By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
Carve is a modern, American bistro residing in a unique king-of-the-road location. To the benefit of consumers, it’s easy to find since there are no other retail businesses along this colorless stretch of Aero Drive. In addition, the food is of high caliber, ranging from hearty to wholesome.
The eatery is a culinary beacon amid office buildings and new condo developments. In fact, it fronts one of them – the Olympus Corsair housing units. It’s the only commercial kitchen you’ll see for a few miles once you start heading east on Aero Drive off state Route 163.
Owner Chris Karetas isn’t nuts about the location, admitting that the bulk of his business stems from consumers who live and work along the road. As a result, he axed dinner service last year and isn’t ruling out opening a second location in a high-traffic neighborhood like Little Italy, Cardiff or Encinitas.
In the meantime, he serves up a repertoire of salads, sandwiches and plates that have attracted a fair share of devoted followers. Having grown up in the food service industry from an early age when his father ran concessions and cafeterias, Karetas relies on batch cooking and uses house recipes for nearly everything, including craft sodas.
Visiting as a twosome, we started with the green goddess salad, named more for its green ingredients than the perky lemon vinaigrette dressing used on them. In this age of gourmet salads, never do I encounter roasted fennel in the mix. Asparagus and chickpeas are rarities, and English peas prove a lovely herald to springtime. Indeed, this was a killer medley.
Pastrami is smoked and steamed in-house after receiving a secret house-made rub. It comes out super tender and ends up thickly sliced on two different sandwiches: the caloric “Carve ‘strami” featuring the additions of maple bacon, creamy Mornay sauce, Dijon mustard and pickles; and the “smokin’ ‘strami” layered with Swiss cheese, coleslaw, pickles and Russian dressing.
We chose the latter and devoured it without encountering a speck of chewy gristle. Served on toasted ciabatta, it was as good as any creation from a Manhattan deli.
My companion was especially fond of the “turkey jam” sandwich, which offered an underlying sweetness from fig jam. The standout feature, however, was the dreamy combination of the jam and buttery melted brie. Lurking in the background was a hint of horseradish sauce, a nice complement that could have perhaps been given a louder voice.
Both sandwiches were served with excellent house-made chips. Other choices include the “Aero Club” constructed with roasted turkey breast, bacon, avocado, tomato and Parmesan aioli; and the “Italian hero” stacked with smoked ham, soppressata and provolone cheese.
There are also grass-fed burgers, which taunted the heck out of us with their char-grilled aroma when we first walked in.
Though we succumbed to the “make a plate” category, choosing the catch of the day (salmon) as our protein; baby kale salad as our seasonal vegetable; and roasted potatoes as the starch. Lucky for the nine-to-fivers in the area we saw taking this option. It’s exactly the kind of lunch that prevents cubical workers from developing “office butt,” as we used to call it in a newsroom I worked in when fearing the effects of eating from the junky cafeteria over time.
Other protein options for the plate entrees are ancho-rubbed chicken breast and flat-iron steak. The additional sidekicks are french fries and mac n’ cheese, should you want to add a dose of naughty cholesterol to your meal.
Therein lies the appeal of Carve. It’s a place that welcomes both lawless and healthy eaters, and where quality isn’t compromised by slapdash cooking. Karetas isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. But he’ll do well introducing his tasty concept to the rest of San Diego if he opens another location.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com.