Prepkitchen – Fresh & Flavorful in Little Italy

May 9, 2012
Food Photos by Kiera McGill

The menu quotes the late Julia Child and reads, “You don’t have to cook complicated or fancy masterpieces, just good food from fresh ingredients.” Though I may argue that the London Burning cocktail and puttanesca sauce are in fact masterpieces, Prepkitchen definitely makes good, simple food from the freshest ingredients.

As you stroll through San Diego’s charming Little Italy under the moonlight, you’ll see the warm lights of Prepkitchen’s second-story windows beckoning you to ascend.  Walk up the wooden stairs to a wide-open dining room, which extends to a vibrant bar area, and into the open kitchen - Restoration Hardware meets shabby chic meets French country.  The modern lines of architecture are complimented by hanging branches wrapped in white lights; abstract rugged wood ceiling art, reminiscent of ocean waves; and a variety of herbs planted in mason jars, artfully mounted on walls, windowsills, and tables. 

To start, our server suggested one of PK’s ten hand crafted cocktails.  My companion raved about her cucumber and honey mimosa ($9), a simple, bubbly, and revitalizing concoction of cucumber water and Cava (Spanish sparkling white wine), with just a hint of honey – sit me on the patio in the sun with an unending supply!  I opted for more of a savory cocktail, London’s Burning: gin, jalapeno, avocado, and lime ($11), and instantly fell in love.  This spicy cocktail was redolent of a light and refreshing guacamole, a perfect blend of lime, avocado, and ice, adorned with a red chili pepper – light but jam-packed with a punch of flavor.

Because PK prides itself on utilizing the freshest ingredients, the menu is fairly limited, seasonal, and changes often.  The daily soup is made at chef’s whim, and the flatbread rotates daily.  We stimulated our palates with beet salad ($12.50): spinach leaves with avocado, juicy tangerines, crunchy almonds, and perfectly pungent goat cheese, mixed with flavorful red and yellow beets, all tossed in garlicky balsamic vinaigrette.  The diverse flavors and textures made for a very exciting salad.

We then tried the stuffed braised calamari ($9.50), a dish I probably would have been hesitant to order on my own volition, but which I’d go back for in a heartbeat.  Tender tentacles are stuffed with Cotechino, an Italian charcuterie, similar to salami, spiced with nutmeg and all-spice, in a generous dressing of fresh puttanesca, accentuated by the saltiness of capers, and the crunch of al dente onions and breadcrumb salsa – ahh, the crunch of the breadcrumbs!!! This light, fragrant, and robust sauce should be bottled up and sold on the streets, with a packet of the breadcrumbs on top.
The mussels ($13.75) come piled high, and bathing in a white wine, garlic, aioli and lemon sauce, a clean and refreshing light and milky broth.  While the frites that accompanied the mussels were delicious, topped with shaved garlic and lemon, I would have preferred thick-cut, spongy bread to sop up that amazing broth.  Wash down the mussels with Buena Vista’s 2007 pinot noir ($10) or Dona Paula’s 2009 Malbec ($9) and call me in the morning.  By the way, PK offers half-glasses of wine, and the servers are well-versed in the vintages offered and knowledgeable of pairings, so do not hesitate to try several wines, perfectly paired to each course.

For our first entrée, we had Mary’s chicken, served with crispy spring peas and fresh glazed carrots, atop a smooth, buttery and creamy bed of green garlic and potato puree, decorated with sprigs of thyme ($21.50).  The vegetables were cooked just right – crisp, clean, fresh, and boasting their natural flavors.  The chicken is slow-cooked ‘til the bones fall out, and grill-pressed, making for skin that was thin and peppery atop super-moist meat.  I really cannot emphasize enough how light, flavorful, and fresh every bite at PK really is – unsullied by the tricks of the trade we are often blinded by in other establishments.  PK really lets the food speak for itself.  (Paired very nicely with Caleo’s 2010 negroamaro from Italy ($7) and Sabor Real’s tempranillo ($9)).

As though we were not yet satisfied, we tried the lamb sugo ($16.75) a beautiful sauce tossed with perfectly al dente house-made fussili pasta, insanely tender chunks of lamb, bitter grilled radiccio, caramelized onions, parmesan, and tiny but thick triangles of smoked pancetta, a much preferred alternative to the ever-popular chorizo.  While the sugo is, I’ll say it again, light, refreshing, and flavor-packed, this would make for a comforting dish on a brisk San Diego evening, especially paired with a bold wine such as Smith & Hook’s 2010 cabernet ($10) or Shebang’s zinfandel blend ($10).
PK offers an array of desserts, comically including a “Kitchen Sixer” ($7), a gracious round of beers for the kitchen!  The brown butter carrot cake with a simple cream cheese frosting and walnuts was just ‘good’ and actually caused a conundrum at our table.  I remarked “I wish it hadn’t been refrigerated” while my sister exclaimed, “I like how it’s cold.”  It just goes to show how different palates, their histories and preferences can affect each bite!

The warm softness of the egg-y bread pudding ($6.50), countered by the coolness of homemade whipped cream, and blessed by the fresh sweetness of blackberries, strawberries and raspberries, made my heart smile, especially when my sister said she would return to San Diego for this dessert alone!  Thank you PK – it is often food that lures visitors from the east coast!
My favorite dessert was the chocolate malted pudding ($8) topped with small balls of dark chocolate and whipped cream, and accompanied by salted macadamia nut cookies for dipping.  The salty caramel crunch of the thing, sugar and butter glazed cookies combined with the pudding put me over the edge of bliss (and fullness), and made for a wonderful finale to the decadent meal.  Couple any dessert with a hand-picked port or Muscat, and dream sweetly you will!

Forget the heavy pastas, cream sauces, and bland red sauces – PK has excelled at distinguishing itself, especially in a destination-dining area such as Little Italy.  PrepKitchen offers affordable fair that shines without pretense.

P.S. A unique and super-cool idea: PK offers a take-out “Family Meal” for $79.  Serving 4-5 people, the meal includes soup; mixed greens or Caesar salad; chicken, braised beef or pasta for main; a quart of mashed potatoes and veggies; as well as two brownies for dessert!

P.P.S. Don’t miss happy hour where PK’s famous sangria is generously served up for $5/glass or $20/liter; bottles of wine are 25% off; select draft beers are $5; and best yet, from 4 P.M. to close, tapas are $3.50!  Happy Hour is offered 4 – 7 P.M. daily, and nightly from 10 – 11:30 P.M. (bar and lounge only).

1660 India St, Little Italy
(between Date St & Cedar St)
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 398-8383
Mon-Fri 11:30 am - 11:30 pm
Sat-Sun 10 am - 11:30 pm

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