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Coastal Comfort


When chef and restaurateur Matt Gordon installed his second eatery at Encinitas’ Pacific Station, many expected more of the decadent Southern-style comfort food that made such a hit of his original digs, North Park’s Urban Solace. But lo and behold, rather than create a carbon copy dishing up mac ‘n’ cheese, hunks of meats, and butter-fortified everything, with Solace & The Moonlight Lounge he went with a different concept meshing his kitchen sensibilities with coastal ingredients. In doing so, he’s proven it’s his chops rather than just his pork that make his restaurants so special.


One can still order sumptuous pork belly, plump roasted Jidori chicken, or fall-apart beef checks, but the focus here is on seafood, salads, and smaller shareable offerings. Oysters plucked from the cold bar are simple and scrumptious served with tangy tarragon-lime mignonette. Yellowtail tartare with toasted pumpkin seeds and chilies are another good and good-for-you option that make it easy to justify adding on a plate of cheddar biscuits with orange honey butter and smoked tomato jam (a brilliant holdover from Urban Solace). Or, get your Southern comfort courtesy of fried green tomatoes, a San Diego rarity done right here.


Salads are healthful and hearty, but unless one comes seeking greens, it’s best to spend stomach space on inventive appetizers and filling mains. Again, the focus is on oceanic edibles. Wild sockeye salmon is rubbed in earthy sumac and bolstered by a spiced butter sauce cut nicely by roasted lemons — a winner! Scallops crusted in hazelnuts rival those of shellfish cruster extraordinaire Bernard Guillas from La Jolla’s Marine Room, and trout tastes exceptional enveloped with cornmeal and countered by a crisp, acidic apple-fennel slaw.


It would be easy to assume Solace’s best traits come from Gordon alone, but the beverage program, which combines with wall-to-wall views of the coastal Encinitas, makes Solace’s upstairs Moonlight Lounge one of the finest places to convene for a bite and a sip is the product of his wife, Young-Mi, and her insatiable quest to procure the finest in fairly and responsibly produced adult beverages.


Spirits classic, modern, and esoteric make it into tipples like the Great Damnson, a sweet-and-sour mix of lemonade, plum gin, peach, passion fruit, and lambrusco; and the Lady Lillet, an apple and whiskey concoction given depth with spiced honey and basil. Then there’s one of San Diego’s best-tasting low-calorie drink menus (everything clocks in under 130). The best from that bill is the refreshing and well-balanced Mayan Crush made with organic tequila, blackberries, and tarragon syrup.


Overall, Solace is what you’d expect of a harmonious married couple. The Gordons have birthed an upstanding sibling for Urban Solace. And like most second children, it benefits from all the lessons learned from time raising their first baby. It will be enjoyable, and quite tasty, to watch this one grow up. (760.753.2433, www.eatsolace.com)     BRANDON HERNANDEZ


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