempura fried onion rings, mushrooms, asparagus, zucchini, and string beans, as well as local pepper jack cheese, served with a vat of ranch dressing, which we agreed overwhelmed the rustic flavors of the veggies.  I’d have preferred a small assortment of milder, less overwhelming dips or sauces.  That being said, let me emphasize that the tempura fried pepper jack cheese will forever be held close to my heart.  Abandon all notions of a mozzarella stick, as you bite into this smooth and flavorful oozing creamy cheese stick/block; no stringiness, just pure melted goodness, a serious highlight.

We had to try Starlite’s most popular appetizer, the sausage board ($13) presented with crostinis, two types of artisan salami, mustard, an assortment of pickled treats like cucumbers and golden raisins (a new favorite phenomenon), and the highlight of the plate, Chef Kathleen’s handcrafted pork sausage - moist and flavor-filled with sage and fresh herbs.

Next came our undisputed favorite, a special of the evening (and hopefully a staple going forward): creamy pork stew ($12).  This soup resulted from a beautiful mistake when the spicy pardon peppers overwhelmed Chef Kathleen’s stock, leading her to cut the spice with heavy cream, potatoes, sweet tomatillos, and slow-cooked Van de Rose pork, accented by fresh lime and cilantro.  The result was a layered, creamy, delicious citrus flavor, almost reminiscent of a traditional spicy Thai soup, but with the welcomed addition of tender bites of pork.
Being that Starlite’s “The Burger” has been a renowned mainstay, we opted to give it a whirl: a Brandt beef patty, gruyere cheese, caramelized onions served on a brioche bun with a side of dijonaise, heirloom tomatoes, house-made pickles, and fries ($13).  Sadly, the burger did not live up to the hype: the meat was grittier and grainier than desired; the bun a dry, standard sesame; and the smattering of cheese left me wanting my pepper jack stick back. 

My momentary disappointment was quickly reined in by Crispy Skin Mary’s Chicken ($20), whose name does not deceive: the crispy skin boasted exciting spice and even better texture. Beneath this cloak of deliciousness was moist and tender chicken -- I just wish the skin’s intense flavor permeated the meat to the bone.  The protein was accompanied by homespun cavatelli, surprisingly light pillows of creamy ricotta intermixed with buttery slices of local zucchini, and doused in herbed chicken jus, which again, did not carry with it the flavors of the skin which would really elevate this dish’s glory.
Finally, for desert we sampled Starlite’s (in)famous ice cream sandwich ($7): a creation of Alden’s cold and creamy vanilla ice cream stuffed generously between two house-made, thin and chewy toffee cookies, all hand-rolled in pistachio crumbs and quartered.   Needless to stay, despite it being the straw that broke the camel’s back, indulge we did, and what a perfect ending to a dynamic meal it was.

Whether you’re in the mood for a quintessential craft cocktail, an array of diverse and creative appetizers, a romantic meal, a dinner party, or a DJ’d Sunday brunch, Starlite has it all, in an ambiance unmatched and unmistakably unique.  

Starlite is a 21 and over establishment.

3175 India Street, Mission Hills
(619) 358-9766

Sun 10:30am–2pm, 5pm–2am
Mon-Sat 5pm–2am
Food served until 12am daily

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