Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Renewed Ave. 5

I love the luxury of a gorgeous white tablecloth restaurant. But I'm just as partial to hanging out at a casual spot with a great burger. Chef/owner Colin MacLaggan's Avenue 5 in Bankers Hill started out with the white tablecloths and the upscale menu to match--but he always had great burgers and other casual fare, too.

Now, he's given in to his casual side--and economic realities. Avenue 5 has been rebranded as Ave. 5. The tablecloths literally have been removed. And, there's been a little remodeling. The front wall has opened up with more windows. His brother Brian designed a couple of oversized wrought-iron lighting fixtures that hang in the dining room. And, at the front of the house, the bar area is more defined--with belly tables and an enormous blackboard filled with the day's specials, beer lists, and the like. White tablecloth has given way to light-filled bistro.

The menu, too, has changed. You'll still find favorites like truffle fries, duck confit, shellfish linguini, and the Ave. 5 burger, but they've been joined by a variety of new dishes, including several new burgers focused around cheese and onion pairings.

Such as the French Burger, a luscious melding of ground beef with Brie and caramelized onions.

French Burger
MacLaggan has also included a Lamb Burger, with Middle Eastern flavors of cucumbers and yogurt; a BBQ Burger with soft goat cheese and balsamic onions, and a Blue Burger with, yes, Danish crumbled blue cheese and crispy onions. The Ave. 5 Burger, with aged cheddar and pickled onions, remains a house favorite, and rightly so given the strong cheddar flavor and tanginess of the pickled onions paired with the beef's umami qualities.

Ave. 5 Burger
All of the burgers are accompanied either by a house salad or irresistible truffle fries.

Truffle fries with white truffle oil and parsley
The starters are an eclectic collection of dishes, from a charcuterie and cheese plate to local Carlsbad mussels in ginger, garlic, and jalapeno. There's a roasted squash risotto with sage butter and a delicious scallop taco, which is married with chorizo, potato, and a tomatillo, jicama, and mango sauce. I also enjoyed the Ave. 5 Mushroom Tortellini with corn and grapes in Madeira cream. The tortellinis were smooth and earthy, while the corn and grapes added sweetness and texture that paired well with the creamy sauce.

Still looking for a more upscale meal? Try the Braised Lamb shoulder with garlic whipped potato and rosemary jus, Organic Scottish Salmon with confit potatoes and lemon and dill beurre blanc, or the Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin with sweet sausage stuffing and stone fruit glaze.

Whatever you choose, save room for dessert. You can't go wrong with a cheese plate. This is a holdover from the old menu and MacLaggan has selected the creamy Humboldt Fog, a tangy Spanish Manchego, and rich Camembert, each served with toasted bread and fruit. But I say go with the Butterscotch Pot de Creme. You'll simply want to dive into the bowl and lick your way out. And the accompanying rosemary sugar cookie is an added treat.

Butterscotch Pot de Creme
Or, for something just a little more decadent, try the Baked Fromage Blanc with creme anglaise. It's got the rich tartness of a great cheesecake, but with more elegance. This month, MacLaggan also added a pumpkin creme brulee and bread pudding.

Baked Fromage Blanc
MacLaggan has found new footing with these changes, which he says are more reflective of the way he likes to cook. The setting, too, seems more in line with the casual Bankers Hill locale he's been in--perfect for pre-theater dining, to meet friends for drinks and then eats, or for Sunday brunch. And, it's one of the few good spots in the neighborhood open during the week for lunch.

Ave. 5 is located at 2760 5th Avenue. The phone number is 619) 542-0394.

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