July 17, 2015
Location, location…elevation. It’s been a few months since Rustic Root (535 Fifth Ave.) opened downtown in the space recently left vacant by Marble Room. The first-floor restaurant seems to be doing an OK business. But Rustic Root’s just-opened, top-floor, open-air patio is what’s going to be the straw that stirs up the drinking and dining crowd.
It’s the only rooftop-dining venue in the Gaslamp Quarter. To a downtowner, that distinction holds cachet. It’s not that I want to look down on other restaurants in the city’s entertainment district. A rooftop eatery on Fifth Avenue, however, is an angle I want and need to explore.
The second-floor construction site had been bugging me for some time. Weeks ago, I went into the ground-floor dining room and tried out the food and the ambiance. On the latter, head-shaking bewilderment at the life-sized diorama featuring deer in a forest. Too rustic. It’s like a bad Midwest flashback to stop you made at a Cabela’s retail hunting shop. Conversely, the use of hundreds of kitchen colanders of varied sizes hung as ceiling lamps (sans Bambi) was a thumbs-up idea.
The menu at Rustic Root was constructed by one of my favorite 92101-centric chefs. Antonio Friscia has more than two decades of urban experience, including stints at Stingaree and Gaijin Noodle & Sake House. He still oversees the kitchen for RMD Group’s Don Chido restaurant, conveniently located next-door to Rustic Root.
Friscia does surf and turf equally well. There are at least three ways on the menu to quell a lobster fix—order it as a lunch roll, get the Cobb salad or ask for the mouth-watering dinner entrée lobster pappardelle, prepared with oven-roasted tomatoes, spinach, corn and sherry cream. Per the turf: Check out the meatballs made of ground bison, and the elk chops with almond chili puree.
I ventured to the roof the night Comic-Con closed shop. It was crowded, but nary an intoxicated cosplayer had beamed up. I sat at the bar and ordered firecracker shrimp. The hot sriracha aioli complemented a sweet mango drizzle (but the heat tastily won the battle).
When a spot along the street-side railing opened up, I made a beeline. Gin-and-tonic carefully tucked in hand, I peered up and down the Gaslamp. The sun had set, and you could feel a breeze that doesn’t make its way back to the interior bar. Across the street: The Field. Yonder, to the right: Barleymash. Been there. Like ’em, but done that. Never seen them from this angle, though. In the same way a kid enjoys the backyard view better from a brand-new treehouse, I smiled with satisfaction.