Somehow the Fish House Vera Cruz made it on to my list of places to eat. I think it was an episode of DDD or MVF, but I’m not sure. That’s pretty much how my list works (I should at least note how it got onto my list…). When I found out that it was only a couple miles from where I was staying in Carlsbad, I thought it was a great opportunity to check it out. It was a doubly good opportunity because I had the night to myself and didn’t have to worry about dragging them around to the places that I wanted to go. So, I packed up my computer and headed out to dinner. I pulled into the restaurant, walked in, and was promptly informed that they were closed. I said thank you and left confused…who is closed at 8:45 on a Wednesday? Apparently, Fish House Vera Cruz. So, I had to find somewhere else to go. (You probably had already figured out that I didn’t have dinner at FHVC by the title of the post, but I thought a paragraph story of how I came to even be at Paon Restaurant). Ok, long story short, I came up with Paon as a place that looked interesting.
It was described as a contemporary American place that fit with the type of place that I love right now. But when I drove by, I was a little uncertain. It was basically a wine shop…until I saw the sign that said the restaurant was around back. I made my way down the street and around the corner, and found a very inviting restaurant. During the summer, the outdoor seating area looks like it would be awesome! But, this evening it was raining, so I walked past all of the outdoor seating into the restaurant where I saw a restaurant on my left and a bar on my right. I made my way to the bar, pulled up a seat, ordered a glass of the local Pinot Noir, and started looking through the menu. I ended up looking through the entire list, but there were two things that immediately jumped out at me; the tartare and the duck. I don’t know what it is about those things, but they always seem to grab my attention on a menu. So I just went with it.
When the tartare was placed in front of me, a smile snuck across my face…it looked like a tartare is supposed to look. The last time I had a fish tartare, it was simply diced fish and diced cucumber, and left me disappointed. This tartare was a combination of salmon and yellowtail tuna, and cut into four different quenelles. There was a little bit of caper, herb and creme fraiche, but the dish was really all about the fish. It was chopped up into a nice, fine, slightly sticky texture. I took a large forkful, spread it on a crostini, and took a bite. The flavors of the fish were excellent; nice and fresh. Every now and then there would be a little bit of salt from the caper that provided a nice, simple element to the overall dish. It didn’t take me long to get through the entire plate, even though it was a pretty large portion…one that would normally be divided by two.
After I polished off the tartare, I had a couple minutes to sip my wine and have a piece of bread before the duck arrived. One thing is for certain, Paon does not skimp on the portions. The plate was beautifully presented with 3 quenelles of a sweet potato puree, and a nice piece of confit duck leg topping some slices of duck breast which were sitting on some turnip greens with a drizzle of a balsamic vinegar sauce encircling the whole dish. I took my knife and fork and went to cut into the duck leg, and it just fell apart, it was so tender. I took a scoop of duck and sweet potatoes, and it just melted in my mouth. The duck was so rich and tender and it was balanced so well by the sweetness of the potatoes. Then the next bite I got a little of the turnip greens that had a wonderful bitterness to it. As I made my way through the meal, I’d get a little something different with each bite; sometimes turnips or orange or sweet potato or greens, confit or breast. And every single bite was excellent. I can tell you I was loving life.
When I finished (and used the last piece of bread to sop up all of the sauce and juice and flavor still on my plate), I took a quick look at the dessert menu. It looked like a lot of wonderfully delicious sweets, all homemade (even the ice cream was made on site). But I opted out, being sufficiently full from the dinner. I definitely left happy, and feeling fortunate that I had come across Paon. Now at this point I have no way of knowing if Fish House Vera Cruz would have been as good or better, but I doubt it. My dinner at Paon was one of the best that I’ve had in quite some time. Everything was well prepared, reasonably priced, and just bursting with flavor. I would definitely recommend to anyone that finds themselves in Carlsbad to take the time to check out Paon’s restaurant. I can’t talk to the wine shop or the wine bar, or any of that, but I can tell you the food is excellent!